As if waking up in a post-apocalyptic world, vinyl’s revived form remains pretty well unchanged despite its surroundings being startlingly unfamiliar amidst Bluetooth turntables and online album shopping.
A music subscription service was once essentially a means of acquiring new albums without rooting around the record stores, but the ubiquity of music and easy access to information on the internet means mailing out 7-inch singles of the top 10 isn’t really a steady business model any more.
Or is it? While the pandemic was hard for many of them, there are still more vinyl subscription services on the market than you might think. And they all share one aspect, whether it be mixing LPs with food or wine, pressing exclusive records or playing the role of record store manager-cum-sonic-guru: these are all services you can’t replicate simply by clicking through “related artists” on Spotify.
Below we have featured a couple of handfuls of living and breathing vinyl subscription services based in either the UK or the US, each offering a vinyl-to-your-door service that will help you start or build a record collection for your turntable while – fingers crossed – discovering new music.
Third Man Records Vault (UK & US)
For those who just can’t get enough Jack White
What you get: A Vault package (limited edition, exclusive vinyl plus stuff like pins and posters, patches and photo books – frequently housed in a collector's boxset) every quarter, plus 75 per cent off a Tidal subscription, 10 per cent off the Third Man Records online store, and access to pre-sales as well as Vault merchandise that is exclusive to members.
Set up in 2009 (more than 55 Vault packages ago), originally as a means for Jack White to release special or unreleased projects from The White Stripes, The Raconteurs and other Third Man-affiliated acts, Vault has become a treasure trove for fans and collectors of White’s considerable output. Though your vinyl only comes quarterly, subscriptions include exclusive access to a host of online bonuses (such as ticket pre-sales and live streaming of certain Third Man events) and a huge discount on a subscription to TIDAL’s top streaming tier.
Even if you don’t like White’s work, a Vault subscription could still be a wise investment. An exclusive mono 12-inch of The White Stripes’ final studio release Icky Thump was included in the first-ever Vault box, for example, and copies have gone on Discogs for close to a grand.
Price: $75 quarterly or $280 annually; £80 quarterly or £290 annually
UK subscription services
Wax & Stamp (UK)
For those who covet a diverse collection
What you get: One LP and one single/EP a month.
“When we were young, record stores were magical places you could spend entire afternoons just browsing,” say Josh and Luke, Wax & Stamp’s two-man team, on their website. They are gratefully aware of the blessings of the internet, but miss the serendipity of a storeowner’s suggestion. So they created this subscription service, where each month they select one record and sometimes invite a guest to pick the other.
Previous guests have included snooker legend and DJ Steve Davis and comedian Josie Long as well as various DJs and label managers, and genres covered have been as varied as post-dubstep and Spanish garage rock.
The promise is that by the end of the year you are the proud owner of "24 of the best releases (or obscure re-releases) of the year", which brings us to note that you shouldn't expect to receive "super commercial stuff" – Wax & Stamp prides itself on its eclectic picks.
Price: £360 annually, or £30/month billed monthly, or £31.60/month billed quarterly
The Retro (UK)
For those who just haven’t the time for crate-digging
What you get: Three second-hand LPs every month.
Not everybody enjoys hours spent rummaging in record shops and taking a chance on an eye-catching cover, so Retro Store offers to do all that for you. You can let them know the kind of music you’re into and they’ll try to match your tastes (the signup process prompts you to select three or more genres you like) or allow them full license to expand your sonic horizons.
The company doesn’t deal solely in vinyl – it offers similar services for cassettes, games and comics. Living in the past rarely seems so appealing.
Price: £35/month billed monthly, or £32/month billed every six months, or £34/month billed every three months, or £30/month billed annually
Casa Vinyl (UK)
For those who just want to dance
What you get: Between three and 10 vinyl per month based on one of four genre mixes (or your own choice), spanning house, techno, funk and soul.
"Dedicated to the DJs and selectors", Casa Vinyl is a shop selling electronic music on wax, and their subscription service. The model has changed a bit over the years – it used to get you two handpicked records per month as well as credits to spend in the store on an album of your choice, but now it's simplified and you get three, five or 10 records per month, all chosen by the team based on your chosen genre box (1. acid, ambient and Balaerica; 2. house, deep and disco; 3. jungle, dub and drum and bass; 4. funk, soul and edits).
Price: £40/month for three vinyl, or £60/month for five vinyl, or £110/month for 10 vinyl
Vinyl Deli (UK)
For building a collection you KNOW you'll like
What you get: From one to four new or 'pre-loved' records based on your likes and dislikes – and current collection.
Vinyl Deli really wants you to like their selection, which is why upon subscribing you'll receive a personalised questionnaire that asks what you like and don't like as a foundation on which it can build a preference profile. It also asks that you share your Discogs list so you don't get any repeats – sensible. In the company's words, it "focuses on your tastes, we learn your likes and dislikes, examine your current collection, and ensure every box is either pleasing your musical palette or complementing it".
