Record Subscription Services

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Just Like The Record Store?

One of the best things about record stores is the unique curation that varies by location. It is not something that can be duplicated via algorithm, despite websites’ best attempts to do so. During these shelter-in-place times, you may find yourself missing the experience of crate digging. The thrill of finding a record that has been on your radar for years is unlike anything else. There are several subscription services that promise to replicate this feeling such as Vinyl Me, Please, Trax & Wax, and the Third Man Records Vault. All of these services are upfront about the records you receive on a monthly basis and their pricing is similar. I found myself curious about these services and bought a month of VNYL to see how well the curation is.

About VNYL

VNYL sets itself apart from the other services by promising personalization. For $36 a month you get a featured record every month, or the #vibe as they call it, and two mystery records. The month I signed up the vibe was Raveena, which coincidentally I truly enjoy. When you sign up for the service, it asks you to sync your music streaming and social media accounts. I do not have any music streaming subscriptions or Instagram, but I do have Twitter and Discogs, so I linked those to my account. The idea is that their curators will thoroughly look through your streams, artists you follow, and wishlist to get an idea about your preferences.

Screenshots of the personalization screen.

I know I am getting one record that I want and the two mystery records ought to be something I will enjoy based on the promise of personalization. My Discogs wishlist has over 200 albums on it, I follow many bands on Twitter, and I listed a broad swath of artists on my VNYL profile. Now I just wait for the package to be delivered.

Waiting For the Package

Due to my obsessive personality I constantly check my email. On March 8, I get the notification from VNYL that my package is on the way. The tone of the email appeared to be geared to a much younger demographic. It includes instructions about opening the package, which should be self evident for anybody who has purchased records online. This is when the service’s target audience became clear to me; it is for social media “influencers” that post every material purchase online and hashtag it as a #flex. I should have picked up on this sooner, but the promise of Shanti for less than $150 was too enticing.

Instructional Unboxing GIF

The contents of the email tipped me off that this is not the service for me.

After this email I searched the #VNYL hashtag on Twitter and it confirmed my hunch. Post after post of poorly lit videos and pictures of entry level all-in-one record players and grotesque use of the word “vinyls”. I will not harp on people 12 years my junior, but I am not this demographic. After several similar tweets, I adjusted my expectations about my package. I still was not ready for it.

This service is clearly marketed for a younger demographic than myself.

The box came well put together and included a note from the employee who put together my box. The first record of course is Shanti by Raveena, perfect. The next two came so far from left field that I spent the next five minutes or so laughing. Andrew W.K. and the soundtrack from Grand Theft Auto V accompanied the soulful and jazzy Raveena. The whiplash was enough to undo my ponytail and alarm my cats. I have absolutely no interest in either one of those records and I am baffled by the choice to include them in a curated selection. There is nothing in my wishlist or preferences to indicate that those are the records I would ever pick.

I cancelled the service the following week, finding no interest in the #vibe of the month and not trusting the curation to bring me anything that I would actually listen to. After a quick trip to local record store to see if I could get some cash for the unwanted records, I told the clerk about the service and we had a good laugh. The $16 they paid me for the two records was much more than I expected to ever get for them, and it was money put towards groceries and snacks.

Is It Worth It?

Worth is hard to quantify. Is Shanti by Raveena worth $36? Based on past transactions on Discogs and eBay, yes, it’s easily worth double that price. Is it worth shelling out $36 a month on two mystery records that more likely than not disappoint you? I don’t think so. The experience of going to a record store is in talking to the owners, looking at oddities, old favorites, and new experiences. The best online curation pales in comparison to this. VNYL is a neat idea in concept, but the execution lacks any semblance of order. There is nothing I said or shared that would indicate that I would enjoy the Andrew W.K. or Grand Theft Auto V soundtrack records.

The service is best suited for teenagers and early twenty-somethings that are interested in maintaining a follower count and getting their viewership up on their Instagram Stories. I have been collecting records for over a decade and I am frankly too grumpy and “old man yells at cloud” to genuinely participate in such mindless consumerism without first considering my finances. If you are starting to get into records, I suggest sticking to record stores and Discogs. If you want to #flex on your friends and followers, go for VNYL.

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Jose Diaz

Collector of analog media.

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