Kristan Caryl sits down with Alexis Castiel to find out how his company, Diggers Factory, aims to minimise the risk for artists looking to release their records on vinyl.
Vinyl has been back once again for years now. The industry seems to be booming from the bottom to the top – not only are major labels releasing big chart albums on record, but so too are there brand new vinyl-only house and techno labels popping up every week.
Trouble is, this upturn in demand for physical product often results in delays at the manufacturing process. Young labels get left behind while huge quantities of Bob Dylan represses are placed at the front of the queue because of the money they generate for the pressing plants.
Enter Diggers Factory. It is an all-encompassing service the offers to minimise the risk inherent in pressing records to any and all users. It does so by using its network of contacts to create just the product you want, with art work, coloured vinyl, in whatever size, but in much smaller quantities than you might otherwise be able to order. This means people don’t have to invest heavily in stock, and the whole process is efficient and smooth, run by the Diggers Factory team by overseen and approved by you. The team also reckon you can make more money using their model than by going down more traditional routes.
To find out more about the service, how it works and why you might use it, we speak to Alexis Castiel who is CEO and co-founder, and then hear from someone who has done just that, namely French music legend Pedro Winter.
Kristan: Give us some background on your involvement with the music industry before you got to Diggers Factory.
Alexis: I didn’t have a chance to work a lot in the music industry because I launched Diggers Factory just after my studies. When I was a student, I worked for a charity festival in Lille and I created, with some friends, the school radio station to share music, interview artists and organise parties in clubs.
Why does vinyl still matter, why is it important? Why do you love it?
Vinyl matters because it’s a different way to listen to music in a world ruled by digital. At Diggers Factory, we believe that vinyl records are the best way to consume and value music these days. In a world where music is available everywhere, it seems easy to forget how much work, time and passion artists are putting into their work. And that’s where the vinyl format comes in. Allowing artists to press their music on vinyl is about enabling their listeners and people who really appreciate their music to get hold of a fragment of their genius. Vinyl is important because it allows artists to express themselves and not only with the music but also with the artwork. And that’s why I love vinyl. It creates emotions you won’t have with digital files.
Who is behind Diggers Factory, how many people are involved, and what are their skills, what do they all do?
We created Diggers Factory back in 2016 with Victor, one of my best friends. We met in school. And now we’re a team of six. Victor is the CTO so he manages all the website development. Benjamin is responsible for the business development, so he needs to find new artists and labels to work with. Cyril is the marketing director, Jeanne is in charge of the communication and Martin manages the Diggers Agency. We launched this agency a few months ago to work with brands around vinyl because it’s a powerful product. We work, for example, with Hermès!
What was the initial idea for the service? What was it inspired by? Have you had your own frustrations with pressing vinyl in the past that made you want to offer this service?
The initial idea was to allow everyone to produce their records without spending any money. It was inspired by the crowdfunding model but I wanted to go further. With crowdfunding you only gather the money and that’s all. After that, you’re alone. With Diggers Factory, the idea was to create a community around the vinyl, in terms of professionals but also fans. So, as an artist, when you come on to the platform, it’s not only to gather money from your fans but also to be part of this community.
We offer you lots of services (pressing, mastering, distribution to shops, shipping to customers, designers, promotion…). The idea was to create a turnkey solution for free. It’s not entirely free of course because we take a commission on the sales but the artist doesn’t have to pay if the project doesn’t work. I haven’t had any frustrations with the traditional model but lots of my friends did. The vinyl industry is complicated for artists and labels: vinyl is expensive, it’s complicated to find the best partners and you don’t know how many records you need to produce.
Tell us how the service works, in a nut shell. What are the key points of the service, the main USPs, the things that really appeal to people?
We offer two main services. The first one is the funding part. As an artist, you choose how many records you want to produce. The goal is simple: you share your album or EP to people, they can listen to the music and pre-order the record. If you reach your objective of pre-orders, the project is a success and production is launched. If not, people are refunded. For the artists and labels, there are many advantages: 1) No investment is needed to launch production (we use the money from the pre-orders to pay the production), 2) No over or underproduction as you know exactly how many records you sold before the production, 3) You work with the best partners that we find for you (pressing, mastering…).
And for the vinyl lovers, you participate in the production process and all the records you’ll find on Diggers Factory are exclusively on sale on our platform and created in limited editions. We do sometimes 50 or 100 records only!