The records can be new or second-hand ('pre-loved', as Vinyl Deli chooses to call it) but assures that your order will always be worth at least the cost of your monthly subscription.
Price: £28/month for one record, or £50/month for two records, or £100 for four records
For well-reviewed albums and/or ad-hoc buying
What you get: Three albums that have an average rating of 4/5 reviews from music fans– one headliner, one household name and one hidden gem.
The VinylBox you'll receive is based on genre-specific curations, with examples including The British Indie Edit, The Alt-Mixtape and A Night At The Movies. You get surprise picks every time, though you do get the opportunity to veto up to two albums in every month's wider selection if there are a couple you don't like or already own. These three (or two) albums apparently all have high audience ratings, "often" include double LPs, limited editions and coloured vinyl, and the average price value of albums comes in at just over £20 each.
Don't fancy a subscription? You can buy these curated boxes as a one-off, though it does cost more – £50 each.
Price: £34/month for two albums, or £44/month for three albums. Discounts are offered for quarterly and annual billing.
US subscription services
Vinyl Moon (US)
For those who value uniqueness and don’t want all their eggs in one basket
What you get: A 10-track compilation LP of handpicked new bands.
If you’re after new musical recommendations but are a little tentative about putting all your trust into one picked-out artist, Vinyl Moon swerves the risk by putting together a rather eclectic mix tape, pressing it to coloured vinyl and commissioning a visual artist to design the cover – so you end up with something entirely individual.
As with most of these discovery-based services, you also get relevant literature to tell you about the bands you’re listening to, as well as lyric sheets and individual artwork for each track, plus digital downloads for the album. "Every record includes extra (and often hidden) bonus features" too.
Price: $34/month, or $33/month billed quarterly, or $31/month billed annually
Vinyl Me, Please (US)
For those who want special editions (or really like Dolly Parton)
What you get: One exclusive LP delivered monthly, based on one of five 'tracks'. While relatively eclectic, the Records of the Month plucked by the comparatively well-known Vinyl Me, Please are more likely to be ones of which you’ve already heard. (You can see previous picks here.)
You get to choose from five 'tracks' per month, depending on whether you want something from the Classics, Essentials, Hip-hop, Country or brand-new Rock genre (it's how VMP chooses the best monthly record for you), but the twist here is these LPs are special editions – the company works closely with the label and artist to create an exclusive 12-inch with features like coloured vinyl, custom lyric books, exclusive artwork or artist notes. If that doesn’t appeal, or you don’t like a particular choice, committing to a 3- or 12-month subscription offers the freedom of swapping one in three of the records you receive (as well as driving down the cumulative cost).
Then there's the rather niche, spin-off 'Vinyl Me, Parton' subscription, which gives Dolly Parton fans "a monthly connection with Dolly’s catalogue on vinyl, with 12 Records of the Month spanning the entirety of Dolly’s recording career." These remasters range from her debut to some of her recent self-released albums and all come on exclusive colour vinyl. Rockin' Years, every year.
Price: £46/month, or $128 for three months, or $237 for six months, or $435 for one year
Turntable Kitchen (US)
For those who enjoy dancing around a bubbling pot
What you get: One 7-inch record single, a digital mixtape, three seasonal recipes, a premium ingredient or two, and tasting notes. Plus access to Turntable Kitchen's 'premium' digital content.
A rather twee poster-couple-led subscription servicing for your taste buds as well as your eardrums, Turntable Kitchen's Pairings Box is apparently the original recipes and vinyl subscription service (are there others?!) You’re getting a single rather than an LP, but these are specially pressed and released by artists you’re not going to find on the shelves of your local supermarket. In fact, the records are limited edition (it never presses more than the original pressing) and are often the artist collaborators’ very first physical release.
If you’re not a keen cook (and why ought you be?), they’ve built massive factories where professionals can do it for you properly. Turntable Kitchen also offers a does-what-it-says-on-the-tin coffee and vinyl subscription, as well as a Sounds Delicious subscription that is all about exclusive covers.
For those who know what they like and want more of it
What you get: One to three records tailored to your tastes.
While it may be shrewd to keep a bucket nearby while navigating VNYL’s website – a gratuitous use of hashtags and the words ‘vibe’ and ‘crib’ in garish pink make it feel a bit like it was designed by an excitable music teacher trying to get their students into buying records again – the general concept is rather astute.
While most other services ‘recommend’ records based on its tastes, VNYL appoints each subscriber a rep who will pick out music especially for them. Once signed up, you can connect to your Spotify, Soundcloud and Discogs accounts – the last will help make sure you don’t get posted anything you already own, as there’re no returns or swapsies. Each month pick a ‘vibe’ such as #dinnerparty or #flowerpower (yes, they’re all hashtags) and they’ll do all the rest.
Price: $22/month for one vinyl, or $39/month (or $33/month billed quarterly) for three vinyl
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