How to create a sustainable future for vinyl

By in Features

After 10 years of booming sales, what’s changed and what comes next?

2007 was a line in the sand for the vinyl industry. After over a decade of sustained decline, sales of new records in the UK sat at an anaemic 204,000 LPs. 2007 was also the year that Radiohead released In Rainbows through a then unprecedented pay-what-you-want model that allowed fans to pre-order the album for as little as nothing at all.

It was heralded and criticised in equal measure, something of a fuck-you to industry profit-mongers, in favour of empowering listeners and exploiting the power of online distribution over more traditional distribution methods. Much has changed since then, but with the benefit of hindsight you could argue it helped grease the wheels of streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple Music, in seeding the assumption that music could have no real tangible value.

Revolutionary as it was, it’s unlikely that Radiohead, or many others for that matter thought we’d be sitting here a decade later still bemused and exhilarated by the return of vinyl as a viable physical format. From £0 giveaways to lavish box-sets with half-inch tape inserts, Radiohead have followed suit themselves.

Ten years after the world’s biggest band encouraged us to pay what we wanted for a digital download, the UK is on the brink of a 2,000% increase in vinyl sales. The British Phonographic Industry [BPI] predicts over 4 million new albums will be sold in the UK in 2017, from an increasing number of records shops, to be played on an increasing number of turntables (Rega now makes 500% more decks a year than it did in 2007).

However, that is of course only half the story. With such exponential growth has come a number of increasingly prescient issues. Questions around production delays have been around for several years, as every part of the supply chain struggles to meet demand. Labels are feeling the squeeze, particularly at the lower end, as release schedules become increasingly unmanageable. And customers who have seen prices rise are beginning to perceive a fall in quality, attributable in part to the previous two factors.

From the lacquer makers (of which just two companies remain), to the mastering engineers, pressing plants, distributors, labels, shops and organisations, the record industry is a delicate eco-system, and when one part feels the pressure the whole system suffers. When talk of records flooding manufacturers is widespread, the question of sustainability becomes even more pressing.

So, after ten years of the so-called ‘vinyl revival’, we’ve decided to take the temperature of the industry. From one-person labels to leading record shops, turntable makers to the company behind the first new record presses in a generation, we’ve asked the industry to share its concerns and suggest possible routes forward, at what feels like an important juncture for the format and vinyl culture at large.

And since we’re talking about sustainability, that also means putting vinyl in a context bigger than just the music industry. Like every industry, moving towards cleaner forms of production for vinyl may become a more pressing theme than it is now.


The record labels


Peter Quicke, Ninja Tune

London-based independent label Ninja Tune was born in 1990, just as vinyl began to tail off. Rooted in sample culture, its ties to the format have been strong throughout, and recent years have seen the label rediscover a flair for innovative packaging and design. Representing the likes of Bonobo, Cinematic Orchestra and Mr Scruff has allowed the label to explore releases with niche artists, and as a distributor of Big Dada and Brainfeeder among others, it’s established itself as one of the most powerful independent labels in the world.


Have you noticed any change in the way records are produced and consumed in the last 10 years?

Vinyl compounds have changed in last 10 years as the more toxic/polluting chemical constituents are banned and new versions are developed.

Vinyl used to be the essential club promotion tool, now DJs are more likely to want a WAV than a 12”, so much fewer vinyl promos are made for sending out as freebies to tastemaker club DJs.

Specialist mail-order services are also key to selling records now: Juno, Bleep, Boomkat etc. Then there are physical record shops growing their mail-order businesses like Piccadilly, Norman etc And finally, subscription services like Vinyl, Me Please…

What are the ongoing challenges you face as an independent label in the current climate?

Signing the best music! Ensuring we get vinyl made of the right quality in time for a release campaign is a tough as ever. Vinyl quality has been more variable as vinyl compounds have changed.

What steps do you think could or should be taken to mitigate those threats?

Vinyl production maybe considered environmentally unacceptable at some point in the near future, so vinyl technologists need to work on high quality non-polluting technical solutions.

