Brandon Bogajewicz is making music blogging into a very different form.
The L.A. native was raised on the music of KCRW and then disappeared to Poland, as a leap of faith to learn about himself and the world around him. While there, he formed the music blog the Burning Ear with a simple premise: music blogging for people who have no time for music. Brandon curated songs he felt weren’t just personally kickass, but were demonstrably excellent.
Since 2008, Bogajewicz was seeking a way to expand music appreciation in terms he understood, and felt like the world would appreciate. When he stumbled on the idea of a subscription-based vinyl music mixtape, he saw it as his calling. Launched via a Kickstarter, Vinyl Moon became a project for Brandon to put together excellent new releases in a high quality vinyl format, and ship monthly installments to the kind of people who might be interested in up-and-coming artists in a medium none of them can currently afford.
As a fan of the service, and a subscriber, I wanted to know how Bogajewicz took this from concept to reality, in a resurgence of vinyl where so many lesser companies are trying to do similar work on bigger budgets. After touring the garage that Vinyl Moon ships from, we sat down in his Los Angeles home over a bowl of Trader Joe’s potstickers to discuss how he takes tracks and gets them on wax.
Brandon, did you have a style or focus when the Burning Ear got started?
Broad but with a tendency towards my tastes, and ignoring anything that was already getting traction elsewhere. I was reading a lot of music blogs where, at the time, it was the rise of MP3 files but no one was hosting on-site. Everything went to MediaFire and there were pop-ups and it made the user feel like a criminal. So we hosted songs on-site, which helped set us apart.
So you weren’t about beating anyone to the punch with coverage?
Even if I heard a song the same day everyone else was hearing it, I wouldn’t post until a week or two later — until I was sure it fit. You start getting so many press emails. Let’s say — because this was 2009 — that Santigold released a new track at 1:22 p.m. Stereogum posted at 1:25, Pitchfork posted at 1:26, but the song is longer than four minutes? They’re literally posting before they could have listened to the song. If there are plenty of sites in that rat race with full staff working 24 hours, I can’t win that. I can do a different site, though, and that’s what I pursued.
Late last November, Yahoo accidentally published a Rihanna album review before they’d heard the album. It was this mad-libs version of all these opinions they already know they were going to express.
I didn’t see that but that sounds bad. That’s exactly the opposite of what I’m trying to make. It’s one thing to have an obituary pre-written based on the things a person has already done …
So you make your own site?
Yeah. Learning web building is terrible. There’s a real joy of “I can do anything,” followed closely by “Oh, no, what should I do?” Lots of late nights spending hours trying to move a word-cloud 10 pixels to the right.
And you were in Poland?
Warsaw. I went to as many shows as I could but not many bands come through Poland. It was one band every four months. Bands like Eagles of Death Metal or Handsome Furs came through at least once a year, and the crowds were so hungry for entertainment. No one there is jaded. Warsaw is more like Des Moines.
Warsaw: The Des Moines of Europe!
Exactly. So even though I was all over the globe my world was still very focused on the Americas. That made it easy to choose to come back to L.A. to pursue this.
Where does this jump from a blog to a curated vinyl subscription service?
I was getting a lot of 7” records from bands, because that’s where a lot of bands start. But I also like to sit down. This was really born of laziness. Every four minutes I had to stand up and flip a record. I just wished someone would take all of these 7” records and put them on a full LP. You know those questions when you say “Someone should do this!” and then you look around and no one is doing it, and you realize “Oh, no, it’s going to have to be me.”
Were you always a vinyl guy?
I had some records as a kid but they were really extensions of other fandoms. I had a Monty Python record and a Bart Simpson “Do The Bartman” cut-disc that I couldn’t play except at a friend’s house. But I’ve always been an album format guy. I like singles but I prefer the full album experience, and the nature of running a music blog is doing nothing but digital singles all day. So records became a way to put away the computer, listen to one of my favorite records, turn off my phone, forget about managing the media, and just experience the record.
There’s an explosion of vinyl-based subscription services right now, but so many seem focused on just making sure people have more records. It’s charging extra to do dumpster diving for someone else, and I think Vinyl Moon is one of the few places doing something special with this.
