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By Andrew Daly
The battle of streaming vs. physical media is long-running, but U.K. indie rock band, The Pocket Gods, is taking the war of dollars and cents to an entirely new level by pricing their latest album, Vegetel Digitel, at $1 million. And if that wasn't shocking enough, not only does this vinyl-only release carry a hefty price tag, but it's rare, too, like only one copy in existence rare.
On the surface, pricing a singular album at $1 million seems a bit maximal, and in truth, it is. But for The Pocket Gods, that's the point. The band is attempting to spotlight a hardship many smaller artists face: a lack of proper royalties via streaming.
"We were proud to start our own digital label back in 2004," said Pocket Gods frontman Mark Christopher Lee. "It was great to get our music out to such a worldwide audience, but it seems so unfair that unless you strike secret deals or get billions of streams, you're just not going to get enough to make a living.
"So, with this record, we decided to just do one copy and peel it off for $1 million so that we would have the funds to start our own ethical streaming service, which will pay artists at least $1 per stream. The aim is to get rid of those pesky decimal places, as we currently only get 0.002 cents per stream from a Swedish giant who shall remain nameless."
Christopher Lee's approach to besting the likes of Spotify and Apple Music is unique and undoubtedly altruistic but is it viable? More so, it's extreme, perhaps too extreme for everyday folks, with "perhaps" rolling in like an unassuming bull in a china shop, grinning at terrified onlookers as it sheepishly looks at the destruction it caused.
"Yes, this is an extreme way of doing things," Christopher Lee scoffed. "But it's a way for us to raise the funds needed and to get the publicity we need to keep these issues in the media. And yes, like I said, it is extreme that The Pocket Gods would do this, but that's what we do; we make extreme music. It could be an album of 1,000 songs that are all 30 seconds, or it could be one song coming in as the longest song ever. We're not just making music anymore; we're making it into an extreme art form."
At face value, Christopher Lee's argument isn't too far off base, and sure, streaming services, though convenient, do tend to exploit the smaller artists who populate their database. But make no mistake, streaming services are here to stay, and in many ways, The Pocket Gods are quite likely waging the ultimate unwinnable war.
All potential of besting a major conglomerate aside, one lingering question hangs over this entire thing: does the band expect anyone to buy its record? Of course, a few sub-questions also come to mind; things like how does the record sound? Where was it mastered? What does it sound like? You know, more convention cares for typical collectors.
"I don't even collect vinyl, to be honest," chuckled Christopher Lee. "But my wife has a good collection, which I do really like. I love old Beatles records, and I did have a good collection when I was young and sued to buy vinyl records each week. Now that you mention it, I think it might be time that I start again now!
"Ah, the sound. It's 10 lovingly created new songs about life, love, and existence. We like to think of it as an existential Gram Parsons meets the BMX Bandits. But at the end of the day, this is all about a world where we stop moaning and focus on what we do want. We envision a world where all creatives are paid fairly, and by starting our own service with this album, we're making a statement. Hopefully, others will follow. That's what this record is about."
The world of music and physical media is full of pitfalls, and collectors will often gripe about rising prices of records, CDs, cassettes, and memorabilia. Still, usually, there's little thought into the struggle the artists behind the media face. While charging $1 million for a single vinyl record is probably a smidge ridiculous, it's accomplishing its mission, isn't it? Surely, if music lovers and collectors weren't aware of these issues, they would be now, right? Well, not so fast, that's not definitive, and there's no easy answer. And even if there was, what can artists or anyone do to make the masses care?
"We put this record up for sale at our local shop, not online," Christoper Lee profoundly stated. "That was intentional. It's at our local independent record shop in St. Albans, Empire Records. It's a lovely shop and a friendly business that supports the local music scene.
"Though I have to be honest, initially, I did think about doing this as an NFT, but nah, there's no soul in the metaverse. By doing it this way, we're making it a community thing. It's important for people to know that Vegetel Digitel will NEVER be available online for purchase, and it will NEVER be put up on any major streaming platforms or our own. And yeah, I know it's sad that only one person will get to hear it, but maybe they will put it online for the world to hear. We can dream!"
So, the question remains, vinyl collectors, lovers, hunters, and hoarders: would you pay $1 million for a single record if you had the means? Could the thrill of the chase or the fear of missing out drive a willing collector to do the seemingly unthinkable? Well, if Mike Christopher Lee is to be believed, at least one person out there has the intention of fulfilling their vinyl-driven destiny. Call it the ultimate collector's delight, I suppose.
"Well, we've already got one person interested," beamed Christopher Lee. "We can't divulge the dollars yet, but we'll just have to let you know when and if it happens. It could be a straight $1 million, or maybe it'll be more. We're not opposed to a bidding war!
"But jokes aside, there seems to be preferential treatment, so much so that the likes of Adele and Taylor Swift have taken their music off Spotify in the past for lack of fair royalties, but now it's back on there. Why is that? It's because major labels seem to get preferential treatment and access to the major playlists, which is the key to making any impact."
We can't be sure if anyone will ever purchase Vegetel Digitel, let alone at its $1 million price tag. But we can be sure that in 2022, the world of physical media and collecting is wilder and more varied than ever. The fact that a single slab carries such a price tag — no matter the cause — proves that vinyl is not only here to stay but that, despite its detractors, and naysayers, wax is king.
"The way we look at it is, yeah, vinyl is something special," said Christopher Lee. "It's so special that we decided to charge $1 million for our record. [Laughs]. But honestly, vinyl is something special, and the funny thing is that this is only our second release on vinyl. We're new to it as a band, but despite the cost, it's a one-of-a-kind piece of art and a statement. It's something profound and something to treasure. We knew we had to make that statement on vinyl because, honestly, it means a hell of a lot more than some CD or a tape."
The jury is still out if The Pocket Gods are justified in their crusade or if they're merely attempting to garner headlines and, perhaps ironically, up their streams. And sure, maybe someone will swoop in and pay $1 million for Vegetel Digitel, but it's unlikely. So, love it or hate, this is a fascinating case study via a precedent on steroids showcasing the world modern-day collectors live in. The hunt for cherished and fetishized rarities is never-ending, and the game isn't easy if you're a collector. But then again, if it were easy, vinyl lovers probably wouldn't be lying awake at night, plotting to line their walls with those breathtakingly glorious 12x12 PVC keepsakes, now would they?