I’ve often been intrigued by the benefits and detrimental effects technology and the digital world has on the music industry. It’s a topic of interest that I seemingly share with a few contacts I’ve gained over the years – so I’m always keen to find new people to talk to.
Having worked in digital (specifically mobile) for nearly three years before leaving gainful employment to start a few ventures of my own, I’m always keen on electronic retailers (of any kind) who cater to the design-conscious and mobile-wielding user.
When it comes to music retailers let’s face it, apart from iTunes and Google Play which, by default, are inherently mobile, there are very few stores in independent music that don’t look like they were designed or built in a time when Internet Explorer reigned supreme. So when I saw Digital Tunes roll out their new look earlier this year, I was instantly impressed.
“Digital-Tunes is known as one of the best online stores for underground bass music, including Dubstep, Drum & Bass, UK Funky, Garage, Skweee Techno and more…”
I got in touch with co-founder Will Coates to discuss life in Helsinki, selling music in the internet age, what it’s like designing for a mobile user and much more…
Hello Mr. Coates! How are you? Good thanks!
Very glad to hear! I’ve not seen or read many interviews with you before – so let’s start with the basics. Who are you and what do you do? What’s your background in the music industry? Shit, and I thought I was famous! Haha. So I’m Managing Director (or CEO for the Yanks) of the store. Digital Tunes was my first venture into the music business… My background is in software and AI.
You co-founded (with DJ Glenn Grip) Digital Tunes back in the mid 2000s so have quite the heritage going. When did you decide running a digital music store was something you both wanted to do? It was autumn 2005 when we first started discussing about the store. I got coding like a little monkey, starting in spring 2006 until we were ready to launch the following year. It was basically just a “why not” moment: most of the stores were crap at the time and we thought we could do better.
Scandinavia has quite a track record for ‘disruptive’ startups – iZettle for payments, Nokia for mobile soft/ hardware, SoundCloud and you guys for music etc. What’s the music scene like in Helsinki? I think considering the size of the city, many aspects of the music scene are really vibrant: the Finns punch above their weight in things like jazz and there are also a bunch of good techno artists here.
I became aware of Digital Tunes after starting the FKOFd label late last year – but really took notice after the awesome (and quite major) redesign launched in February. Is design/ UX an important part of what you offer? Definitely. We always want to stay one step ahead, and it was appalling how rubbish some of the big stores’ UX is.
I mean this is 2014 – you don’t need to cater for 800×600 screens anymore guys! I guess as a smaller store we can be braver, like just not worrying about people using ancient Internet Explorer versions (who basically don’t exist anyhow).
The new site kind of evokes flicking through record sleeves – a nice touch! Is there any chance you’ll start taking on physical music releases as well as the digital stock at any point in the future? Haha! That would be ironic, given we started the store when we were still buying vinyl, thinking digital would be the future. Probably not, to be honest.
One of the major talking points during the re-launch was your mobile/ tablet traffic. How has the mobile-optimised redesign benefitted you guys and more importantly the Digital Tunes customers? Well it just means the whole site is a million more times more usable on tablets and phones. This translates to a lot more time spent browsing with these devices, which ultimately helps us sell a few more tunes!
There aren’t many new digital music retailers challenging the more established players like Juno or Beatport. What does Digital Tunes bring to digital music that people can’t get elsewhere? We are a niche store and proud of it – we are all about curation of quality content.
Our new homepage is sort of like a magazine… The idea is if you are into what we have to offer you come and check the new “issue” each week.
The trials and tribulations that the music industry face in the internet age have been well documented but, as a digital retailer, what challenges are you currently working with? One major pain in the arse is credit card fraud. It’s unbelievable that people defraud us just to get some free tunes, but it happens. It causes us a fair bit of extra work providing the documentation to prove that we did all we could to prevent the fraud. That’s why we started accepting bitcoin, which has zero fraud by design.
You work with a number of independent labels across a range of genres. Of the imprints on the store, are there any that stand out? A few obvious favourites across our main genres of DnB and techno would be dBridge’s consistently amazing Exit Records, Avian, Doc Scott’s 31 Recordings, Regis’ Downwards label, Different Music, everything coming from Clone’s various sub-labels, Crème Organization, Critical Music, Our Circula Sound and the list goes on and on. There’s an incredible amount of thrilling underground music at the moment.
“Folding Spaces is a new label curated by Digital Tunes. It focuses on ‘various artists’ EPs as a way of gathering vital, under-the-radar artists from around the globe who operate within the raw, roots-inspired end of Techno. Folding Spaces looks to side these artists with more established electronic music nonconformists. The store’s editorial arm extends from their continuous search for exciting new music, and aims at offering an outlet (and context) to the work of these fledging artists.”
The Digital Tunes team, as well as running the store itself, curate the techno label Folding Spaces. What can you tell us about the label venture? It’s our little labour of love. We see it as a chance of applying our own curatorial edge right from the source, as A&Rs and as developers of the product in itself – picking the music, choosing visual art, using our own communication and strategy of promotion among DJs and websites etc. Musically, we try to focus on forward-thinking underground artists operating under-the-radar, pairing them with more established ones like Brendon Moeller, Killawatt or Legowelt, who were influential to our own vision of the whole aesthetic of the label.
Will you be hosting labels for other genres in the future – or will you be sticking with techno? We’ve talked about this between us but nothing’s planned at the moment. DnB is obviously a great passion for us, so that could be an interesting adventure for sure! Folding Spaces grew very organically from a network of artists that we know very well and wanted to work with, and if great music from whatever genre comes to us in that same organic way as before than we’ll probably be very compelled to manifest it in the form of new projects, sub-labels etc, and not let it just sit unnoticed.
You seem to be pretty open to selling any music (it’s relatively simple for users to sign up and sell tunes); do you review labels prior to accepting new music or can anyone sign up and release? Yup, everything is moderated first, and to be honest we are fairly stringent! But at the end of the day if it isn’t quality it isn’t going to sell a bean anyhow, so we are just doing them a favour if we reject it.
We often wonder, given the frequency new ‘bedroom labels’ pop up and then disappear again, if digital music is affecting the quality of music that’s released these days. What are your thoughts? Well the democratisation of music of course means there is a shedload of content out there these days… Obviously that means there is a ton more crap but also a lot more good stuff too. I think all in all it’s positive: we just have to develop technologies to help us find content relevant to our tastes. It’s a tough problem but its going to be solved one way or the other.
Thank you for your time and we wish you all the best in the future! Any final words or shoutouts? Be sure to check out the latex FS release with a remix from Legowelt!
Digital Tunes’ label dropped the latest EP in their Folding Spaces series earlier this month.
FOLDING003 continues where the previous two instalments left off, full of challenging but accessible electronica. It’s raw, uncompromised dance music at its best, hinting at a love of both techno and Detroit-inspired sounds from the six producers across the EP. The Legowelt remix is a standout from the release but all inclusions hold their own. Recommended listening – and purchasing!
1. Peteblas – Oscillators
2. Roundhouse Kick – EPM12
3. Osti M – Workout
4. Mharia – Perfect Sense
5. Voiron – Itineris
6. Voiron – Itineris (Legowelt remix)