The Five Best Vinyl Subscription Services
These days you can pretty much subscribe to boxes of anything to show up at your door. From nerdy goodies, to makeup, to cat toys, to bacon, to... Scandinavian homewares? You know what, OK. Sure. The woods are full of subscription boxes. But it's been a minute since we've had one of the original subscription services crop back up. Flipping through old magazines might yield something like this:
I think your records are getting away from you, Janet.
Wow, 13 records for $1? Too good to be true! Or was it?
Even adjusted for inflation, this is still a pretty cheap price for that many records. When I was younger and wanted to join record, tape, or CD clubs, my parents always told me the stuff they sent out wasn't good, or popular, that it was just there to clear their unwanted stock. In the vinyl dark ages, music media subscriptions faded into time. Now with the vinyl resurgence, they've emerged in a new light, with a new mission. In the midst of the whispers of Columbia House Record Club's return sometime in 2016, we decided to check out four vinyl subscriptions who beat them at their own game.
We'll be checking out five of them: VNYL, Vinylmnky, Vinyl Moon, Feedbands, and Vinyl Me, Please.
$24.99 ~$29.99 USD (us only) per Month
Travis Jourdan told us "Our mission is to share our love for new music through unique and engaging experiences. We aim to connect new listeners with new, breakthrough artists directly through delivering their debut LPs to our members with artist chosen add-ons. We are the only pure new music discovery vinyl subscription club that connects the artists with the listeners."
When they mean breakthrough, they mean it. Vinylmnky works closely with labels and really does manage to snag incredible artists.
Man, what a fun box. Vinylmnky shows up in a fun box with logo, a cute hand-written (and sealed with wax!) note addressed directly to you. Now, what came in this one was Yeo's album- with a signed cover! A one-pager explaining his music and methods. (Guy's from Melbourne, Australia, so I like him already.) In Yeo's case, it was pretty simple, his gorgeous album, but they have included other swag in the past, like t-shirts, signed posters, and more.
As far as the vinyl itself goes, it's a 180gram black vinyl. Gorgeous, well-pressed.
Yeo is very experimental and atmospheric, not something I'd seek out myself, but I found myself really enjoying. Vinylmnky has had some really rad artists in the past who are right on the cusp of hitting it big. CHVRCHES, Aurora, and Lapsley just to name a few. Chances are, even if one month isn't your bag, the month-to-month is going to be more hits than misses. It's easy to get their vibe by combing through.
I gotta say I'm heartsick I missed out on CHVRCHES and Aurora's tribe swag. GROAN. Love those girls. While some of these services relish in the obscurity, Vinylmnky has its finger on the pulse and can predict pretty well who's going to get big before they do. If what you're looking for is something fresh and a forecast of what's going to be dominating everyone's playlists in a month or two, Vinylmnky is a fantastic resource.
$39.99 for three records.
The brainchild of Nick Alt, VNYL was initially created as a Kickstarter that rapidly became controversial after missed deliveries and the mysterious opening of a record store in Venice Beach’s trendy strip. VNYL has since abandoned the model of used records, and after a rough and bumpy beginning, seems to be settling into its new subscription model, even releasing its own turntable.
Unlike the other services, your VNYL experience begins with filling out a questionnaire on music tastes and preferences, which their music experts will supposedly use to help choose. You also pick a #vibe, like #poolparty or #junegloom- which is what I picked. You can list direct favorites, and they encourage you to dig through your musical history. You can also elect to have your VNYL service hooked up to Spotify.
Nick Alt told us "VNYL is creating the best experience of discovering new music with a community of passionate new vinyl listeners. Our members have the unique opportunity to have one-on-one conversations with VNYL’s team of music curators and receive personally selected new vinyl every month based on their Spotify playlists and listening preferences."
We chose the 3-record pack, which appeared in this cute pink, easy-tear box. Inside was a neat album-sized pinup (Let’s get physical!!) And an ad for their premier turntable, the TRNTBL. (t-n-tibble? How’s that said aloud?) There’s also a cute #VNYL vinyl sticker. (har har.) And a hand-written(!) note from your individual music curator, explaining their choices.
The three albums were very different from one another. Mutual Benefit, which they compared to Sleeping at Last. That’s fair- it’s a soft, ambient orchestral sound that definitely measures up. It’s a very sweet album I can’t wait to play over and over. Lissie was compared to Mindy Gledhill, one of my all-time favorite singer-songwriters. This is a pretty good match too! The last one, The Griswolds, which is a bit of a wildcard. As it turned out that one was my favorite! I don’t know if VNYL is psychic, because Griswolds reminds me a great deal of Grimes. Each of the albums was pressed on heavy black vinyl. Couldn't tell if it was 180 gram, but it felt heavier than your typical record.