Our second service is new. We collaborate with artists and labels we like and respect to offer limited editions on vinyl. Could be reissues, albums never produced on vinyl or new releases. We work with DJ Cam, Israel Vibration, Tommy Guerrero and many others.
Where do you press records? Do you offer different vinyl weights, coloured vinyl and so on?
We work with 10 different factories so we can offer every option that exists on earth. So yes, we have all vinyl weights, colours, cutting type etc etc.
In a world where music is available everywhere, it seems easy to forget how much work, time and passion artists are putting into their work.
How do you ensure quality? Do you send out test pressings?
Of course we listen to test pressing for each project. It’s really important and yes we work with mastering studios to have a proper mastering. This step is essential to have the best quality on the vinyl.
You say you have “a new distribution model, fairer and more intelligent” – can you expand on that for us?
Today, when you want to distribute your record, you need to find a distributor which can be difficult but you also need to produce at least 300 or 500 records to cover the costs. Why? Because the distributors buy the records at wholesale prices. Every label and artist has had issues with stock because of that. You produce more to decrease the cost by unit but if you don’t sell all the records, you’ll live the rest of your life with your stock.
With our system, you sell directly to your fans so you can cover your costs with only 50 records. And you can’t have stock because you sell the records before the production! Of course, now, we offer external distribution service so you can increase your sales. But the main goal is a direct to fans solution.
Why should someone use your service rather than traditional routes?
For an artist, you have no financial risk and you make more money with our solution than with the classic distribution network. We take a low commission and the commission applies on a retail price and not on a wholesale price.
What are the hardest parts for you to get right? Do you have pressing plant delays to deal with for example? Can you help with artwork for artists?
Yes, we have delays like everyone, and that’s the worst. Artists and fans want to get the records as soon as possible but it’s complicated. The market is overloaded, there are not enough factories. But we just found a new factory with very few delays. We keep trying to get the best we can for our customers.
How does it differ to other such services out there, specifically the likes of Qrates?
It’s pretty similar but we have more partners for the distribution and the pressing part. And we use Diggers Factory as a real community to push people to come back and see what’s new on Diggers Factory. You don’t come on Diggers Factory only for a project, but to discover exclusive releases and be part of a new way to consume vinyl records.
Can you help with distribution, getting records into the shops, or do you just make the product?
Yes indeed! We work with big partners like PIAS, Republic of Music, Alliance…
Can artists and labels make more money from pressing vinyl with you than via other routes?
Yes they can make more money with our solution than via the classic distribution network.
On Diggers Factory, we only sell the records to distributors when you’re profitable without. So most of the time you need to sell around 100 records to your fans and then we can start to sell to distributors. In any case, you’ll make more money with our solution.
You also do limited edition projects – how do you decide what to work on, are you driven by sales or more by the desire to get certain music on record?
Yes we work with artists we like. For these projects, the most important is the music, sales are not the main goal here. But of course, it’s still important, we need to live 🙂
Legendary French A&R, DJ, producer and Ed Banger label boss Pedro winter recently used the Diggers Factory service for a new Tommy Guerrero EP that is raw and visceral. Given that he has over seen more than 150 vinyl releases before now, we asked him why this new service offered a viable and interesting alternative.
What made you want to use the Diggers Factory service for the Tommy Guerrero release? What were the appealing advantages of it? How did you find the whole process?
I like the idea of having people involved, I mean, asking our fans to trust us and give us the strength to make special projects. I don’t ask them to finance our records, I’m just asking them to follow us and believe in our creative choices.
Why not use the systems and processes you have used on previous releases you have put on vinyl?
We are free to use all kinds of processes. We are a very small label, our power is to be able to adapt our production or marketing to what we feel is the best for our artist.
What frustrations have you had pressing vinyl in the past, and does this eliminate those?
Independent labels are facing the same delay problem with manufacture. It takes too much time to produce records nowadays. We are losing spontaneity and the energy.
Why is vinyl important to you at all?
There is no bad way to listen or enjoy music. I love both physical and digital format. We do vinyl because we love the object and also because it’s a different way to enjoy a record. We produced more than 150 vinyl so far with Ed Banger records.
People talk of the vinyl revival, is there really one? Do you find you are selling more, buying more, or is it still very niche?
It’s a fact and as music producers, we can only be happy. It’s important for the market. I was sad to see record stores closing one by one while people were listening to more and more music.