Label boss Dixon tells us why he thinks selling to fans directly is "the business model for the future."
"We've been very happy working together with Word and Sound for the past five years," says Dixon, referring to the popular German distributor. "However, we believe that doing the distribution ourselves is the most sustainable way of operating our label in the future." Dixon co-founded Innervisions in 2005 with Âme, and since then the label has been a steady source of modern house music. Its aesthetic has always gone beyond the music itself: most of their records come extravagantly packaged, and the label sidelines in other products as well, from designer clothes to the English translation of Tobias Rapp's book, Lost in Sound, which Innervisions published last year.
From now on, Innervisions releases will be available exclusively through Muting The Noise, a web shop run by the label that launched earlier this year. Muting the Noise already functions as the sole distributor for Innervisions' two sub-labels, one of which is also called Muting the Noise (the other is Philomena). It's an outlet for clothes and various other designer products as well, along with records hand-picked by Kristian Beyer of Âme.
Reached by phone at the end of last week, Dixon gave us the full rundown on Innervisions' move to self-distribution:
How does self-distribution better allow you to do what you want to do with Innervisions?While he had us on the line, Dixon also took a minute to further explain why Live at Robert Johnson Vol.8 will be his last mix CD:
There are two reasons. First, we realised that if we sold through our own web shop, we would still earn money and be able to do everything to our standards. At the moment, as everyone knows, sales are down; we are lucky enough to sell and we sell a good number—about 1,500 or if it's a big hit then 2,000—but that means nothing financially. We always try to deliver high quality mastering, and we do elaborate covers with unusual packaging, and we want to keep on doing this. At the same time, we want to make some profit. We were trying to decide like everyone else: should we go for lower quality because the numbers are down, or should we keep up the same quality and find other ways to distribute? We have a label called Philomena, which we have built up over the last three years on our web shop. We are able to sell around 500 copies per release, just through the web shop alone.
OK, this is the other answer. We looked at what the distributor is doing these days. Basically, there are less and less record stores out there; most of the records we are selling to distributors are in turn being shipped to Juno or Decks.de or other big online distributors. Record store culture is disappearing because the big online distributors are taking over the market. Our main problem was that we thought, "If we only sell through our web shop now, then we are going to hurt record store culture," which is not our intention. But when we looked at the situation carefully, we realised that 75% of the stuff we are selling through our distributor is basically being sold to another online distributor. So, now we will sell through our web shop, plus five or six record stores worldwide that we feel preserve record store culture—Phonica in London, for instance. We will sell them a couple of copies directly so that they are still supported.
So would you say distributors are only viable when more records are being made and sold?
Yeah. We actually have built up a strong fan-base over the last years and we realised that the people who are buying our stuff are also willing to buy it through our web shop. There is an argument that Decks records, for instance, has a big price break and you can buy it there for 1€ less, but the prices we are going to charge are the prices of all online distributors. Also, any money that comes through the web shop will support us 100%. If someone buys the same record on Decks records they support Decks records, a distributor in-between Decks records and Innervisions, and Innervisions. In other words, just 30% would support Innervisions. If a record is bought in our shop, the record fan is supporting us 100%—that is a reason for a fan to buy it in our shop.
Do you think this approach could only work for a label like Innervisons that has a strong fan-base, or do you think it would work for smaller labels too?
I actually consider my label as a small label as we employ just one person. But, at the same time, I know we have been established for quite some time and we have been working in the field for three years now. I think it would be no problem for the new smaller labels to group up—Seth Troxler and Jamie Jones, for example, already work very closely together. Five labels could come together, create a shop and sell through this shop. In my opinion, this is the business model for the future if you still want to do vinyl and not lose money on it.
As someone who only DJs with CDs, how do you think vinyl can maintain its value?
It will always hold its value. There is the question of sound and vinyl has the better sound full stop. Nowadays, this doesn't matter so much. In our club scene, the sound quality that you can get out of other formats is maybe not equal but it is good enough to be there too. The second thing is that I have always liked vinyl as an object. This is the reason a lot of DJs still use vinyl. They like the way vinyl looks, the way vinyl smells, the way vinyl feels, the way vinyl gets destroyed, the weight vinyl has.