Also there’s a limited number of young well trained engineers in the vinyl pressing business, and more need to be trained! Many of the best engineers may be retiring in the next decade. And finally, the limited number of Neumann cutting lathes in the world, and no new ones are being made.

What would you like to see happen in order to create a more sustainable future for vinyl?

More Neumann cutting lathes, more vinyl pressing plants, less polluting vinyl formats and easier recycling of vinyl overstocks into umbrellas or the like…


Pete Buckenham, On The Corner Records

Still somewhat in its infancy, On the Records is an archetypal label of love, and the passion project of Pete Buckenham and in-house designer Victoria Topping. Releasing music from across the African continent that is loosely found at the juncture between the acoustic and electronic (as the label’s Miles Davis-inspired namesake suggests), On The Corner is an example of an independent label with a devoted fanbase and a niche DJ following still scrapping at the bottom of the food-chain to make ends meet and continue releasing on vinyl.


Have you noticed any change in the way records are produced and consumed in the time since you starting releasing with On The Corner?

It feels like there’s more space for niche releases at the moment. As the label’s early years were during a period when the resurgence really sprung into action and carried the trend into over the mainstream, it’s hard to see general trends as I was just learning the ropes and making mistakes.

One change I’ve seen directly has been through Bandcamp. OtC was born of my passions, experiences and love of a good record shop. I was in Soho’s Sounds of the Universe and aiming for those shelves. I was not particularly interested in the digital element, but the good heads at Bandcamp quite literally insisted I was wrong to dismiss it. I’ve really come to appreciate the community feel that Bandcamp has created. Notifications of physical sales from the site come directly into my email and I see the global reach, interest and the customers who return. It’s satisfying to witness the reach as it happens and that sense of having ‘regulars’ provides inspiration. I love that connection.

The music and art is essential, but there has to be a vision for reaching as far as possible, and with that there needs to be an effective plan. Record production at the scale we are involved in is anything but strategic, especially when dealing with the bigger industry of pressing plants. I’m reliant on a tight cash flow to make sure the label stays afloat. If there is drift in the production times my campaigns and promo work are wasted and cash flow dries up. I support myself with DJ fees, which is an unpredictable and fragile existence, and then anything from the label has to go straight into producing the next projects.

Within the last year I’ve gone from peering over the precipice to now having three releases all at different stages of the manufacturing process, and three more being mastered.

What are the ongoing challenges you face as a small label in the current climate?

Whilst I’ve witnessed a great amount of progress with OtC, I’ve also had my wings clipped by simply not having the buying power of bigger producers, and the unpredictability of plants by to not being able to have mastering scheduled. Having so many parts to deliver and pay for almost 6 months before sales revenue comes in is a continuous struggle.

Our broker over the last two years has been brilliant in that regard however we’re not big enough, or able to pay enough to be a priority or be able to influence conditions. Having releases take almost 5 months while others take half of that leads to an unworkable situation.

What do you consider the biggest threat first to the label’s continued growth and then more generally to the vinyl industry at large?

Cash flow. In an ideal world you’d control the timing of production. I can’t stockpile, so I have to take a risk on starting the campaign whilst production is taking place, and then get on with preparing the next campaign as that should be moving closely behind. To do this we need some cash flow predictions and payment schedule. When this goes wrong, that’s when we’re in jeopardy.

What steps do you think could or should be taken to mitigate those threats?

If plants don’t modernise, up their capacity, and communicate more effectively with smaller stakeholders, then it’s doomed. The resurgence came from the grassroots with labels, stores, and vinyl fans not giving up on the format, and if that isn’t taken into consideration then margin-chasing capitalists, not just the majors, will kill it by flooding the market with cheap reissues.

How are tape sales at the moment? Vinyl is a beautiful thing but for some of our projects it’s just not feasible. We can experiment and try new things by doing short runs of cassettes or even CDs. Turnaround time with cassettes is a matter of days not months.

If the label doesn’t gain exponential growth or investment then I feel there will be a glass ceiling at which we stop, because there’s only so far you can go on a wing and a prayer. We need solid, reliable and timely supply to be able to successfully deliver our end of the business.