When we started this Kickstarter, we got a lot of questions about those other services, because some of those services have had a difficult time getting their business launched. I don’t want to speak negatively about anyone, but that did make life harder for us. The internet had a lot of questions for me.
Was this your first Kickstarter?
Yes and no. I started doing a lot of research on production and discovered crowdfunding was the perfect outlet for this kind of thing. Based on the quality and the minimum units at most pressing plants, you need to get at least 500 people together. If I didn’t have crowdfunding, it would’ve been hard to find more than 500 friends who were interested in pooling money to make a monthly record. There are vinyl fans, and music fans, and people with the same musical interests as you — and that Venn Diagram gets small very quickly.
So you had a pre-outing on crowdfunding?
You saw the little puppet Stevie out by the records? We did a little $100 project to have Stevie come with me and my girlfriend to Europe and if you chipped in a couple bucks, Stevie would send you a postcard. This was just a test to see how the system worked and the kind of stretch you could get without marketing. So I got my expectations set very low, because a lot of people come to crowdfunding expecting so much. People think that starting it is enough and the world is just going to reward them for having an idea. Based on that, we put our real project together understanding the value of a well done video and high quality production that reflects how much you actually care about a project. That turns into support from Kickstarter and other sites that, if you feel like you deserve it without putting in the work, you’ll never get.
It is such an impenetrable world getting into the manufacturing of vinyl records, including types and styles and pricing structures. How did you do it?
A lot of Google docs. A lot of Google spreadsheets. What does that cost? That number is never pleasant. I’d done some work for labels before and learned about respecting recordings. Timelines and the base of knowledge is a great start, but then you have to tour every pressing plant and figure out who has delays and problems. Most people I’ve talked to in bands or small labels have used a different plant for all of their releases, because they get mad at literally every plant they work with. The demand for vinyl right now is so strong that a lot of plants feel like they don’t owe customers anything. Vinyl plants are not specializing in customer service right now. They can say “Well, it’ll be another three months,” and honestly there’s nothing you can do.
That was one of my big fears about signing up for a monthly service with colored vinyl releases.
We’ve hit our groove. Our partners are in place, and those partners know I’m not out getting triple-quotes from people. I’m saying “You’re my guy,” and we make that happen. Just being a good dude and respecting other people’s time does a lot for me in the world of business.
Your packaging is so well designed. You have new artists and you have a theme to the album and you have an insert where you have all of your reviews of the music and why it matters to you. It’s a really excellent system and your dedication to the mix format shows.
There are six months of work that go into each month’s release. We wind up working very hard on this, to make this into something special. There’s a real lack in attention to packaging on a lot of modern records. You get art where the typography on the back is an inch high and you know they just spread out the artwork from the CD. Or they list track numbers instead of disc numbers? They aren’t even thinking about it, and consumers can sense that. I want to care about every element. Because Vinyl Moon isn’t sold in retail, we don’t put a barcode on our albums. That’s more space for art. We don’t even put our logo on the album so it doesn’t mess with the artwork. This is me building the record club I always wanted.
On the Kickstarter, you didn’t make a lot of promises about how this would work.
I like surprises. I want surprises in my life and I wanted to ask the internet if we could just try this and if anyone would trust me, based on my name and work, to give them something that would surprise them. “Are you down with this if I don’t tell you anything?” And the response was so strong that my suspicion was validated that I’m not alone. Someone asked during the Kickstarter “Hey, are we going to get mp3 downloads?” and before I could answer, other commenters said “No! Keep it pure.” Thanks for understanding me, internet. That’s not something you get to say often. But that was the moment I knew we’d done it. We’d clicked. That gave me the fire to open that next credit card and place that next order for that next big pressing because I knew people were going to love it, and my life hopefully wouldn’t collapse. We’re still going, and that feels like its own reward.
For any Inverse readers who’d want to take Vinyl Moon for a spin themselves, we’re partnering to offer some amazing deals on subscriptions right now, including up to 22% off when you order three back volumes.