Music business

Wax on, wax off: unblocking the big blockage of vinyl

Columnist Eamonn Forde (inset photo) is a longtime music industry journalist and the author of The Last Days of EMI: Selling the Pig.

His new book, Leaving the building: the lucrative afterlife of musical fieldsis now available through Omnibus Press.

Eamonn Forde

The vinyl renaissance, to some at least, seems like a wonderful license to print lots of delicious cash – except the problem is that no one can print it, or the records, fast enough.

Demand massively exceeds supply. Everybody knows it. The pressing plants are buckling under pressure and labels are encouraged to place their orders at least six – preferably 12 – months in advance.

The albums, much like the Queen and her birthdays, have two release dates: there are the CD/cassette/streaming/download releases to launch the campaign; then, as the campaign enters its final stages, there’s the vinyl release.

There is encouraging news here in the UK, as the brand new pressing plant opening in Middlesborough before the end of the year, but that will not solve the problem. It will barely touch the sides of the problem.

What’s left for the record companies is a form of “windowing” that no one wants.

Big stars like ABBA, Ed Sheeran and Adele don’t help matters here as they see that having a vinyl strategy is key to securing chart dominance on a scale like never before.

The week of its release, ABBA’s Travel was selling better the rest of the UK’s top 40 albums chart combined. It recorded 204,000 card sales during this first week, 90% of which were in physical formats. There were 29,900 vinyl sales, meaning it is the best-selling vinyl release of this century.

Breaking chart records is, of course, a great thing, especially for anyone who remembers with horror the state the recording industry was in during the first decade and a half of this century. But this current situation is totally unmanageable and untenable. This creates a damaging class system where the biggest artists with the biggest orders, very few of whom cared about vinyl sales even a few years ago, burst in and fight their way to the top of the queue. .

With the dilemma only getting worse, it’s time someone did something.

I may not be that “someone” but I have a 12 point checklist to fix this problem and it will never be fixed in the short to medium term.

Nothing I suggest will be perfect, but the other “option” of doing nothing will only make things worse.

In the future, we must stumble.

1: You release yourself, make a run of less than 1000 units and this release is decisive for you or if you don’t get the discs in time you will go broke?

You get to the front of the queue. “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” said Marx (Karl, not Richard), a man not known for his love of cheeky capitalism or his mono-heavy record collection. But hey, he was right.

2: Are you a megastar who hasn’t bothered with a vinyl release for any of your previous releases, but now wants to press half a million copies of your disappointing album?

At the back of the queue, bucko. You have to earn your place here and you will slowly move up the pecking order with each subsequent release. You take out what you put in.

3: During the lean years of vinyl production, when none of the big labels or big bands were warning LPs, did your small but steady orders literally keep that pressing plant afloat?

If they did, you get early access to the start of the queue and a series of generous discounts for all your future orders in perpetuity. Loyalty should be rewarded.

4: Did you just try to fight your way to the front of the queue using horrible bullying tactics? Did you just threaten to withdraw all orders for your entire list if you don’t get what you want immediately? Are you basically the screaming bully in the busy bar who impetuously waves a £50 note that he thinks will get him served faster?

You can only make it to the front of the queue if you pay the pressing charges for all other orders currently ahead of you.

5: Did you say you wanted a nice picture disc, a disc in the shape of, I don’t know, a tractor or a range of manufactured colored vinyls?

Sure, but they’re now 4,000 times more expensive than plain black vinyl, pressed into the innovative circle shape.

6: Did you release a new record before the invention of the CD, but now think you should get special treatment just because you decided to come back?

You will have to wait in the queue an additional week for each year that you have not released new music. Don’t stop me. I just did.

7: Get all sorts of tricky gimmick outings like stickers that produce holographic images as the record spins, a smooth B-side so you can pretend it’s made of shellac, cut-out “hidden” 78rpm recordings in the label and so on? Basically what I’m asking is this: are you Jack White?

Build your own steam-pressing factory staffed by mustachioed men in striped vests and fedoras to make them yourself.

8: Is this an album entirely made up of acoustic versions of your greatest hits?


9: Is this yet another anniversary number from an album that gets reissued every five years (or every other record store day) so that it constantly clogs the vinyl charts?

You must wait a week for each year since its initial release before we even review your order.

10: Are you looking to press a totally unnecessary number of records, stuffed full of lukewarm demos and unlistenable live versions, just so you can bloat a box set and sell it for several hundred pounds?

We do not take orders for anything over two discs per release. Have a thought for the environment. And the ears of your fans.

11: Do you remember, in 1977, when Kenner couldn’t do anywhere near enough STAR WARS FIGURES to meet the astonishing demand for Christmas that year?

They created what was called the Early Bird certificate package. They sent a cardboard kit that turned into a diorama and added a note telling buyers they would receive the actual toys a few months later. Following this model, you can simply sell the sleeves and put a certificate inside telling the buyer that the record will arrive a little later. People who buy them just to display in those fancy wall frames probably won’t even notice.

12: I think I heard wrong. Could you repeat that? Did you just call them “vinyls”?

Lifetime ban. And we call the police.The music industry around the world