What would you like to see happen in order to create a more sustainable future for vinyl?

I feel vinyl may have a limited future. There needs to be some integrity and judgement at every level for it to be sustained. The plants do a great job of quite a technical process, but that is at risk if people are hell-bent on bringing poor quality Elvis and Madonna reissues to the shelves of motorway service stations, pound stretcher and the like. Then there’s a chance for technologies to be developed that are less harmful to the environment. It’s not environmentally friendly, so I’d like to see more sustainable materials being used.


Ryan Wilson, Concord Music Group

Concord Music Group is a reissue label with a portfolio of over 10,000 releases, featuring some of the most well-known names in pop, rock, funk, soul and jazz over the last sixty years. Its parent company, Concord Bicycle Music manages a songbook of over 130,000 songs and over twenty labels, including legendary jazz imprints like Prestige and Riverside. It reissues well-known and over-looked albums from its catalogue.


How has the last 10 years and the escalation in vinyl sales affected Concord?

I can’t really speak for the last ten years, but in the three-plus years that I’ve been here in a catalogue A&R/Marketing capacity, from what I’ve seen, I think the trend has been a positive one for us. For all of the pains and pitfalls of the process (tape transfers, lacquers, test pressings, etc), it’s given us an opportunity to approach our catalogue with an eye toward unearthing some classic albums that may have gone unnoticed in the CD era, which is the mission of the Jazz Dispensary imprint I’m heading up here.

What are the ongoing challenges faced by the label in the current climate?

From my standpoint, I think the hardest part is cutting through what seems to be a deluge of amazing reissues in the marketplace (which is a great problem to have if you’re the consumer!). Most labels face similar challenges on the production end, but the “secret sauce” seems to be in pinpointing your audience and forecasting demand.

With Jazz Dispensary for example, I try to put out “crate digger” type records with crossover appeal that I think actually have a chance to stick in someone’s collection, whether you’re a producer or just listening for pleasure.

What do you consider the biggest challenge faced by the vinyl industry at large?

I go to record stores all the time, every time I’m in a new city I track down the local shop and go for a dig. It’s one of my greatest pleasures – I never get tired of it. While second hand sales must still make up a good deal of revenue for indie stores, I think the escalating price and volume of new vinyl releases are putting the relationship between labels and the independent stores at a very delicate balance, especially with the increase in streaming consumption and instant gratification via services such as Amazon Prime.

What do you consider to be the most important step that needs to be taken in order to create a more sustainable future for vinyl?

I’m not sure the future is so dire – we may have hit a plateau in new vinyl growth, but what the “vinyl industry” doesn’t really necessarily recognize is that there is a vinyl culture that lives outside of the new release cycle, outside of Neilsen SoundScan and consumption charts that will always be there.


The record shops


Simon Rigg, Phonica Records, London

Opened in 2003 when vinyl sales were at a low ebb, Phonica Records has been instrumental in sustaining London’s DJs for over a decade, and is widely considered one of the most important independent record shops in the world. With a customer base that includes artists like Four Tet, Ben UFO, Floating Points and more, many former employees have gone on to become DJs or start labels, and the shop currently has its own selection of in-house imprints.


How has the last 10 years and the escalation in vinyl sales effected Phonica?

This so-called ‘escalation’ in vinyl sales is a misnomer, using US-based figures in mainstream stores. Dance / indie stores were never included in the figures and whilst, sales have improved since the 2008-9 recession, when things did look worrying, I wouldn’t say the increase has been huge. Of course, there are fewer record stores now, so the ones that are left are doing well and each has its own niche.

What are the ongoing challenges faced by Phonica in the current climate?

The impending Brexit is our main worry – a lot of our stock comes from Europe and the US and any tariffs places on certain goods could have a detrimental effect on sales. The devaluation of the pound has already affected sales with price increases and reduced margins.

What do you consider the biggest threat to the vinyl industry at large?

Brexit and therefore price. The other threat is that some labels just don’t press enough in order for that record to have some re-sale value on Discogs and remain ‘in demand’. This helps no-one except Discogs sellers.

What steps can be taken to mitigate those threats and continue to grow?

