Random Records and The Future Of Used Vinyl in a New Way
Article by Joseph Timmons: IndiePulse Music Magazine
One thing I will always try to provide for the IndiePulse Reader is new and exciting resources to find and experience music that is new, fresh and bold to hear. But this article is about a very novel and yet brilliant new music subscription service that is looking to do the same using the “Trash to Treasure” model that has made the local Used Record Store the favorite home of us Crate Diggers and Indie Black Wax Hounds. This new online service offers you quality used vinyl at exceptional pricing, value and guarantees you will find something to love, as well as increase your collection of favorites while saving bank… only one hitch, you don’t pick the records.
Random Records is a new Record Subscription Service out of Europe, specifically, Amsterdam, that is gaining a strong following and even more credibility as a service that values quality over cost. Although not yet available in the United States, Random Records does travel to the states to get materials, a global import / export of the best music that can be found anywhere. When I reached out to Random, I thought I would get some contact email or call to this number sort of thing, not so, I got an email within a day from Falco Wienberg who was in San Francisco at the time taking care of Business, we did the interview via email because there was no opportunity to really have a sit down, but this interview was well worth the wait and like the music they offer, pure gold.
Founded by Josanne Mansveld, a student of Medicine at University of Leiden, Luuk Ballhaus who has studied for a Master in Marketing & Entrepreneurship at University of Amsterdam and our interviewee, Falco Wienberg who studied for International Business at Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences.
IPM: Falco, how did Random Records Start?
“Random Records started within an Entrepreneurship specialization at the University of Amsterdam. The program lasts for one semester and is geared to teach students about starting a business through, well, actually starting a business. As part of this, the entire group spent a weekend in a castle in Heemskerk (about an hour away from Amsterdam) to generate as many business ideas as possible.”
“Second evening, Luuk and I got together for a beer (we had not known each other before that) and figured out that we are both big into music, and both listen to records. We instantly got hooked on the idea of combining business and our shared passion. As it happened, next morning we ran into Josanne and figured out that also she is big into music and listens to records. So there we were, nailed down the industry, but puzzling to find a different business model from the record store (online and offline). What made us what we are today was the idea to blend music on vinyl with a subscription model and a Curating structure (you let others do the choice for you). “
IPM: Did you begin like most businesses, in the garage or a shed behind the house, or did you start in another way?
“After about 2 months of Random Records being alive, a friend of mine, Adrien Taret who at the time had a Bachelor of Commerce from McGill University, living in Montreal reached out that he saw our Random Records on social media, being a DJ and Producer himself, he loved the idea and wanted to join us, so he is on board right now as well.”
IPM: was the idea strictly entrepreneurial?
“Really, what we wanted to do was to take a different approach at the industry as there is pretty little variation (traditional record store, online market, some subscription services). A big reason to go second-hand was the price point. To keep it affordable would mean sending out only 1 record a month, which increases the chances of the recipient not liking it. Going for 3 new records increases the price a lot. We just did not believe people would give away the power to choose three 3 records (which can easily be $75.00 USD). So second-hand was the perfect mix between low risk for customers at good prices and leaving us a little room to take some compensation for our efforts. “
IPM: Where do you get your stock and how unique are the selections?
“We buy records from a lot of sources, mainly collections. So far, we have bought around 3000 records, but only about 500 of those matched what we wanted. We are highly selective in what we send out, sometimes collectors reach out to us to sell their goodies as they like the concept and rather have us send them out to fellow music lovers than record stores simply storing them in warehouses and waiting till they become rare and can be sold at sky high prices. One anecdote: A 60 year old man from the north of the Netherlands has been buying and selling records all his life. He reached out to us to sell his private collection, basically the best of the best of 30+ years of selecting. All his records go out every month; we never keep any to ourselves. “
IPM: I understand that you are a European company and you don’t, at present ship to USA, will that be part of the future of Random Records, to reach the US.
“Adrien joined us some months ago, who is based out of Montreal. We are currently registering a branch here and hope to be able to ship form here to the USA. Right now it is just a problem associated with shipping cost as these are just way too high for starting businesses. “
IPM: Can you give some examples of customer response / satisfaction.
“The first question we get literally every single time is if someone can choose their music style. In the very beginning we’d only have a surprise me package, but as a response to that we introduced the Jazz/Funk/Soul and Rock/Pop/Blues selections. We know that these are still pretty broad, but narrowing it down gets extremely difficult as music can hardly be put into a single category. We are planning on adding more variation, a classical music package is in the making as well as a soundtrack package.”
“Customers are generally really happy. The experience is great, the records are in great condition and the selection is decent. We are very approachable as a business as well. Just yesterday, for example, we got a message that one of the records we have sent out gets stuck after a certain track (which is very unfortunate but can happen dealing with second hand goods and customers know this). Because of this, we will make sure she gets for an extra free record in her next package. “
IPM: I myself collect records avidly, what could I expect if I were a customer.
