Record Club Review: Vinyl Me, Please
Music clubs have been around for ages, and anybody who grew up in the 90s most likely tested the waters at some point - I mean, how could you turn down eight CDs for a penny! In an era where consumers had little choice, Columbia House and BMG dominated the mail-order market. They held entirely too much power over the industry, then MP3s and streaming came along to deliver a fatal blow that they would never recover from. However, there has been chatter of their unwanted, non-triumphant return as a vinyl service... ugh.
I guess it's not all bad though, as Columbia House paved the way for companies that actually have consumers' best interests in mind, like Vinyl Me, Please, Vinyl Moon, Flying Vinyl, and countless other subscription services offered by labels - my wallet hurts just thinking about it. Thankfully, the new wave of mail-order clubs are nothing like the old, sleazy negative option billing outfits.
As my passion for this fine hobby grew, I became aware of the increasing number of subscription clubs coming onto the scene, with Vinyl Me, Please leading the pack. I was hesitant to sign-up for a service where, after the first record, I would have no choice in what would arrive on my doorstep. After stalking their monthly offerings for half a year, I finally caved. It started like I'm sure it does with many members, and I joined when the Record of the Month was something I couldn't get anywhere else and couldn't live without. That moment finally presented itself when the June 2016 RotM was announced, Wells Fargo's long-lost LP, Watch Out!. I had never heard of the war-rock 70s group out of Zimbabwe before — I can give all credit to the folks over at VMP for the discovery — but it was love at first listen. Everything about the package was sexy as hell, from the gatefold jacket and 20 page booklet, to the vinyl itself, a vibrant yellow and green tie-dye pressing.
VMP's pricing is on par with what vinyl typically sells for these days and is very fair for what you get, which is almost always a fancy colored LP, along with an original art print and cocktail recipe meant to be enjoyed while spinning the record. And if that wasn't enough, they make a valiant effort to be sure everything sounds top-notch, usually remastering from the best avaialbe source.
There are three subscription levels to choose from, with the price dropping the longer you join. Their annual option, at $23/month, provides you with the RotM and included goodies (art prints, cocktail recipes, etc.) for an entire year, along with access to member-exclusive pressings in the online store. But what if you don't like the Toto album picked for November by the VMP staff? Well, they have you covered - if you don't dig what the RotM is, they provide four record swaps for anything in the past archive that will inevitably come in handy, unless you miraculously love every album they choose. And if signing up for an entire year is too rich for your blood, there's a three month membership ($25/month) but with only one swap. Then for commitment-phobes, there's the one-and-done option for $27.
Wanting to live on the edge just a little, I joined for three months. I was pleasantly surprised with the second RotM being Badbadnotgood's latest LP, IV, on red wax, which is something I would've bought the standard version of if not for getting the exclusive VMP package. Unfortunately, I did end up using my one swap, as I already owned the final record of my subscription, My Morning Jacket's masterpiece, Z. It did come on clear, multi-color splatter vinyl, so I was mildly tempted but ended up trading it for Nils Frahm, Spaces, their December 2015 RotM. In addition to those three LPs, I was lucky enough to grab two — Car Seat Headrest's Teens of Denial and The Avalanches' Wildflower — of the colored exclusive pressings from the VMP store during my stint, which I would argue is the biggest benefit of being a member.
After the three months came and went, I ultimately decided not to renew, as the next RotM, Glass Animals' How To Be A Human Being, was an album I wanted the deluxe 2xLP version of, not the 1xLP blue pressing VMP was offering. And to be honest, VMP has become so big that they must be pressing at least 10,000 records for each RotM now, so they're readily available for under $30 on the secondary market - I grabbed their November 2016 release for The Books' The Lemon of Pink at my local shop, still in shrink for $25.
With that said, Vinyl Me, Please is still a fantastic record club, and I can see why they have many loyal followers. I almost succumb to clicking the renew button every month, so joining again at some point isn't too far-fetched, but I will probably wait until something special pops up in their members-only store that's irresistible.