A Brexit without any trade barriers, i.e. remaining within the single market. And, on the latter point, press more records!


Markus Lindner, OYE Records, Berlin

Celebrating its 15th anniversary this year, Berlin-based OYE Records is one of Europe’s leading independent record shops, with two locations in the German capital and a burgeoning online and distribution business. Owner Markus Lindner works regularly with artists and labels, who see OYE as a base for an amorphous community of DJs, producers and fans in the city and abroad.


How has the last 10 years and the escalation in vinyl sales effected OYE?

Sales at OYE have risen between 30-40% every year. We’ve been running distribution since 2013 and that is also affecting sales.

What are the ongoing challenges faced by OYE in the current climate?

You have to see this in terms of the three important players: producers (incl. labels, artists, distributors), customers and record shops

Producers:

It feels like the “vinyl hype” over the last few years has brought us a lot of new and old players. A lot of new labels want to be part of that culture, but we are missing the high quality of music more often due to the high costs to produce a record. At the moment, a lot of labels are burning money with 200 -300 copies of each release, and try to compensate it with higher prices.

Often now, reissues are more exciting than new releases, and sometimes we have more reissues in the sale charts than new music. This is a sign that the consumer is also digging more for old music than new music.

Also, the prices have gone up around 30-40% in the last few years, but the customers don’t have any money in their pockets, so they decide more carefully about what kind of records they buy.

Represses are one part of the problem. We have around 3 times more releases every week now and everybody thinks that when a record is going for €15 on Discogs, they should repress it.

On the other hand they limit good records to create a hype on Discogs, but only Discogs and the re-seller are making money, not the label or the artists. The record store looses.

Customers:

We had a great new generation 4-5 years ago. They started buying a lot of records, but now, if they are still around, they spend less money. On the one hand they have a good collection now (particularly of dance music) and don’t buy things that sound the same, or they disappear, because the DJ career didn’t happen or the full time job after university is more important. Life goes on.

The vinyl DJs seem to have disappeared step by step. One reason purely technical, in that nightclubs don’t have proper set ups, and traveling with vinyl is no fun. The older vinyl DJ generation are now increasingly into digital DJing, even though they still buy vinyl and rip them for playing.

Record Shops:

A lot of new record shops have opened in the last few years, which is great for the culture, but I doubt that they will stay forever, as the margins are quite low. In Berlin, we only can survive because of the tourists and the strong music culture.

I’m afraid that only the big players will survive by pushing exclusive releases, distribution & having a web shop. Some shops try to survive by selling records through Discogs, but in my opinion, that is a big mistake. You have to create your own style and business model to bring your customers back to your shop. It doesn’t make sense to sell new records on Discogs given their 8% margin and the shipping costs.


The online marketplace


Chad Dahlstrom, COO at Discogs

Discogs is the world’s biggest record database, documenting over nine million releases, which form the basis of its peer-to-peer marketplace. A resource and a sales platform, Discogs has begun to dictate the market value for second-hand releases based on supply and demand, which in turn has an impact on which records are being reissued. It now has platforms for gear, books, comics and films.

What do you consider the biggest threat first to Discogs’ continued growth and then more generally to the vinyl industry at large?

Stasis. Discogs cannot stop listening and improving for our community. It’s that simple. We’ll be making improvements on currency conversion with new payment partners very soon. Order guarantees and new seller programs are on the horizon as well as improved shipping solutions of which we’ll be testing in the U.S. in the next few weeks. The Database will see data dive even deeper to the track level as the DB team continues to focus there. Lastly, we’re increasing resources to our App team as the community rallies around both iOS and Andriod versions of the platform.

As far as the vinyl industry as a whole, with the onslaught on new pressing plants, and the adding of extra shifts by those running at capacity, a sustainable supply chain seems to be solved. Now, the challenge is sustaining the community after the reissue/catalogue wave subsides. Not too dissimilar to the late-’80s/early ’90s rush to move your collection from vinyl or cassette to CD, the rebuilding of the vinyl collection is fuelling growth outside of the collector community.

