Unique Distribution: Dope on Plastic

    Without vinyl, there would be no Hip-Hop. Whether it’s the classic scratches and mixes from Grandmaster Flash or the pitch-deprived spinning of DJ Screw, vinyl has made presentation and innovation possible in the music since its inception.    For almost as long, Unique Distribution, has had a major hand in the wax coming out. The […]

    Without vinyl, there would be no Hip-Hop. Whether it’s the classic scratches and mixes from Grandmaster Flash or the pitch-deprived spinning of DJ Screw, vinyl has made presentation and innovation possible in the music since its inception.    For almost as long, Unique Distribution, has had a major hand in the wax coming out. The Long Island-based company was there in the booming days of overstuffed milkcrates to the present-day adaptation to the digital age. This is a company that not only makes and markets rap vinyl, but they go directly to the labels, with feedback from DJs on just what is wax-worthy.    With recent projects including Guru, Remy Ma, and some very limited edition Redman “weed-green” vinyl, Unique lives up to their name. Vice president and founding family-member Craig Miller and DJ Excel the Mixmaster, the marketing and promotions manager, spoke to AllHipHop.com about the oft overlooked importance of vinyl marketing, competing overseas, and a few Long Island legends who just hired Unique to carry on traditions among rap royalty. AllHipHop.com: Tell me about the history of Unique in Hip-Hop and outside…Craig Miller: My father, Robert Miller, is the owner of the company who started it in 1980. My brother Scott works here as well, as the vice president and sales manager. We are the largest twelve-inch vinyl manufacturer in the country; we account for over 75% of major label vinyl sales. Most of the records, at least 50-60% of the records released are because we’re asking for them, or telling the labels to put them out. Recently, since the onset of digital [technology], vinyl is coming out too late from the majors because of red tape, clearance, and the major label system. So that is why we started our marketing company. That has been rapidly expanding over the last year. So we’ve been working with the major companies, giving them feedback about what it hot on the street. We’re working with independents too, artists, managers, just conversing with all these various people with what is hot on the street, and what would be good to put onto vinyl. AllHipHop.com: At this point, there is a perception in the Hip-Hop industry that labels and artists are cheap. People want to cut corners. What behooves a major label in 2007 to still keep vinyl as part of the equation, as opposed to just Digiwax?DJ Excel: We feel that one of the reasons why urban artists are suffering is because the major labels have cut or limited the vinyl. When you have rap artists, that’s a staple of Hip-Hop – how can you not press a record? We feel that when you market and promote a record, and we have the facts to prove this, that 50% of DJs prefer to have their music in a format additional to the MP3. At least 30% want vinyl. Reason being, it’s tangible. They can touch it, see it, there’s artwork, production credits. Me, I’m a remixer, so on a vinyl record, the quality’s better. There may be an accapella on there or an instrumental. That’s the downfall – labels don’t understand that. In the meantime, you have a million MP3s out there. In one given week, I get 1,000 MP3s emailed to me. As a radio programmer or a DJ, how am I gonna go through 1,000 MP3s? When you have vinyl, it actually helps your project stand out.Craig Miller: Artists get this. Two classic acts just came here: EPMD and Public Enemy.  EPMD understands the importance of vinyl, and they’re gonna do two records with us. Public Enemy too. They all understand the need in the clubs for a vinyl record. The role of the vinyl record is promotion for the artist. We’ve proved countless times where if you have the vinyl in the DJ’s hands, the CD will sell more – it’s a proven fact, even in the digital age. AllHipHop.com: In vinyl, imports have played a major role in getting classic catalogue releases back out. As an American company, is it hard to compete with Europe and Asia?Craig Miller: Everybody wants the American product. Amerie’s record is on my desk right now. If there was a pressing available in the UK, in Germany, and the United States, everybody would want the American version, because most urban acts are American, and people are more comfortable buying an American record. DJ Excel: I was over in Taiwan, Thailand and Singapore. They still love vinyl, it’s huge! It’s a collector’s item. One club had a drawer full of records. I think they appreciate it more. AllHipHop.com: Do you think that the labels might be more interested in vinyl, as a combatant for leaks and bootlegging?DJ Excel: Records are being leaked left and right. With vinyl, it kind of controls it. If you’re leaking MP3s, the chances of your record standing out are small. With the wax, we have a distinct advantage. I think you can control your leak better if you put it on wax first.Craig Miller: What we preach to the labels is “the pie.” You’ve got digital promotion, radio, CD and vinyl. They should all be working together at the same time, in conjunction. That’s what our marketing company is working on – all four parts. That’s the right way to do promotion, a lot of labels are seeing that in 2007.AllHipHop.com: Tell me a little bit about going to a label, asking for a record to be on vinyl. Aren’t you sort of functioning as an external A&R? How does that process happen?Craig Miller: We’re helping them as consultants. We’ve always been a side consultant. More and more nowadays, we are a third party. We have DJs telling us, “This record’s hot, what is it?” So what we do is call up the label and ask them. We’re the first ones to hear these records.AllHipHop.com: Give me an example.Craig Miller: We’ve got plenty. We just worked a record with Swizz Beatz. We gained momentum in the clubs. Remy Ma, we helped her before her troubles. We have two records out right now with Guru. Those are three recent projects.DJ Excel: N.O.R.E. too. We work with labels; sometimes it’s a fight ‘cause the record might not be on their radar, but we are that radar. [Laughs] When a record gets hot, our phones start ringing like crazy. I remember [demanding] DJ Unk’s “Walk it Out (Remix)” on vinyl after hearing the Jim Jones verse. Craig Miller: We didn’t do anything with that record, but it’s a good example. We did a record for Ryan Leslie that helped keep his name out there too.AllHipHop.com: You recently involved manufacturing, by working with a local plant in direct conjunction with the labels. What was the reasoning behind that?Craig Miller: It’s been a gradual learning curve going from straight distribution to manufacturing and distribution. It’s definitely a very lucrative venture. Visit Unique at: Their website or Myspace.