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Zunior: the little digital music store

by admin October 27, 2009

Ask Dave Ullrich how many CDs he owns and you will not get a straight answer. “It could be as many as 500 to 1,000. I have a whole chest full.” In fact, Ullrich rarely buys new CDs, the only exception being when he is at a live performance. Ask him how many digital albums he owns and you’ll find out that the number has passed 2,500, and is always growing. Known for his work with the seminal indie rock band, The Inbreds, Ullrich now finds himself selling music instead of playing it.
Ullrich is the self-described “head honcho” of Zunior, a Toronto based online music store with a focus on Canadian music. The idea to start the store came from a lunchtime conversation about the free, publicly licensed software known as open source. “It just got me thinking that it could be done,” said Ullrich. “We tried out an open source package and built up to what it is now. It wouldn’t have been possible if open source weren’t available. We needed a free or a near free environment.”
Like many others, it was the influence of older siblings that shaped Ullrich’s close relationship with music. His brothers would order the latest Queen or Boston album from Columbia House, a mail order service for music, and Ullrich would wait anxiously for their arrival. As Ullrich grew older his focus turned to playing music. He took to drumming after a friend left his kit in Ullrich’s house, which served as a practice space. Ullrich went on from jamming to playing drums in the indie rock duo The Inbreds, who were part of the Halifax based alternative scene of the mid-90s.
Relying on his experience with recording, releasing, and managing The Inbreds, Ullrich launched Zunior. Envisioned as a “farmer’s market of music,” the site began with a few select artists that Ullrich had personally contacted. “I set up relationships directly with artists one by one. Zunior is very direct,” said Ullrich. “When you buy something from Zunior you’re linking directly back to the artist.”
The same drive to reach out and make personal connection with artists persists but has expanded to include close relationships with record labels. Canadian labels, Alien8, Mint Records, Arts & Crafts and Dare to Care are now distributing new releases through Zunior.
Ullrich went one step further and created his own label under the Zunior name. In addition to Ullrich’s current band, Egger, the Zunior label has been behind releases from As The Poets Affirm, Ben Gunning, and Wax Mannequin.
The majority of albums on the Zunior site are listed at $8.88, a price Ullrich says is beneficial for both artists and customers.
Digital music marketplace giant iTunes sells individual tracks, something that Zunior does not offer, for 69 cents, 99 cents, or $1.29. The flat rate charged by Zunior for full albums makes it slightly cheaper than iTunes.
Zunior also boasts the fact that it sells albums in a high quality format called FLAC. Albums can be bought in the high quality format for two dollars more then the price of a record. By offering FLAC, Zunior has branched out into a niche market. “It’s just because we’re nerds,” laughed Ullrich. “Our customer base is made up of people who are seriously into music. A lot of them are into technology. So FLAC is a natural fit.”
Sales of albums are steadily growing each year and any money that comes in is quickly put back into the site. Ullrich is focused on growing Zunior and expanding the current catalogue of 2,551 albums while maintaining the focus on Canadian independent releases.
The Zunior label will play a role in expanding the number of albums offered on the site. Ullrich used to receive CDs, and still does, but for the most part he gets MySpace links to the music of prospective bands. Ullrich promises, “if you send it we’ll definitely look at it.
While the focus has primarily been placed on Canadian music, Ullrich would like to expand the vision to a degree and include key releases. “We don’t want to sell the latest Britney Spears albums, but it would be cool to have some of the more indie music coming from America,” said Ullrich. “Even if our focus is very Canadian, it wouldn’t hurt to have the good key American records.”
Quebec music has also caught the eye of Zunior. At the moment there are a limited amount of francophone albums and artists listed for sale. For Ullrich, Quebec provides a large market that is interested in good Canadian music. If Zunior were to expand into la belle province, one thing is certain; the site must become bilingual. For now Zunior remains English only.
Zunior is one of the best sources to find fresh Canadian independent releases from a variety of artists, many of whom might not otherwise have the chance to peddle their goods at a low price.