On Vinyl’s Plan to Bring Local Music Inside Austin Stores + Audio Story
Story originally published for GoodMusicAllDay
It’s hard to escape music in Austin. It follows you from bars to coffee shops, through parks to abandoned warehouses and barbecue joints. Even the airport has a stage. But when you hear background music inside a store, it’s more likely to be an international star like Drake than a local Austin band like Indoor Creature.
On Vinyl Media wants to change that.
In 2012, On Vinyl was just a music blog. Today, it’s being built into a commercial music streaming service with a lineup of local Austin businesses already signed on as customers when it goes live in a couple of months. The transition began in 2016 when Natahlie Phan, On Vinyl’s founder and CEO, realized she could use music streaming to bring Austin’s vibrant live music culture into stores.
“Our idea was to put local music in retail stores and get people to appreciate local music and local music culture other than through seeing it live,” Phan said from On Vinyl’s residential office in South Austin.
Vintage concert posters plaster the walls and a record player quietly spins Anderson Paak’s “Malibu.” “We license local music for commercial use in retail environments, retail stores, and restaurants,” she said.
For store owners, playing music is not as simple as plugging in an auxiliary chord into an iPhone and streaming Spotify. Todd Cooper, Los Angeles based music lawyer, says it’s often illegal to play music in a store via personal streaming accounts.
“If you just have a cook in the backroom who is listening to the radio, that's no problem,” he said by telephone. “But if you’ve got music that can actually be heard through the venue of a certain minimal size, whether its live music or its piped in via a service, there’s got to be a blanket license in place to cover the performance rights.”
Cooper explained that music, like most creations, is protected by copyright law. For a business to legally stream music, it must either obtain a Public Performance license, or use a music service that has a catalog of commercially licensed music such as Mood Media (formally Muzak), Spotify’s Soundtrack Your Brand, and Pandora.
Phan was inspired to build an Austin-minded commercial streaming service as she was exposed to more and more of the music industry during her time at St. Edwards University. Her radio station, Topper Radio, became the #1 college radio station in the country and earned an MTV Woodie Award Nomination. Phan joined Austin’s music community, only to learn some of its bleak realities.
“We found out some of the struggles some of the artists were going through, making less than $18,000 dollars a year, according to the last census, even with part time jobs subsidizing part of their incomes,” Phan said. “So that really inspired me to build an organization that would really benefit these artists.”
Musicians see only 30-40 percent of a penny each time one of their songs is streamed on Apple Music or Spotify, according to Digital Music News. On Vinyl will be more favorable, paying artists a penny per stream, according to Phan.
On Vinyl had a soft release in July. They took the platform down shortly after to tweak it based on feedback from businesses. Phan hopes the next iteration will be released in a couple of months.
Allie Long, Brew & Brew’s Communications Manager, said that the East Austin coffee shop was drawn to On Vinyl because of its homegrown nature and empahsis on local musicians.
“We really admired that it was a local startup,” Long said. “But also we really liked that it would not only cater to local Austin musicians but also would be something that would provide them with a little bit more of a paycheck than from streaming sites like Spotify or Pandora.”
Inside stores, it may be enticing to play music using a streaming account that an employee already pays for. Cierra Schepp, On Vinyl’s Marketing Director, says the risks outweigh the reward.
“If a licensing company were to find out you were using a personal streaming service in a commercial space a fine like that could be a big hit, especially to a new business or a small local shop,” Schepp said.
Todd Cooper says if a business plays a song that is not licensed for commercial use, it can be fined up to $150,000 by music preforming rights organizations.
To avoid any of these complications, many businesses such as Amy’s Ice Cream, obtain a Public performance license and play music without much planning.
“Whoever is the shift manager will usually put on music because they're the first person to get there,” said Katherine Nelson, Amy’s on Guadalupe store clerk Katherine Nelson said. “They’ll just play music off their iPod or we have a bunch of CD’s that we can play.”
On Vinyl believes in-store music curation deserves thought and attention. Average sales increase by 31.7 percent when businesses choose custom-curated music, according to Spotify’s Soundtrack Your Brand. With this in mind, On Vinyl works closely with businesses to choose music that fits their atmosphere.
“We’ll see what kind of environment in the store you have, what your furniture is made out of, what kind of food do you serve, what kind of vibe do you want to create,” Phan said. “We’ll use all of what we observe and we’ll put the playlist together with your help.”
Businesses using On Vinyl can choose music from outside Austin as well.
“It’s about 70 to 80 percent local music,” Natahlie said. “Then we’ve got top 40’s music to deep cuts of an indie band you've never heard of.”
With a wide-ranging catalog, store employees can choose different music for different days and moments in the store. Allie Long says this was a driving force behind Brew & Brew’s choice to go with On Vinyl.
“There’s nothing as grinding as listening to the same playlists over and over again - it really breaks you down,” Long said. “So giving our employees the autonomy to put on the music that they want to is another reason why we enjoy the concept.”
Stores will get to choose between a free subscription and two differently priced versions of On Vinyl. The free service will have ads while the other two plans will allow different levels of customization for brands.
Once On Vinyl becomes profitable, Natahlie says it will look to donate 10 percent of proceeds to
Austin music non-profits including HAAM and the SIMS Foundation.
“I've made a lot of relationships with musicians and people in the industry here,” Phan said. “From those friendships, I was inspired to make an impact on the people I serve.”