So, controversy aside, how does VNYL measure up as a subscription service? Well, color me really surprised! They nailed it! I have to admit I was skeptical (We’ve seen algorithms at work before… and they can fail pretty catastrophically.) But VNYL’s people seem to have the touch a computer system wouldn’t, and I can absolutely see the appeal of getting three fresh, exciting albums every month! For $30 it’s hard to beat, too. The question would become, can they nail it each time? Considering the subscription types, it’s easy to go through a few rounds, if only to beef up your collection with interesting things. The fact that your new records are automatically put onto your Spotify is also handy. (If a bit creepy.) In addition to the records you received, you also have the opportunity to dig through their online store for discounted rates and exclusive editions.
I was really pleasantly surprised, and it seems like a pretty darn good deal to have three new, interesting albums pop up for $39. It's assumed that as you go on, VNYL will get to know you better, and can guess better on what you like. For new Vinyl enthusiasts, I'd say it's a win!
$30 per Month for one exclusive album.
Vinyl Moon also began as a Kickstarter project, but with far different goals. Each month, a curated, exclusively-pressed record shows up at your door. Each one is meant as an artist’s record, themed from the songs, the artists, the album art, to even the record itself.
The creator of Vinyl Moon, Brandon Bogajewicz, outlined his mission for Vinyl Moon, "To celebrate the tenacity of vinyl as a medium, Vinyl Moon aims to create the coolest records around, month after month, and deliver them to members who have a passion for discovery and aesthetics alike. Vinyl Moon is a unique blend of music blog, record club, and miniature interactive art installation. Every month. Vinyl Moon is for people who want to discover new music without looking at a computer screen. Vinyl Moon is for people who believe that something as functional as a record sleeve can also be fine art. "
As someone who loves custom playlists and is sometimes frustrated with single-artist albums, not to mention super stoked about the innovative art and packaging, I was all over this.
A Vinyl Moon box shows up, marked fragile and wrapped well, but unbranded on the outside. It looks fairly unassuming until you open it up and find the fun screenprinting inside. If you're familiar, this is the pattern that was on the Golden Phonograph Record that's on board the Voyager spacecraft. Vinyl Moon’s design is very heavily space-influenced, so it’s neat to find this inside., and it makes my little outer-space loving nerd happy. There’s a leaflet explaining this month’s album theme and art, along with postcards for each band featured. Neat! As for the album, Seedshine is an absolute delight to look at. I can’t think of a better way to start the summer off than with a bright pink and green record and cheerful, sunny artwork. The whole thing looks delicious.
Also, another fun bonus- the leaflet folds up into this watermelon-shaped turntable topper. Whee!
Exactly as it says on the tin, Seedshine sounds like a slice of summer. It's bright, fun, and cute, just as promised. Since Vinyl Moon does new themes every month, it's safe to assume that a winter release won't sound like the summer one, so there's a lot of variation possible. Judging from Vinyl Moon's previous mixes, though, which you can listen to online as well as on wax via their site or Spotify, they've got great taste, and it's a pretty safe bet the rest of them will be good!
The music sounds great, of course- it's a great way to meet new bands! But where the rubber meets the road here is the design element. Vinyl Moon is made for people who love and appreciate vinyl as a three-dimensional medium, and every inch of each month is designed. You could nearly frame the entire thing every month, but there are so many small details that can only be experienced by actually playing the music as well. It's a beautiful, juicy surprise every month for any art lover.
$25 USD per month (for 3 months- the price adjusts for the length of the plan.)
They claim to be "the best damn record club out there." And go on to say:
"We believe in the power of the album as an art form. Music is meant to be listened to and connected with. An album isn’t somethingAnd, you simply own, it’s a part of you. We offer a full sensory experience that encourages you to deeply connect with the music you’re listening to. Vinyl is a tangible representation of the music you love, and encourages an environment where you can listen actively and deeply."
Neat. And it comes with a cocktail recipe! Hooray!
