Seven years after Fiedler co-founded record-of-the-month club Vinyl Me, Please (VMP), the Denver-based company has about 30,000 subscribers, as well as customers who collectively purchase thousands of additional records from its online catalog every month. To date, the company has shipped more than 2 million records to music lovers in more than 40 different countries.
The majority of VMP's customers are in their mid-twenties to late thirties. According to Fiedler, they value holding -- as well as playing -- an actual physical object (often, artfully designed, colored vinyl), in addition to reading liner notes detailing the music's history, which the company oversees. Maybe friends will discuss the tracks together over drinks, Fiedler says. "We're trying to facilitate journeys through music that create these transcendent, tangible experiences," he says.
To date, VMP has released hundreds of albums. Some are reissues of older classics, others have never been released on vinyl, especially during that time period when CDs were in vogue. Some are new releases, exclusive to the label. Artists range from Aretha Franklin to Outkast to the White Stripes to the Grateful Dead.
When VMP identifies a recording it wants to release, it negotiates with whoever holds the rights to the music -- whether it be a label, the artist, or some other entity. When musical acts tour Colorado, VMP often gains an audience with them in order to discuss potential projects.
Next, the audio -- sometimes, in the case of reissues, on the original master tapes -- gets sent to a mastering engineer, who digitally adjusts the EQ of songs. The engineer makes sure the tracks fit comfortably together in terms of the overall volume level, and in a style that sonically fits the specific genre of music, according to one top expert that VMP uses. Finally, the engineer uses a lathe to cut a master -- an aluminum disc coated with lacquer -- which will eventually lead to vinyl being pressed. "We work with some of the top remastering engineers in the world," says Fiedler. They include Alchemy Mastering in London, Bernie Grundman Mastering in Hollywood, and Sterling Sound, located in Nashville, as well as just outside of New York City.
That lacquer-coated master ultimately gets sent to a record manufacturing facility. As this YouTube video explains, the master undergoes a chemical bath which coats it with silver, before being nickel-plated. The end results are "stampers" of the A and B sides of an album. The stampers get fitted into a record press, which literally stamps the music's grooves into a wad of heated, congealed PVC pellets (sometimes likened to a "biscuit" or "puck"), flattening out the vinyl and forming it into a record.
Given this old-school approach and the equipment used, Fiedler notes, "There's not many manufacturing facilities in the world."
In order to meet specific quality and production needs, VMP consistently utilizes two plants: Quality Record Pressings (QRP) in Salina, Kansas, and GZ Vinyl in the Czech Republic.
"QRP is regarded as one of the best pressing facilities in the world," says Fiedler. "The records they produce are always going to be of the highest quality." Vinyl Me, Please uses QRP to manufacture albums pressed on 180-gram black vinyl, which is preferred by many audiophiles. Runs range up to about 10,000 copies. QRP utilizes vintage record-pressing machines that have been refurbished. Modern computer diagnostics have been integrated in order to enhance quality control.
A continent away from Kansas, Czech Republic-based GZ Vinyl is able to produce large quantities of records at "a pretty high degree of quality" on standard weight vinyl (around 140 to 150 grams), says Fiedler. VMP uses the manufacturer for its record club selections -- oftentimes pressed as flashy colored discs. Those orders can range from 15,000 to 30,000 copies per album -- or more. At that high of a volume, Fiedler says it's still cost-effective for his company to manufacture abroad and ship a container of albums by sea from Europe.
When VMP has its records pressed domestically, it orders record covers and info-booklets directly from New York-based A to Z Media. "They are a true partner to us," touts Fiedler. "We come to them with crazy ideas and they help us bring them to life." He says they help produce "the coolest, most creative packages in the market." A to Z Media also acts as the primary broker between Vinyl Me, Please and GZ Vinyl. When GZ manufactures records for VMP, it's usually able to do the print work for the project overseas.
Finally, the albums are warehoused and shipped to VMP customers by Saddle Creek Logistics Services in Charlotte, North Carolina. According to a 2015 press release, Fiedler says Saddle Creek offers a level of "expertise in subscription fulfillment" that can "accommodate our double-digit growth and the increasing complexity of our operations."
Could there be a Grammy on VMP's horizon for "Best Boxed or Special Limited Edition Package"? Fiedler thinks the company's deluxe reissue of Whitney Houston's debut album is worthy of an award.
And although there's an unsteady economy affected by a major pandemic, Fiedler anticipates continued growth for record album sales into the future. "Other physical formats continue to decline, while vinyl has maintained a pretty steady growth curve," Fiedler says. "Outside of streaming, it's really the only format growing on a year-over-year basis."