What steps do you think could or should be taken to mitigate those threats?

As reissue and catalogue releases continue to drive sales, the future will have to include a stronger showing from new releases giving value beyond streaming, and being released in tandem with the streaming release date.

A fantastic example of this is the Matador release of Queens Of The Stone Age’s Villains earlier this year. The multiple editions brought value to fans and collectors alike. Matador did an incredible job with the deluxe edition while also delivering an indie record store version of the LP, and it was available on the day of release. Matador’s approach paid off within our community with Villains being the #2 selling new LP thus far in 2017.

What would you like to see happen in order to create a more sustainable future for vinyl?

We’re continuing to see data that supports the growth of the format. But ultimately the record label and artist relationships with collectors and newbies are going to dictate growth once the reissue wave has crested. If the record labels choose to listen to collectors and fans, not unlike Discogs listening to our community, rather than squeeze every ounce of juice from them, I believe the future is bright for the format.


The new press makers


Alex DesRoches, Viryl Technologies

In the last few years, Canadian company Viryl Technologies has introduced the world to the Warm Tone, a new “fully automated” record press that represents the first major technological update to the manufacturing process in over 30 years. Currently being installed in new pressing plants around the world, they are said to deliver multiple efficiencies including faster cycle times, less wasted PVC, less manual intervention, and reduced power consumption.


How important has the boom in vinyl sales been to the creation of the Warm Tone?

Extremely. In 2015, when we started this project we obviously did a lot of market research. The numbers were very powerful then and have continued to grow. We believe they will grow into the 2020’s as well. A strong market is what convinced us and our investors to pursue this project.

What influenced your decision to develop the Warm Tone and how long has the process been?

In order for vinyl to be sustainable, manufacturing had to improve. The vinyl manufacturing industry was living in the dark ages and the quality, turnaround times, and whole process needed improvement. Capacity was needed and new machines allows new players to enter the industry, while also allowing existing pressing plants to upgrade technology and offline old machines, or simply add capacity. If vinyl wants to remain healthy, new machinery was an absolute must.

It took us about a year to get to market. We had a massive advantage since we we’re already very familiar with the process of vinyl manufacturing. Our CEO owned a pressing plant with several automatic machines from the 1970s and ‘80s. He knew the problem areas and what needed innovation.

What impact do you hope the Warm Tone to have on the industry?

We hope that it allows pressing plants to become more profitable by reducing waste, improving consistency, and offering them the service that comes along with our machines. On the other end we hope it allows musicians and labels to get records faster, and consumers to be content with the quality when they purchase a vinyl record.

What do you consider the biggest threat first to Viryl Technologies and then more generally to the vinyl industry at large?

The biggest threat for us is that the quality standard does not improve in the industry as a whole. Currently there is a massive quality problem in vinyl manufacturing. If the industry does not react to this and make steps to improve these issues people will lose interest in the format. If someone is going to spend $30 on a record in comparison to streaming, or other very, very cheap options, it better be pristine…

What do you consider to be the most important step that needs to be taken in order to create a more sustainable future for vinyl?

Manufacturing. Not just the pressing of records, but also quality plating and cutting. There is room for improvement across all 3 steps of making a vinyl record. This industry is beginning to catch up but there is still a lot of work to do.


The turntable makers


Rob Noble – Southern UK Sales Coordinator, Rega Research

UK-based turntable manufacturers and audio hi-fi company Rega Research have quietly been going about their business for over four decades, building a strong and dedicated following for their turntables, which find a sweet spot between high-quality components, detailed engineering and affordability. Since 2007, they’ve seen huge growth in demand and are one of a handful of turntable manufacturers seen as respected alternatives to cheap all-in-one models at the lower end of the market.


How has the last 10 years and the escalation in vinyl sales affected Rega?

Considerably. Turntables have always been the lion’s share of production and turnover, and the increase in sales has placed significant demands upon limited resources. In those ten years the number of turntables has risen from 8,000 to 45,500 per annum, and has required not only additional production space and staff, but a much greater emphasis on the supply chain and the consistency of high quality components.