The Vinyl Me, Please box is neat- it's all black, with branded logos and "for the love of music, do not bend." Inside the standard box is the month's 'featured' vinyl, a 12x12" art piece, and a cocktail recipe. Because, booze, sure! On the flipside of that is some neat sketchwork that led to the final piece. As an artist, this was really rad to look at. Full disclosure, this was in one month's box, and Weezer was in another. This one came with "Watch Out!" by Wells Fargo.
As it turns out, we already owned this album in the office, but honest, you guys. This one is so beautiful we don't mind having a spare. It's a blue, inky-black marble that's slightly transparent, and seriously looks like it's made out of a chunk of the ocean. And when you opened the bifold sleeve, guys, it was a pop-up.
I mean, how can you mess up Weezer, especially Pinkerton? Weezer is a quality classic of course, and it's really rad to have this version of it, too. Vinyl Me, Please does a lot of repressed classics, like Weezer here, and also Wells Fargo, which was originally pressed in the 1970s. We've also received Blessed Feathers from VMP, which we loved to pieces. It's a real mixed bag, which is great for expanding collections.
Vinyl Me, Please is definitely a premium service- everything is highly curated, and even when the album is a repeat of one you might own, it's still such a gorgeous rendition of it, the double is welcome. It's not necessarily new music, but the taste level is very high, and it's also worth noting that their review community and blog is great, and really worthwhile to read. But.
Guys, the pop up, though.
When Feedbands says grassroots, they mean it. This indie-soaked subscription service has pressed 34 exclusive records since their start in 2009. Their people work directly with their bands, not labels or agents. They even go so far as to literally feeding them from their organic farm. (Yes, really.) Your treat is a limited, exclusive, gorgeously pressed album, and an eclectic mix of genres and moods that make every month a surprise. If this month’s vinyl doesn’t seem for you, you can pick back in the archives to nab leftovers from previous months’ releases. Feedbands members also have access to digital versions, and can vote and comment on their platform.
"Feedband's mission is to support musicians on every level. Aside from just a vinyl subscription service, we also run an organic farm where we literally feed and host touring bands, and we use a portion of our revenue to send musical instruments to kids who can't afford them."
Apparently, you can plant the digital download card and it'll grow wildflowers. Awww. Everything about Feedband gives us the warm fuzzies.
A single, easy-open cardboard box, marked with Feedband’s logo. Hooray! Inside there’s a description of the album, lyrics, and other information on the band of the month. This month’s treat was A Shelter In The Desert, a band from Mexico City. Instrumental this time, so no lyrics. But the outside sleeve is a nice, heavy quality and the record itself is a pretty marbled silver-grey. With the colorful label, it’s really stunning to look at.
Admittedly, we’re coming at this with a bit of an advantage already because we’ve had Feedbands coming to our office for a while! For… research. Yes. Most of what we’ve gotten could be categorized as singer/songwriter, and staunchly indie, unknown. Unless they’re local, it’s very likely you’ve not heard of them. Which is the very idea! These bands are intentionally small and independent, so if you’re looking for an extremely palatable, mainstream album every month, this might not be the list for you. That said, though, we’ve loved every album that’s come in. (Sweet Bumpit, Benjamin, etc…) These bands don’t sound identical, or even similar, but they’re familiar. They sound like they’d be friends, musically.
Feedbands is the best for discovery. And, we’ll be real, at least a bit of obscurity. $25 per month can get a bit steep over time, but these are limited pressings, and Feedbands truly works hard to be sure the artists are directly compensated. (And fed, apparently.) Their cause is very noble, and the options of choosing other albums each month keeps you from being disappointed. We say, if you want to expand your horizons and sample something new at the table, subscribe to Feedbands.
So, all of those unboxings later...
What's the worth of a subscription in this day and age? It's easy to fling $10 a month at Spotify for unlimited music, but all of us clutch our wallets at least a little at anything higher than that. It all depends on your personal goals for your collection. Building up a vinyl collection can be daunting, and crate-digging can be very intimidating if you've never done it before. (Maybe more on that in the future!) Using a subscription service, even short-term, is an excellent way to discover your tastes and also bulk out your vinyl collection. And hey, who doesn't like a nice surprise in the mail once a month?
We'll have to wait and see what Columbia House is up to, but it's fair to say that these modern services are a far cry from the piles of schlock records that would've turned up for a $1 thirty years ago. These services all have their advantages and good reasons to subscribe, whether it's fresh versions of old stand-bys or the band that would go from "who?" to "I love them!" in the span of an LP.
What I can tell you is, I'm definitely camped out by the mailbox, excited for this month's arrivals!