Veteran experimental producer Vladislav Delay is taking the digital plunge. The vinyl stan has announced that he’s remastered the records on his Ripatti label in preparation for its digital release, which made us wonder why he held out so long and what convinced him to change his mind. It turns out that Delay, who has contributed to some of our favorite labels (Chain Reaction, Mille Plateaux, Raster-Noton, Semantica), has struggled with the challenges that have transformed the music industry since the advent of digital media, and he’s had to compromise certain aspects of his artistic vision in order to remain solvent. We reached out to get his thoughts on the strengths and pitfalls of both mediums and what it takes to make money in the contemporary music industry.
The first and most obvious question is, what made you change your mind?
Seeing the sales reports, basically. I ran out of money to release more vinyl without selling them [digitally].
Why and when did you decide to release your records digitally?
I kept looking at the situation by each release, then hired a press agency to make people aware of the releases and try to sell some copies. When that didn’t change anything, and I reached catalog number 07 and made deep losses, I just had to accept the situation. I kept at it as long as I could, thinking it will pick up eventually, but it didn’t. I can’t keep paying a lot of money to release the music. Zero return would be okay, but not losing more money than I have.
Why were you originally opposed to the idea of releasing digital records?
I really don’t like the digital format. I guess I’m just a simple person and I trust and feel things more when I can see and hold them. The file compression [algorithms used by] major digital [retailers] makes everything sound pretty bad. It’s just too simplistic. And the way it enforces the fast-commodity kind of music consumption, I can’t say I’m a big fan of that.
There are some positive sides to releasing digitally. There’s no endless hassle with pressing vinyls and waiting for delays in production line, so I can release music quite effortlessly. Also, making vinyl sound good is such a big effort, and even then the end results with each listening situation differs quite a bit, so each listener has a different-sounding version, in a way. Digital, at least when listened at high-res formats, allows people to hear the same as I do if their monitoring system is correct, and I like that a lot.
One of the things that was important for me when I started the label was that I could offer something that has value and lasts longer than your hard drive. I never was into vinyl so strongly. I chose the format because I had no other options. I never said vinyl sounds great. It can sound great if you’re very wealthy, but that’s not my average listener, I guess. No fancy high-end turntable set-ups. So, because I’m not attached to vinyl that much, it’s not in principle a big deal to let that go. But practically, that there’s nothing physical anymore is a huge loss.
Whenever the topic of “going digital” comes up, I’m reminded of this Twitter conversation between Aurora Halal, Shawn O’Sullivan, and a few other producers/writers/industry types. I think O’Sullivan’s comments are really interesting, that refusing to release digitally is a way of opposing dominant means of distribution. Was there ever a political element like that to your decision to release only on vinyl?
No, I never had political ideas about the vinyl or release medium. To be honest, life is too short for me to get into these theories and politics. I’d really rather focus on making the music. I’m not the one trying to change the game or oppose this or that, I’m trying to find a way to do my own thing out there and today’s world apparently asks you to be rather flexible. It makes it hard to create longevity and a body of work though. But yeah, the focus is content now, not the packaging.
Published November 13, 2014. Words by Elissa Stolman.