“Very honestly, if you are up for discovering new stuff, you’ll probably enjoy it a lot! We sometimes hear from collectors that this is not interesting for them as chances are much higher they have it already since the product is second hand or that their music taste is that refined that letting others choose would be a stupid idea. I’d be very interested to hear what your thoughts are on this! But getting back to the product, we will ship you a box specifically made for Vinyl, either with our Logo sprayed on it or our sticker centered. When you open the box, from the inside there will be one of those trashy singles with our sticker on it looking at you, and it will say something like “Hi Joe. Enjoy the music!” written on it. We normally put in some stickers as well.”
IPM: looking at your site, your crew seem to be very happy with what you do, have there been any times when finding albums in the condition you need hard to find, or has there ever been a time where you wondered if this would work out.
“Yes, definitely… After an article from Amsterdam’s largest newspaper we sold out of our jazz funk & soul packages in a day. We got a lot of requests when it would be available again, but buying good records at the right price is pretty difficult in cities like Amsterdam, San Francisco, I guess you know what I am talking about. To tackle that, we started gathering a lot of stock in Germany now as prices are MUCH lower over there. We have about 800 records at my Dad’s house (as I am from Germany) waiting to be taken to Amsterdam right now.”
IPM: Here in the US, there was an attempt to start a sort of “NetWax” for records, did not even launch, but another company, Vinyl Me, Please, has gained a large following by offering a curated collection of new albums or reprints. Your service is a great idea, also a very fascinating way to start or grow a collection. Was this the plan, to expose new music to those that may not know about or heard it?
“That was totally the plan. Vinyl is booming so much these days, mainly by more and more people starting to listen to records (again), rather than the existing collectors suddenly buying incredible volumes. Going to a record store is not a pleasant experience for everyone. If you are new to the scene, standing in front of those 1000s of records makes making a good choice difficult. We want to solve this problem through making a choice for them, help them grow their collection and inspire them to know a little more what to look for next time. “
“We do not try to replace record stores, as we ourselves are big fans of crate digging, the atmosphere there etc. Random Records is more of a compliment to this, offering an easy and affordable way to get great new music, maybe even things you’d normally not select (habit buying, always going to the same corners and picking well known artists is easy and popular).”
IPM: Will this strictly be LPs or would you ever consider 45rpm / Singles.
“In the last year, we actually got our hands on some great collections of 7 inch’s. And yes, first we will start with a ‘surprise me’ package of singles, so customers cannot put in a genre. The idea is to test the response and then offer genre based packages later.”
IPM: Have you ever send something to someone that already owned it.
“Yes, we once had the case where a Jazz collector had all the records we sent him in his onetime package already. We saw it as a good sign, telling us we are sending out collectors’ items. We talked with that customer, asked what he would be looking for, in specific what artists, and created such a package for him. In general, that is part of the risk though. We do not have a one fits all return policy, but can always work something out in case someone already has the records. C’est la vie.”
IPM: Sorry to seem repetitive, but like I said this service is new to “The American Buyer”, how do you choose records for your clients, do they fill out a questionnaire on likes, dislikes and style of music taste, or is it “the luck of the draw”?
“This involves a tradeoff for us. The more we let clients define their music taste, the more effort and difficulty this is for us to select something that actually corresponds to that, which in turn would make it much more expensive. “
“The selections are handpicked and we keep careful record of what we send every individual customer, to make sure one receives a great mix over the time of service. To find a good compromise on this, we introduced “themed” packages. Instead of only offering a “surprise me package”, which can include music from any genre, we started a “jazz, funk & soul” and “rock, pop & blues” package. This has worked incredibly well for us to now. The future will be completely custom compilations, such as 2x soul records and 1x blues record for example.”
IPM: there seems to be a lot of press about you in Europe, are we one of the first US journals to reach out to you?
“Yes, So far we got plenty of coverage in the Netherlands. The interesting part is that we never reached out to them, but rather the opposite. I guess word spread quickly as there is not second hand subscription service for records in the country, so we could really benefit from the ‘news and hot topics’ hunt by newspapers. Once your article is up, I’d be happy to mention you there as well and link back to your site!”
IPM: Looking on your site, I saw a picture, with the Random Records Label, what are those, to you produce records?
“Talking about the singles? No, we buy scratched singles in bulk, mostly from Germany. We simply put our sticker on them and give them away at events, sort of as a flyer. However, we have gotten responses from people that poked a hole in the sticker and still checked out the music.”
IPM: What is, in your opinion, what would you like to see in the company’s future, and how will you keep it humble?
“Right now we are all just in it next to our studies. Luuk and I will be rounding up our degrees in summer 2016 and plan to spend full time on Random Records. We hope to reach many more vinyl lovers in many more countries that way, spend a lot of time uncovering hidden treasures from attics and such from all over Europe.”
Go to http://www.randomrecords.me and Favorite the page, if you live in their distribution areas, give ‘em a try, well worth it, and once they open the Canadian branch and ship U.S locations, be sure that I will definitely be on the reception list. Also, Follow them on Facebook for News and Updates to their services. Random Records is also on Instagram.