First gasoline, then pasta… now record companies are running out of vinyl | Music
Vinyl has been the hit of the music industry in recent years. But for record label owners like Chris Howell, there’s a B-side.
The founder of Kniteforce Revolution Records is unlikely to have any 12-inch records to sell in the next six months. âI went from eight to nine releases per month to none,â said Howell, better known as Luna-C, whose first hit came with the 1992 hit Sesame’s Treet as part of Smart-E.
“I have about 60 different vinyl versions that have been cut and are in different stages [of production]. And the record press told me that it is unlikely that I will have more this year.
The reason is that vinyl is popular again – too popular for smaller labels like Howell’s. A flood of new things, like Abba’s new album Trip, come with reissues later this month from The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, not to mention an 18 LP box set by David Bowie.
Still, there are only a few sizable pressing factories in the world, so there is little capacity for smaller labels who might only need several hundred to a few thousand records pressed for a single release. .
The huge jump in demand – global vinyl sales have grown by more than 700% in the past decade, according to the IFPI (International Federation of the Phonographic Industry) – is associated with typical shortages linked to Covid and Brexit, such as a shortage of truck drivers and increased customs fees.
But there’s also a shortage of PVC after a storm in February shut down Texas petrochemical plants, and a 2020 fire at a lacquer plant in California left just one plant in Japan making the master discs. from which the discs are cut.
A delay for a new Taylor Swift LP is a downside, but for labels like Kniteforce it’s catastrophic. âDue to the resurgence of vinyl, the great artists I work with can afford to take the time out of their lives to make music because it’s worth it,â Howell said.
“With digital, there’s so little money in it that it’s just not worth doing.” Although Universal Music floated a fortnight ago on a valuation of Â£ 38bn based on expectations that streaming will continue to revive the music industry, the money from digital production is not benefiting to artists.
A typical artist needs around 300 streams to make $ 1 on Spotify (at $ 0.003 per stream), so those who aren’t in the mainstream are dependent on other income.
âI don’t work with a single, money-driven artist,â Howell said. âBut if you have kids, a job and a mortgage you can’t justify spending three weeks working on a new album if you want to make Â£ 50 – when the vinyl market will bring them Â£ 5,000. I built little by little, and I was able to give them a head start.
“I probably spent $ 30,000 on advances, which I expected to be back now, and none of that will come back until 2022. It’s not crippling yet, but I have to make choices regarding new artists. “
Pete Cannon, a hip-hop, house, and drum’n’bass artist, had turned to music for TV commercials for Apple and other brands, but launched N4 Records in 2019.
âIt was a passionate project,â he says. âI was doing 100 to 200 records, then it started to grow a bit. I was making videos on Facebook, taking apart how I make songs on old ’80s and’ 90s material, and it got a bit windy. Suddenly, I started to sell 500 copies.
âNow, well, I just sold my first release this year, 8bit Trip. I ordered it in January and the records arrived the second week of September.
Jay Cunning, DJ at Kool London radio, receives releases from industry labels. âI hear about delays ranging from six to nine months, so it’s a huge frustration for independent labels,â he said. “Some labels even refuse to announce new tracks until they have received the finished product,” he added.
âIn some ways it’s reminiscent of the dubplate culture of the ’90s, when the jungle and drum’n’bass emerged. It was very common to hear the Micky Finns and the Grooveriders play a record in a club, and you knew you weren’t going to put it on vinyl for at least 12 months.
Dubplates are test presses: white label discs which are normally used for quality control to ensure that the disc reproduces the track correctly. Test turnaround times are much faster.
âOne idea I’m considering is to squeeze 50 or 100 dubplates,â Cannon said. Record shops such as Disc World in South London offer unique vinyl record pressing, albeit at a significantly higher cost.
Cannon also capitalizes on vintage hardware and computers such as the Amiga and Atari which he uses to make music.
âPeople love records as a tangible work of art,â he said, âespecially in the underground scene. The last one I made came with a floppy disk with samples that you can load onto a Amiga.
Howell is considering other options, including 10-inch records and potentially investing in his own vinyl production plant. âYou have to be a little innovative and get around these issues and not just sit there and say, ‘Wah, that’s not what I wanted. ” You have to adapt. But it’s a bit annoying. “