Turning the Tables in the Digital Age

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A quick Q+A with Pete Hahn, the creative director of one of our favorite retailers, Turntable Lab, on the site's recent foray into selling digital music.

XLR8R: How important for you was establishing the digital side of Turntable Lab, and why?
Pete Hahn: Being in the music business for 10 years, we've learned that it's important to react to change quickly. Although we are record heads at heart, we saw the digital change coming around 2004 when DJ equipment companies started to incorporate MP3 compatibility. At that point, we knew it was important to get digital downloads on the site to keep our business evolving and growing. Our first digital service, launched in 2006, was like a foothold. We knew we could do it better, and the new site is that idea coming true.

How do you guys distinguish yourselves from Bleep, Beatport, and all the other digital retailers?
That's easy. We still operate our digital site like a traditional record store, so we filter, edit, and review all the releases on the site. We'll even go "virtual digging," going through labels' back catalogs looking for a particular single. With today's technology, it's easy to have a digital store that puts up 1000 releases each week. We have that capability, but we choose to do the extra work for our customer. For example, we maintain a daily-arrivals section, and one day we might focus on funk, the other on dubstep and new school beats, all with reviews and editorial charts.

How big is the catalog?
Approximately 20,000 tracks and growing quickly.

Is it all new stuff, or back catalog, too?
It's about 50/50. As a music fan, one of the great joys of running a digital site is getting access to a label's back catalog. We recently received Warp's catalog, which is over 300 releases. There's some great old stuff we haven't seen in years, like releases from Polygon Window, Boards of Canada, early Prefuse 73, Squarepusher, The Sabres of Paradise, and others.

Is it easy for independent artists to sell through?
Yes. We deal with artists and labels directly if they have a decent-sized catalog. However, if they only have a couple releases, we recommend going through a digital aggregator, which is like a modern-day version of the record distributor. Aggregators handle all the pesky paperwork and accounting.

What special features does the site have?
The best feature is definitely the selection—that's what sets us apart. Other features include editorial from the extended Lab family, everyone from Mad Decent to Stones Throw. The integrated Lab radio show is great, because if you hear a track you like, you can purchase it right there. Also, we think the ability to purchase digital credits is very useful. It makes buying music even easier and you can save money.

How do you see the store expanding?
Apart from growing the digital catalog, what we are really excited about are the connections between our three sites (physical site, digital site, blog). With music burning out so rapidly these days, we think the Lab is a great place to slow things down. You can go read the interview on the blog, listen to the tracks on the digital site, then go buy the shirt on the physical site.

Are you looking to showcase a particular style of music?
If you are familiar with the Lab, you know that we don't have a particular style focus. One day it may be Afro-funk, the next it might be Baltimore DJ edits. That is not going to change with the digital site.

Are you planing on doing any special projects (ie. limited-edition stuff, exclusives, or compilations)?
Turntable Lab DJ bags, iPhone app, blog 2.0, and more releases on Turntable Lab Editions/Money Studies are in the works.