December 6, 2023
Dec 6, 2023
A new technology in the vinyl pressing world aims to take up a larger share of the industry. It has to do with blockchain – that’s the same technology used behind the cryptocurrency Bitcoin.
It may seem ironic, even contradictory, that vinyl – an older method of experiencing music – is entering into this digital territory. But vinylkey co-founder Gar Ragland says it’s actually the perfect “entryway,” for those who are apprehensive about the crypto realm.
“It starts with a physical, recognizable product that people understand,” Ragland said.
The recognizable product, of course, is the record itself. Embedded in the vinyl is where things get more complex. Enter new buzzwords, like “blockchain” and “NFTs.” More on that in moment.
The start-up, vinylkey, launched in 2021 as vinyl records sales surged, surpassing CD sales for the first time in three decades. Founders saw an opportunity for producing a “next level collectible” record that could be a trackable investment over time.
“We’re positioning this as an addition to the vinyl industry, it’s not intended to replace a regular pressing. It’s like a super premium version of a normal record,” Ragland said.
It’s considered “premium” because each record gets pressed with a unique ID tag, embedded in the vinyl. That tag is linked to the blockchain basically, a digital ledger that keeps a record of transactions. It stores transaction information securely, protecting people’s privacy, but also a system of independent monitors ensures transparency. The benefit for buyers and collectors is it serves as proof of ownership and authenticity.
“First and foremost, it’s a record like any other, but it offers all the additional benefits of an NFT,” Ragland said.
NFT’s, or non-fungible tokens, are essentially the proof of ownership, backed by the blockchain. It’s a source of potential income for artists in any medium that can be digitized – paintings, video, and even online memes.
The benefit of storing transaction information on a vinyl record is a two way street – benefitting the buyer as well as the artist. For instance, if someone buys a record embedded with an NFT tag and decides to resell it a year later, a percentage of the resale value goes back to the artist.
And national and international musicians are paying attention. Most recently, Asheville-based singer Moses Sumney pressed 11 records embedded with NFT tags for his album, “Live From Blackalachia.” The first record sold for more than $5,000. The buyer now owns that physical record, as well as a digital copy of a video and photo of Sumney pressing the record at Citizen Vinyl.
“Moses being our first customer was awesome because he got the concept and was all in,” software developer and vinylkey co-founder Sean Moore said.
Already, about a dozen artists are currently in talks with vinylkey. As other musicians follow suit, Moore says vinylkey is preparing to license the technology and blockchain software to other pressing facilities across the country.
“There are more and more vinyl albums sold, so we see this growing and us needing to involve other pressing plants besides Citizen Vinyl,” Moore said.
While the NFT landscape is still a relatively uncharted frontier, the founders of vinylkey anticipate the concept will play an increasingly important role in the arts economy.