Ten years ago we were fighting against the commercial tide but now it’s the other way around. Rega has never really chased business as we have always had a sustainable business model but it’s always nice to be in demand.

What are the ongoing challenges faced by Rega as a turntable maker in the current climate?

To ensure that the business remains sustainable. By this we don’t mean that we need or expect to keep growing at the rate at which we have been for the last few years – which has been healthy double figures per annum – but rather that we can maintain existing levels or increasing ones should they happen.

A significant and key challenge for any business is finding the right personnel and we’re no different here than most other companies.

Macroeconomic factors are particularly relevant in the short and medium terms as issues such as Brexit and exchange rates present a variety of issues, although as a company we’re quite sanguine about the longer-term impact and economic picture.

Further afield the growth of developing economies place an ever increasing demand on raw materials and this could clearly influence availability and prices of valuable commodities which are needed for manufacturing industries.

What do you consider to be the most important step that needs to be taken in order to create a more sustainable future for vinyl?

The products need to be more visible. Exposure to a wider audience is essential for the growth of the industry. If the mass media embraces vinyl then we’ll see increased demand. If it provides a valuable revenue stream to record companies such as Sony etc then we may see a repeat of what happened with the arrival of compact discs – customers replacing their music catalogues on a new format. It’s a motivating thought.


The industry


Gennaro Castaldo, BPI Spokesperson

The BPI, or British Phonographic Industry, is the UK music industry’s trade association, representing a huge range of members from the major labels to smaller independents. They compile regular reports of sales figures that reflect the overall health of the music industry, including its renewed love affair with vinyl.


Has the last 10 years and the escalation in vinyl sales come as a surprise?

We’re not especially surprised, because once vinyl sales got on to an upward curve, you would reasonably expect the next year to be stronger than the last and keep reinforcing the trend. The music community has also worked hard to promote and invest in the format: Record Store Day has clearly had a galvanising effect, with indie record stores embracing the format, as have chains like HMV and even supermarkets, who are dedicating more space to it. Record labels too have helped to make vinyl aspirational and collectible once again by presenting it in limited edition premium packaging and by creating a quality experience.

What are the ongoing challenges faced by the vinyl industry in the current climate?

The success of vinyl hasn’t happened by itself, and a lot of hard work and investment has gone into it. The music community must not take its growth for granted, however, and everyone should continue working hard to promote the format and support its on-going appeal

That said, there’s a balance that needs to be struck. On the one hand we’d all love to see demand for LPs keep surging, but if, in seeking to grow it, the appeal of vinyl is diluted to become a little too broad and mainstream, there is a risk that some of the more ‘purist’ consumers drawn to its mystique and fundamental appeal may be put off.

I’m confident that won’t be the case, however, as there is clearly such a love for vinyl, and there also appears to be a complementary relationship with streaming – where fans increasingly subscribe to the utility and convenience of streaming services for their daily music fix, but also buy or gift their favourite recordings on LP and, of course, CD.


Anna Harvey, Head of Silva Screen Vinyl

The Silva Screen Music Group is a London based independent record company which is home to one of the world’s leading specialist soundtrack labels. It has a catalogue of over 800 titles and represents a bridge between the worlds of music, television and film.

What do you consider the biggest threat to the vinyl industry at large? Are concerns about pressings, delays and prices legitimate and how much of an impact are they having?

The increase in vinyl sales has seen a corresponding increase in production. Due to the restricted number of pressing plants this has sometimes led to delays, especially when plants tend to prioritise large runs of vinyl over smaller artists’ pressings. These challenges in production are not necessarily a problem though, as consumers will generally purchase vinyl even if it is released later than expected.

The main potential issue to the industry is the market being flooded with cheap product, without the cost of production reducing. The cost of manufacturing is so high on short runs, that if retail prices are not maintained at their current level, these short runs will become prohibitive to produce, and while a few albums sell in excess of 10,000 copies (which are relatively cheaper to produce due to the large quantity), many vinyl sales are either limited editions or pressed in batches of 500 (generally the minimum pressing). For now though, prices seem to be holding up.

What steps can be taken to mitigate those threats and continue to grow?

