It’s been difficult to avoid the colossal success of vinyl over the past two years. Sure, sales have been steadily rising since its initial resurgence in the early ‘10s, but after another record breaking year in 2020, our consumption of vinyl has u">>more than doubled in the first half of 2021 alone. Despite this, reports of huge increases in wait times to get records pressed, errors in manufacturing and labels abandoning the format altogether are rife. So why is the vinyl industry in such a state of chaos?
Overwhelming demand at pressing plants, rising shipping costs, a worrying lack of materials, and a renewed interest from major labels have pushed a manufacturing process that was already in decline to breaking point. Despite its historic significance within dance music, the current impediment in producing vinyl records has put a spotlight on its role within the scene. Does music really have to be pressed onto wax to be legitimate? Is vinyl the only way you can physically release? Is it time to look at more sustainable avenues?
“I love vinyl, that’s what's so crushing about all of this,” says Tomas Fraser, who runs Independent label Coyote Records. Fraser, like many small label owners, has been forced to stop pressing onto vinyl, having done his last run on wax in 2019. “ I don't know how it's gonna fix itself. I just find it really irritating, to be honest. No one seems to care either.”
So, how long is it taking to get a record pressed currently? In an email to customers, Lobster Theremin’s distribution service is currently giving estimates of 20 weeks, though, from labels and artists that we spoke to, estimates from manufacturers varied from just 10 weeks to an entire year. None of this accounts for delays, mistakes or shipping problems.
Lizzie Ellis, a Bristol-based freelance label manager working across a number of labels, has experienced firsthand the havoc caused by current wait times paired with unforeseen impediments: “We sent off a record in February, and we’re basically now at the back of the queue again — we got the test pressings back and they were messed up.
“In all my years working with labels and manufacturers, I've rarely had to send test pressings back, especially for plants with a reputation for creating good quality records. All I can think is it must be that the plants are super overwhelmed and they are making mistakes, but for us, that means that we’re in limbo with [the release].
“We’ve had similar problems with waiting too, I was sorting a release for another artist and the same plant had said the earliest would be late February next year, for a small record label that basically means it isn’t happening.”
For those wanting to press smaller runs of records, an extended wait time can mean the difference between being able to release physically or not — consumers are less likely to buy a record if it means having to wait in excess of five months to get their product, and to press without pre-orders is risky if the record ends up not selling, particularly with the notoriously tiny margins on vinyl production.
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Despite these wait times, vinyl hasn’t seen this much of a boom u">>since before the advent of the CD disk. In 2020, vinyl outsold CDs for u">>the first time ever, and 2021's sales figures have already shot well beyond last year's.
It isn’t showing much sign of slowing down, the u">>Global Record Sales Market report 2021-2026 has predicted that the vinyl industry is expected to be worth $481.5 million by 2026, as opposed to its valuation of $179 million in 2019. In a recent study, 15% in the 16-25 age bracket (or Gen Z) said they have bought a vinyl record in the past 12 months, higher than the 11% of millennials who’ve done the same thing. Amazon even announced their foray into the vinyl market with the u">>Vinyl of the Month Club back in June, which will deliver represses of famous records to buyers' doors every month.
So why the sudden increase in popularity? The pandemic and various worldwide lockdown measures have been a key driving force, cutting off our access to live music and clubs, and driving up digital and physical music sales. For fans wanting to support their favourite artists and labels through financial difficulty, Bandcamp Fridays helped drive up the sale of vinyl, with all proceeds going directly to the seller. Rolling Stone reported that in 2020, the initiative brought in $40 million for sellers during the pandemic. Bandcamp told Mixmag that around half their sales consist of physical merchandise, led predominantly by vinyl, and during Bandcamp Fridays in 2020 physcial sales increased by 107%.
Pressing plant capacity can't keep up with the demand. An anonymous source told Billboard that worldwide there was the capacity to manufacture just 160 million records a year, but to meet current demand that capacity would need to rise to between 300-400 million. It’s thought that u">>there are only 100 pressing plants worldwide currently, u">>with just 10 that have the capacity to produce large amounts of records. The majority of which are either owned by labels themselves, have specific links to industry leaders or cannot take on smaller orders.
For independent labels, the only option is to hunt down lesser-known UK-based or EU-based plants, but with larger plants unable to cope with the massive influx of orders, even smaller outfits are having to take on orders from major labels, pushing others to the back of the queue.
“I've spent most of this year, talking to loads of people researching, trying to find places that have a shorter turnaround, which is basically nowhere other than a few really tiny independent manufacturers,” says Lizzie Ellis. “Then everyone is trying to keep details of plants they've found on the down-low, they don't want to tell everyone or that plant will get overwhelmed as well.”
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For many, the increase in interest from major labels is u">>seen as the main cause of pressing plant delays — larger plants are thought to prioritise big orders and anything that overspills is mopped up by the small, independent plants that once prioritised independent labels but are now being apparently swayed by the big orders, and big influence.
“Most of the vinyl you’ll buy from stores like Juno comes from [a few big plants],” Tomas Fraser agrees “the whole industry is vying for a few small slots, so labels like mine are gonna get squeezed out."
For pressing plants, it makes economic sense to make larger runs of records. Producing in bulk is cheaper and simpler in the manufacturing process — the “plates” used to press a record involve creating a sample record using lacquer and unique metalwork that can be used to press over 20,000 records, but this tends to be one of the most expensive and time-consuming parts of the record-making process.
“In the early '90s, most titles, even totally unknown white labels, would press tens of thousands of copies,” I Love Acid honcho Posthuman tells us. “Today, it's usually just a few hundred. So while the overall number of vinyl being made may be similar, there is an insane increase in the number of titles. This is putting a huge demand on metalwork and as a result, there are long waiting times for lacquers to be processed, on average three or four months. That's before you even get a single record pressed.”
Source : https://mixmag.net/feature/vinyl-industry-record-breaking-point-manufacturing1390