The Vinyl Debate – Part 4: Q&A with Shamal Ranasinghe of Topspin

The Music Industry Expert: Q&A with Shamal Ranasinghe (pictured on the left), VP and Co-Founder of Topspin, a technology-focused direct-to-fan marketing, management and distribution platform designed to provide artists the tools they need to market music directly to their fans and build successful businesses.

To read the entire series, click here.

theOCMD: CD sales are in a tailspin.  Some have even proclaimed the format dead. Interestingly, in that same period, vinyl has taken off. Do you think this is coincidence or not? Does the music industry need a physical format to survive?

Shamal: This is not a coincidence. Thanks to the promotional and distributional efficiencies of the Internet, fans can consume music in whatever format they want. The rising format of choice is digital in both downloadable files and streaming, and digital’s superior convenience and accessibility are causing CD sales to rapidly decline. These same efficiencies have made it easier for vinyl stalwarts to discover and acquire music in their preferred medium since it’s easier than ever for artists to directly merchandise and promote their music on a variety of formats. And no, I do not think the music industry needs any one kind of format to survive. Music is more important culturally than ever before and is too intrinsic a human quality for it to ever die. It will only grow in human relevance. Thus, there will always be an industry in and around music regardless of format.

theOCMD: From the artists represented on Topspin, what impact does a physical product, like vinyl, have on sales? How have you seen vinyl sales grow among your artists?

Shamal: At Topspin, about 48% of transactions have a physical product but these physical + digital packages represent about 76% of revenue. Here’s a slide to represent that graphically (http://www.flickr.com/photos/21542327@N06/4319531229/).

Topspin artists have seen that bundling physical with digital drives the overall sales and revenue of their campaigns. I also see more and more artists offer vinyl in their campaigns because now the tools exist to create a variety of flexible offers from vinyl to USB shaped Uzis (http://getbusycommittee.com/store/). I’m excited to see what the future holds for creative marketing in multiple formats.

theOCMD: Is vinyl a trend or here to stay?

Shamal: I think it’s here to stay at least in our lifetimes. Vinyl has a stronger chance of surviving in the long-term over CD’s as there is an inherent analog audio quality to vinyl that is considered better than what you experience with digitally encoded music. The CD format is just another digital format not much more differentiated than a digital file with a bit more artwork and plastic so the substitution effects should make the CD obsolete sooner.

theOCMD: Analog vs. digital.  What’s your preference and why?

Shamal: I like the convenience and immediacy of digital for my daily music consumption on my PC and iPod. Digital helps me to swim through more music than ever before. On the other hand, I collect vinyl as well and play it when I want a more in-tune music experience so I can savor the sounds and depth of the music. Plus it’s kind of ritualistic taking the record out of the crate, pulling the vinyl out of its sleeve, putting the needle on the record, and getting up to turn the side on the record. It seems laborious describing the process, but I feel I’m more connected with the experience of listening to the music when I play vinyl.

theOCMD: What do you hope the music industry will look like in 10 years?

Shamal: I hope the music industry will achieve a true revolution in how artists and fan connect directly with each other. There has definitely been a revolution in the way fans experience music thanks to disruptive distribution platforms like the old Napster and legal services like iTunes, but the revolution has yet to be fully realized for the way fans are able to support their favorite artists. We are focused on this specific area at Topspin and have seen promising indicators that if given efficient and convenient options, fans will pay for their music and compensate their favorite artists directly. Once these methods and mechanisms are perfected over time, artists will be able to thrive and survive based on their direct connection with their fans.

Trendspotting: Vinyl’s Comeback – Part 1

I’ve been tracking this trend for a while, the resurgence of vinyl.  I find it intriguing. Not long ago, vinyl was presumed as dead as the 8 track. While there was always a market for used and vintage vinyl among the hardcore collectors, the appreciation for analog has now crossed over to the younger generation and more casual listener. Now record shops, vinyl record shops, are back en vogue and popping up everywhere.

It got me curious to know what’s behind all this.  Is vinyl a fad that will fade or is it here to stay? Is it any coincidence that as the CD has died, vinyl as re-emerged in it’s place? As much as we love the convenience of digital music, do we – at the end of the day – need something to hold and touch? Or is it the music industry that needs a physical format? Does analog truly sound better than digital? Or is being a vinyl lover just a way to differentiate yourself from the music masses?

I decided to ask the experts and have gathered perspectives from a cross section of industries and disciplines. Over the next few days, you’ll hear opinions on the subject from:

  • The Acoustics Expert: John Dahl of THX
  • The Vinyl Expert: Vince Slusarz of Gotta Groove Records.
  • The Music Industry Expert: Shamal Ranasinghe of Topspin
  • The Marketing and Trends Guru: Seth Godin

It was a fun project and I hope you enjoy the series and their perspectives.  And please, chime in and tell us what you think.