Whoever chooses to play vinyl today, will really love it much more than it was back in the day when it was just the standard. Now you can compare vinyl to other presentations. People actually fight for it now. 10 or 12 years ago people weren't thinking about anything else. It was my job then and I loved it but I had no choice. Fans and clubbers look at me and say, "Hey, why don't you play vinyl anymore when in your shop you sell vinyl?" I always say, "My choice for presenting music is my choice but if I want you, who loves vinyl, to play or like the music that I am releasing then I need to offer vinyl." I always make sure the vinyl I offer is a really good product.
I hate the fact that a lot of labels want to produce vinyl, but since they aren't selling a lot anymore, they don't take as much care of the product. They don't invest properly in mastering it, they don't go to the right pressing plant, they don't do a good cover (whatever good means). It doesn't need to be flashy or expensive but something with value, identity. People who are no longer selling as many records think they cannot do it in the right way because the money isn't there and they want to save money. But if they save money and the vinyl isn't produced in a proper way and doesn't have the right weight then why should people buy it if the quality is so bad? If you release vinyl, you should release it properly.
I've heard you use the term "throwaway culture." As a web shop, is Muting The Noise a reaction to throwaway culture?
Definitely. It's also a feeling that throwaway culture goes hand in hand with the idea that everything is available and so ironically you cannot follow everything anymore. Seven years ago, when I went to a record shop, the guy that I'd known for years picked out the records for me and I knew that the selection was nearly perfect for me and a lot of the stuff that was around was in that selection. I was listening to it and I was buying 10% of it and I had the feeling that, "This is it, this is what is around." Now it is not like this anymore. Basically, I get the records through from extremely well informed sources, for example, Kristian, who was running a record shop for a long time and Gerd [Janson] and Marcus Worgull who have worked in record stores, and even then I still don't have the feeling that it is what is out there. Therefore searching for stuff has become very interesting again.
This is also what we want to establish with Muting The Noise. For instance, with our label Philomena, we don't do any promo for it anywhere, we don't announce anything, it is just there and you have to find it. It's interesting when you go through a distributor, they tell you a record has a lifespan of two to six weeks then it's over. We do Philomena and tell no one except the newsletter in our shop and we have been selling individual records for eight months, 500 were gone and then that was it. It shows that even after five months, people will realise there is a record out there that they heard somewhere and look to buy it from the only place they can, even if the record is four months old. The people that shop there often also have this feeling that they don't want the throwaway culture anymore.
I am sick of two things. First, the format itself. When I felt I was getting warmed up working on the last mix CD, the mix CD was over. So, in the future, if I do do something, it will be longer than 75 minutes and with a constant flow. I don't want to split it on two CDs and do two new concepts. The other thing is that I never, ever liked that medium, CD, at all. I always had an understanding of vinyl and I knew why I loved vinyl for such a long time. I don't play vinyl anymore but I know why I loved it. I never loved CDs. It was there, it was just something to use. The thing is, I absolutely hate the industry that is behind CD distribution. I can't stand the idea of compiling something and having to wait for six months for the release, just because the business works like this. I don't think the business needs to work like this and we are actively looking for ways to do it differently.The first Innervisions release sold exclusively through Muting The Noise will be Envision Remixes, which features three reworks of Osunlade's latest single by Dixon and Ame.
I don't know if you know this, but there are no mixes from me available online free of charge because I am completely against that. I never allow anyone to record my sets and I never do any promotional mixes, except for just two in the last four years: one for Resident Advisor and one for Red Bull Music Academy. In the future, I think I will do a mix that is available online but I want to do it with a new business model and this business model will include payment. Whoever wants to listen will need to pay, even if it is just a very little amount of money, and the artists involved will be paid.
With my last mix CD, I realised that it [the industry] was always going to be an issue. It never mattered if I was supposed to be doing a super fresh mix CD with only new music. The release would still be delayed until six months later. It made me pissed. Also, if it was a record that included a lot of classics and unreleased material, I was pissed that not only had I finished something and it was only released 6 months later, when I was not able to hear it anymore, but also it was then that I had to speak about it and people were able to buy it. After all this, I realised that this was my last mix CD. I thought "That's it. I can't handle it anymore." I can't do this format and not really feel it, that's my biggest problem.
A1 Envision (Âme Remix)
B1 Envision (Âme Acoustic Mix)
B2 Envision (Dixon Version)
Innervisions will release Envision Remixes on July 11th, 2011.