The information on QRATES dropped into my inbox while I was travelling. It`s taken me a bit to find a window to write something, so I might be a tad late on this, but I do think it will be of interest to those who visit Test Pressing. People in the business and / or involved with record labels may dismiss QRATES as novelty, unnecessary, but for someone like me who has dashed naked to the waters edge only to stop short (thus far) of dipping a toe, I think it opens up the idea of running a vinyl / record label to everyone, simplifying and demystifying the process. However, I am prone to bursts of “globe-shaking great ideas” that often fall flat or fail to materialize, so I`m gonna split this piece into FACT (what QRATES is) and FANTASY (my stream of conscious).
QRATES is a Japanese company run by a team of people with experience in music retail, label management and distribution. Their basic aim was to create a tool to make releasing vinyl easier. The platform is open genre and everybody is welcome to create a QRATES account or as they put it “store”. To open a store and propose a project takes minutes.
Entering the site you can quickly move to designing your release, beginning with the vinyl. Colour, speed, weight, number can all be selected. Down the right hand side of the screen you will see costs calculated. You can do the same for labels, and sleeves, where images can be dragged and dropped if these options are checked. Clicking about you will see how numbers change dependent on preferences chosen and obviously the more copies you order the cheaper it becomes. The total that you see is a pressing price that includes bulk shipping of the finished records to your address.
You then upload your tracks and the project is ready to go. At this point tracks do not need to be fully mastered, but this will be required before pressing goes ahead (QRATES will soon also offer a mastering service).
So far this will all be pretty familiar to anyone who has had a chat with Conflikt Arts, the French pressing plant used by at least everyone I know (chances are QRATES also go through these folks). The difference with QRATES is primarily funding. QRATES is set up so that there is no upfront payment (or fee). Pressing instead is paid for by individual customer pre-orders. When you set up a project you indicate a target number of copies (minimum 100, maximum 500. Test Pressings are available for orders of 300. Represses can be ordered at reduced rates) and set a target date for obtaining the equivalent figure in pre-orders (between 30 to 90 days). Kinda boutique crowdfunding. You will also need to set a sale price and shipping rates.
This does mean that via QRATES it will potentially cost you nothing to get a record out there and start a label. QRATES` economy is key. Nothing unwanted is produced or paid for. There are no overstocks and no waste. Advertising your project will also be key. You don`t want it sat there sad, lonely, an unnoticed wallflower.
If your project doesn`t hit its target pre-orders in the allotted time, you can either:
1. Cancel the project (with no charge incurred), and pre-orders are refunded
2. Pay for the remaining copies (at pressing cost) yourself and so activate pressing (you may want to have a few pieces anyway to either promo out or sell through your own site / shop or at gigs)
At the moment, finished records are shipped to you and you then ship to individual customers, but QRATES are working on a service where they will ship to customers for you. They are also working on an option that will allow shops to bulk pre-order at discount for re-sale. Turnaround time from hitting your pre-order target to receiving your records is 8-10 weeks (they are unfortunately not free of the curse of RSD).
All pre-order funds are held by QRATES prior to pressing, at which point any profits (sales – pressing) plus shipping fees are released to you. At the end QRATES will take a 15% cut of any profits made (10% on represses). Your back catalogue can be retained (or added) to your QRATES store, allowing for represses.
The back catalogue / represses got me wondering if this could be a way to beat inflated Discogs prices on recent 12s, pressed in tiny quantities and gone within a week? Could artists be petitioned for a no cost / profit only repress? I was then supposing if QRATES could further open up the world of re-issues (Apiento will kill me), since I, and I`m sure everyone else does, have a sizeable Wants List of rarities, 100 copies of which could be shifted in a blink. For those spare in pocket all you would need to do is contact the artist and stick the project up in your store. This then got me to a potential caveat. How, unless carefully watched / screened, you could take somebody else`s music and press it up (what would be the legitimacy of edits?). As I said at the start, I do sometimes talk myself round in circles. It can be a long old day out here.
As far as profits are concerned, I wouldn`t set those expectations very high, but there is obviously a buzz around running a label (discovering music, discovering artists, networking, setting up collaborations, commissioning artwork), and it will always always lead to other opportunities (DJ gigs, comps, sleeve notes, books, your own merchandising, yacht, villa, harem, religion, spaceship, fame, fame, fatal fame). Being seen to be doing something will open doors to you doing something else. And if you have a run of successful 12s you could also generate more cash with a CD compilation (where the profit margins are much greater).
QRATES at the very least offers an easy, budget-free way to learn the ropes. In most cases it could end up little more than a 21st Century extension of Elvis cutting a 45 for his mum`s birthday (absolutely no harm in that), the vanity of a New Age “guru”`s private press, but with a pinky nail full of imagination (and optimism) you could envisage QRATES growing organically to be a parent site / company that houses 100s of small / niche labels (despite not going away, all vinyl is niche now). This would parallel the P&D model currently offered by Juno to an expanding band of enthusiasts and experts (diggers effectively turned Juno A&R).
Have a click, have a look. As far as I can see you have nothing to lose.
Big thank you to Joji at QRATES for answering all my questions.