Discogs, the digital database and marketplace for music fanatics that has grown into a go-to hub for vinyl lovers, has unveiled a new leadership structure and begun rolling out a new set of initiatives, alongside the release of the company’s 2017 year-end numbers.
Founder and president Kevin Lewandowski will shift his energies towards broadening the company’s focus beyond just the history and marketplace of music towards film, comics, posters, books and more, while longtime operations chief Chad Dahlstrom becomes the company’s CEO. A new board will also be put in place, with Dahlstrom, Lewandowski, chief product officer Nik Kinloch and former Warner Music Group board member Jörg Mohaupt filling roles.
That said, the leadership team, while restructured, will remain in place, as it looks to build on a year where the company saw a 20.42 percent increase in the number of releases sold in its marketplace, passing 10 million sales for the first time, according to numbers provided to Billboard by the company. Discogs breaks out its year-end numbers by marketplace (releases sold), database (releases archived by its users) and collected (releases its users added to their personal collections).
Vinyl was the format that saw the highest number of total sales last year, growing 18.8 percent over 2016 to 7.95 million records sold — almost equaling the total number of sales across the Discogs marketplace in all of 2016 (8.31 million). Sales of CDs (up 28.4 percent) and cassettes (up 29.5 percent) both saw higher percentage growth in 2017, but the total numbers for each — 1.85 million and 162,800, respectively — remained much lower overall.
For the second year in a row, three genres topped 1 million in sales in the Discogs marketplace: Rock (3.66 million, up 11.5 percent); Electronic (3.45 million, up 3 percent) and Funk/Soul (1.13 million, up 7.9 percent), with Pop, Jazz and Hip-Hop the next three most-popular genres. In terms of percentage growth year-over-year, Classical music saw the biggest leap, up 30 percent to 147,500 copies, following by Children’s (up 22.9 percent) and Folk/World/Country (up 21.7 percent). According to the company, there are more than 39 million releases available for sale in its marketplace worldwide.
In terms of the Discogs database, the number of releases archived rose to 9.5 million total, with 1.36 million releases added in 2017, up 4.18 percent over the year prior. Once again, vinyl led the way, growing 3.16 percent to 614,200 new releases added last year, with CDs (462,000 added, up 22.9 percent) and cassettes (119,500 added, up 12.1 percent) also up year-over-year. Rock (445,900), Pop (293,100) and Electronic (251,400) were the most-added genres in 2017, while Latin (up 24 percent) saw the highest percentage growth. By territory, the U.S. saw the most adds, at 323,700 releases, followed by the U.K. (129,000) and Germany (93,400).
Discogs’ users’ collections also grew significantly, with Rock (31.8 million), Electronic (15.8 million) and Pop (8.27 million) leading the way in 2017. In terms of master releases, Pink Floyd‘s Dark Side Of The Moon was collected the most, followed by The Beatles‘ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, Michael Jackson‘s Thriller and The Beatles’ Abbey Road. Pink Floyd (The Wall, No. 6) and The Beatles (The White Album, No. 9), were the only two artists with more than one entry in the top 10, while Radiohead‘s OK Computer was a new entry in the top 10. Led Zeppelin‘s IV (No. 7) and Fleetwood Mac‘s Rumours (No. 8) rounded out the top 10.
“It’s interesting to see some of that new vinyl starting to become a larger segment,” says new CEO Dahlstrom of the year-end numbers. “It’s still pretty small compared to the long tail, but we are seeing in the marketplace that sales are growing, so our distributor sellers are also adding in those new releases and finding that they’re moving on Discogs.”
The main takeaway from the company’s top-level restructuring, according to its executives, is growth. When Dahlstrom joined Discogs in March 2014, the company had around 16 employees, a number which has grown to more than 60 with offices in the Netherlands, Portland, Ore. and employees in Japan and the U.S. East Coast, as well. And with Lewandowski — who founded the company on his own in 2000 — shifting focus to broadening the company’s database and marketplace offerings to include comic books, posters and more, the need to continue expanding became evident.
“Operationally we felt pretty confident, we’ve got the technology and team in place, but we didn’t have a lot of experience in the finance and investing and the rounding out what you would consider a leadership structure,” Dahlstrom tells Billboard. “So we went out to find people who were like-minded in the project, but also had a history of knowing how to build sustainable businesses and portfolios.” That, he says, is what led to the addition of Mohaupt to the board, an announcement that arrived in tandem with a $2.5 million investment earlier this year.
As part of that re-organization, Dahlstrom and Lewandowski re-organized the team into distinct departments, covering its database, its marketplace and the Lewandowski-led Meta Project, which will begin the meticulous process that the founder began 18 years ago in building out its music-history archive. “I get to go back to the start of what made Discogs such a cool project to work on in the first place, working within communities that helped shape and define Discogs,” Lewandowski says. “It can be daunting to go back to the beginning, but it’s also exhilarating.”
That division has also meant that the company is launching new initiatives within its existing database, in order to drill deeper into the data that its users continue to refine and add, with a project called Tracks, which recently rolled out in beta and aims to do for individual compositions what the database already provides for album-based information.
“What we didn’t have was any way of listing individual tracks apart from going to the release and looking at the track list for the release,” says Kinloch, who has been leading the Tracks project through three iterations. “What we’ve done is extracted all the tracks from all the releases in the database and basically listed them out on a separate page. There’s a lot of possibility, a lot of deep musicology, just helping people discover the tracks they don’t have by their favorite artists, finding what the most popular tracks are from a particular artist — which track was released the most by Elvis, for example. We have all that data there, and we’re just kind of slicing it a different way and presenting it to everybody.”
At the same time, Dahlstrom is leading the company into new territories, looking to unlock new subgenres and place-specific releases in order to turn Discogs into a comprehensive and global repository of music information — or, at the very least, to chip away at what seems like the insurmountable task of cataloguing the full history of music releases around the world.
“It’s endless, but it’s interesting and important — there’s so much happening all the time, and it’s so fragmented,” says Dahlstrom. “Just like Wikipedia is kind of like the encyclopedia of the world, we’re kind of like the music history of the world.”