In December 2016, when VMP Rising — our series where we partner with up-and-coming artists to press their music to vinyl — was in its fetal stages, we pressed Moses Sumney’s third EP Lamentations onto gold vinyl and sold it for $17. Just 10 months later, in October 2017, Sumney’s debut full-length record Aromanticism was our Essentials Record of the Month, and that same EP now sells on Discogs for well over triple what we sold it for. In that time, Sumney had blown up as one of the hottest emerging artist of that time.
Through our 24 Rising artists so far — from our first (Madison, Wisconsin, rapper Trapo) to our latest (Swedish singer/songwriter/producer Becky and the Birds) — our Senior A&R and head of our Rising program Alex Berenson always had this in the back of her mind as she scouted for who to feature: “If they came out with a debut album, do I think it would be the type of record we’d wanna go all in on?” Sumney was the first, and probably won’t be the last.
The program was born organically, almost accidentally, out of the same engine that runs all the elements at Vinyl Me, Please: sharing music we love. After we’d pressed a couple of lesser-known, up-and-coming artists to vinyl — simply out of our own desire to own music we loved but couldn’t get anywhere else in physical form — Berenson saw the opportunity to polish up the existing foundation and turn it into a serialized program. Two years later, and we’re still pressing artists that are as much of “what’s hot right now” as they are a GPS to where music is headed. To find them, Berenson listens to an insane volume of music on a day-to-day basis.
“I try to look for things I haven’t heard before. They can be influenced by other things — obviously all music is — but when you hear something and it’s got that extra special thing — it might be a hook, it might be use of a specific instrument, it might be just the general vibe of the music — when you listen to as much music as I and as many of our members do, you just know,” she says. “You get that gut feeling like, this is special and this is important and this is gonna go somewhere.”
“It’s really easy for an artist’s first piece of work, first EP, first debut record to sort of just like come and go. It happened, they really wanna move on from it, they really wanna do bigger things, they wanna move forward. But, generally, that’s some of an artist’s most raw work, sometimes their best work, and it never gets immortalized anywhere. So when you turn it into a physical good, when it’s something you can hold, when it’s something you can potentially have forever, it gives that project a bit more heft.”
Alex Berenson, VMP Senior A&R
While maybe not obvious at first, given the amount of risk that goes into investing in a lesser-known artist’s physical release, it soon became clear Vinyl Me, Please is the perfect platform to support rising artists. Our large audience and ability to run content and interviews on the artists to familiarize listeners and contextualize their work are both assets that can be inaccessible or hard to come by when you’re a younger and emerging artists. And it became clear to us that the value of an artists earlier work — while they may not have the resources they may have later in their career — is not to be understated.
“It’s really easy for an artist’s first piece of work, first EP, first debut record to sort of just like come and go. It happened, they really wanna move on from it, they really wanna do bigger things, they wanna move forward,” Berenson said. “But, generally, that’s some of an artist’s most raw work, sometimes their best work, and it never gets immortalized anywhere. So when you turn it into a physical good, when it’s something you can hold, when it’s something you can potentially have forever, it gives that project a bit more heft. It really shows its importance, in a way I know that labels, they don’t see a lot of importance in putting up their own money to get physical goods for their emerging artists, because it’s a gamble.”
As she celebrates the success of the past two years, Berenson is excited for what the future of our Rising program holds. She said she’d love to see another rising artist, like Sumney, eventually become our Essentials or Rap & Hip Hop Record of the Month. She also is looking forward to finding new ways to offer artists the support and resources they deserve, like studio time or the opportunity to collaborate with other emerging artists.
“At our showcase at SXSW — and this is where the idea of collaborating came together, to be honest — I was in the crowd watching Ness Nite with Suzi Wu, and [Suzi] was like in love with the music. She was like dancing and, we were talking about it, she was like, ‘She’s so fucking good,’” Berenson said. “And then I’m in the crowd watching Suzi Wu, and Ness Nite is freaking out over the music. Watching this shared admiration, not only between two emerging artists, but two emerging female artists who are doing very different music, but that’s kind of in the same vein, that was really special for me and gave me a lot of ideas for what we could do by getting some of these artists together, having them meet each other and seeing what comes of it.”