There are more pressing plants opening, which will increase capacity and ideally reduce the cost of manufacturing on small runs of vinyl, but it’s also important that labels consider carefully whether the vinyl release they are planning is something people will buy. It is still a relatively niche market and flooding it with records people don’t want risks devaluing it.

What do you consider to be the most important step that needs to be taken in order to create a more sustainable future for vinyl?

More manufacturing capacity and cheaper production costs would certainly help, as well as the continuing development of technology to produce record decks that suit different music consumers, from portable players to audiophile systems to decks including a digital back up facility.


Record Store Day


Megan Page, RSD Spokesperson

If you’ve got this far, Record Store Day probably needs no introduction. Also marking its 10th anniversary this year, the annual celebration of record shops began in 2007, and its success has both dovetailed with, and helped accelerate vinyl sales across the world. Initially aimed at promoting independent record shops, Record Store Day has since come under fire from smaller labels who have born the brunt of major label involvement and the yearly manufacturing bottleneck that has emerged as a result.


It’s no surprise that RSD has been a major driver for vinyl sales in the last 10 years. Has the event developed as you expected? What achievements are you proudest of?

I think the biggest achievement to come off the back of RSD is the amount of new independent record shop openings in the UK. This year’s RSD marked 10 continuous years of growth for the indie sector. We now have over 380 indie record shops – over a third of which have opened their doors in the past decade. Even in the last few weeks, we are hearing of new record shops opening pretty much every day. I think that turnaround is something people never expected to happen, and it is a movement, which shows no signs of slowing down.

It has also faced its share of criticism – what are the ongoing challenges you face as an organisation in the current climate?

I think we are all aware that pressing plants are full and the industry is currently playing catch up with the huge demand for vinyl. This is of course a big challenge for RSD too but I think we would all agree that it’s much better to have the plants full rather than empty, like they were 10 years ago. We are also seeing lots of new plants coming on stream, which we expect will alleviate these issues in due course.

What do you consider the biggest threat first to vinyl’s continued growth?

We don’t particularly see there being any major threats to vinyl right now. Sales this year are still very healthy (up another 30%) and we are seeing lots of new plants opening around the world.

There have been rumblings from some quarters about prices creeping up but these vary considerably based on a number of factors including the number of units produced and quality of vinyl – as well as obviously being affected by supply and demand. As retailers we always want to charge our customers a fair price and would expect labels to do the same. The vinyl resurgence should definitely not be used to put up prices.

What would you like to see happen in order to create a more sustainable future for vinyl?

I think the most important thing for vinyl’s future is that the labels continue to respond to fans demand for high quality products to keep the format attractive. But overall, we aren’t seeing any major threats and are expecting the growth in the UK to continue at pace.


The VF Summary


So after all that, how much wiser are we? It’s not altogether surprising that the relatively positive prognoses offered here depends on how much the current set-up is working for each individual. The reissue label picking out titles from a vast back-catalogue sees a brighter future than the smaller independent label, whose new 12″s are delayed by those reissues.

Likewise, in a climate where pressing plants are under pressure to deliver more records with fewer machines, it’s no surprise that the one company to have made a breakthrough in developing new technology is feeling flush. While there are signs that the supply chain is beginning to respond to increased demand, building factories and developing new presses isn’t the only thing that needs to change.

As engineer Mandy Parnell told us in a recent feature, the culture around the craft of mastering is just one other aspect that needs revising, and with it the supply of crucial materials such as properly cured lacquers. The more problematic this becomes, the more important it will be for the industry to find environmentally, as well as economically sustainable solutions.

One way to do this is through education and awareness, and it’s here that the most prominent theme from across responses emerges.

If vinyl culture is to remain accessible and exciting for makers and fans alike, all aspects of the industry need to take responsibility for the quality, not just the margins, of their work.

What’s important, ultimately, is not the format but the art that it communicates, and if vinyl is to continue to be the substantial alternative to streaming – the most beautifully complete way of displaying a creative musical idea, from the artwork to the quality of the press – then it needs to make sure it delivers on that promise.

Illustration by Patch Keyes.

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