The D goes Digi

Last month I spoke with Cliff Thomas, head of operations at Detroit Digital Vinyl, for a piece in this week’s Earplug on the debut of Submerge‘s mp3 site. Here’s a longer excerpt from our conversation.

How has response been so far?

Response has been excellent. We haven’t put the word out full blast yet, either, which is really surprising, because we’re getting an awful lot of business already, so word of mouth is spreading really quick.

How long have you been with Submerge? How did this business model come together?

When I came into the picture, I signed with Submerge recordings with Ade Minor, Mr De’ from Electrofunk, just about a year and a half ago, and he said he needed some help with the site, to build it up, it was still really not even close to being done at that point, but we’ve been working on it pretty much nonstop ever since, so it’s been a long time in the making right here, everybody wanted to make sure we got it right.

Did you have a model for a pay download site while you were kind of conceptualizing this, was there anything you looked to as a really functional model?

Well, the main thing we based the site off of is the same kind of thing we have going at We’re using the same sort of setup. We didn’t look at other mp3 download sites. We want to make this one a little bit different.

How does, business-wise, how does the site help cut costs on shipping and other peripherals?

The beauty of mp3s is that there’s no manufacturing cost, so it makes everything a lot easier, because we don’t have to deal with any shipping or manufacturing costs, and it gives the artists the chance to sell their music on another front we haven’t made available before. People have been able to go to file sharing networks to get the Submerge stuff before, but we want to give people a chance to buy it legitimately instead of having to go there because we don’t offer it otherwise. So this kind of site was really inevitable. You’ll see more and more of them from other companies popping up in the future, I’m pretty sure — if they’re smart.

Right now is the plan to include all Submerge labels only, or if a small label from Detroit came to you looking for distribution would you be open to that?

Well, it’s run the same. DDV is still Submerge, so people still have to pass by the radar, we’re not going to sign just anybody, we want to make sure the music is great music, like Submerge is known for, so we can’t just take anybody, but we’re definitely up to hear stuff from everybody, at the same time. We’ll be taking on more and more new labels, we have people talking to us about it right now.

How has the artist response been? Have they been pretty stoked about it?

Oh man, they’re excited. I talked to Mad Mike the other day and he said, ‘This is the first time I’ve ever sold a record in my sleep.’ And it’s just really tripped out for people who have been in the business for a long time for a new format to roll around for them to sell their music; it’s taking Submerge to the next level, that they haven’t been before, so everybody’s real excited about it, it’s been anticipated in the camp for a long time.

I was kind of surprised, to tell you the truth, it’s always seemed like Submerge has always kind of been resistant to change, it’s always been about the old school way of doing business.

It still is the old school way of doing business, because to tell you the truth it’s still the best way to do business. Submerge, the reputation and everything’s been built up over a long period of time — if it didn’t work, we wouldn’t still be around, because there’s a lot of distributors that are crashind and burning all over the place, right now, with the music market the way it is, and Submerge has been able to stick through that because of the way we handle business and the way we do our music. So we’re going to take the same kind of business model and run it through DDV.

I saw most, if not all of the UR catalog is up.

Not all of it, a pretty good amount. There will be certain things that will never be available for mp3 download, because certain things happen over time, either material gets lost or the artist isn’t with us any longer, so the rights have reverted back to them and we can’t put it back up. And you know, as UR has done in the past they’ll probably just roll over the catalog numbers. But there’ll be also a lot of material, extra tracks we’ll be adding onto releases, that you won’t be able to get on vinyl. There’ll be exclusive tracks and stuff that’ll only be available on DDV that they wouldn’t put on vinyl otherwise, because in a vinyl market you have to focus a lot more upon the dance market, because what are non-dance DJs be doing with the vinyl anyways? Now we can actually broaden the kind of music we put out as well. We ain’t going to stop putting out dance music, because we all love it, but we’re definitely going to be putting out a wider variety of material now that we have this format to do it in.

What about formats — how’s that working out?

Some of the EPs as we go will be available in wav file forms, for use however you want. We’re selling actual mp3s, we’re not doing some kind of bullshit format where you can only burn it a couple of times, because it’s just ridiculously inconvenient they way some of these places do it, and it doesn’t stop file sharing or anything like that, all it does is piss people off. So we decided we wanted to just go with easy-to-use formats, so we’re going to be offering mp3s and wavs. The only wav files we have for download now are the ones on my label, on The Plan.

What have been some of the hot sellers so far?

The hot, hot selling stuff so far has been the Galazy 2 Galaxy stuff, let me take a look so I can give you a real accurate readout…of course, “Knights of the Jaguar” is selling really well, the UR “Timeline” record is selling well, the DJ 300 Electric Soul mix, let’s see, what else, one of the new Motech records, the Gerald Mitchell one, the track “Bellydancer” off that one is selling really well.

And you guys are going to do a podcast as well, huh?

Yes we are, we’re going to be doing a podcast at the Submerge headquarters, we haven’t decided how frequent it will be, but we imagine it’ll be like once or twice a month. Currently we’re building a studio for it in there right now, so we’re all really excited about that, it gives everybody a chance to show off.

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