Wax on, wax off: unblocking the great vinyl logjam

Credit: Ryan Arnst/Unsplash

Columnist Eamonn Forde (pictured inset) is a long-time music industry journalist, and the author of The Final Days of EMI: Selling the Pig.

His new book, Leaving The Building: The Lucrative Afterlife of Music Estates, is out now via Omnibus Press.

Eamonn Forde
The rebirth of vinyl, for some at least, seems to be a wonderful licence to print lots of delicious money – except the problem is that no one can print it, or the discs, fast enough. 

Demand is massively outstripping supply. Everyone knows this. Pressing plants are buckling under the strain and labels are being told to get their orders in at least six – preferably 12 – months in advance.

Albums, a bit like the Queen and her birthdays, are getting two release dates: there are the CD/cassette/streaming/download releases to kick off the campaign; and then, as the campaign enters into its final furlongs, there is the vinyl release.

There is some encouraging news here in the UK, like the brand new pressing plant opening in Middlesborough before the end of the year, but it’s not going to solve the problem. It will barely touch the sides of the problem. 

What record labels are being left with is a form of “windowing” that no one wants.

Huge stars like ABBA, Ed Sheeran and Adele are not helping matters here as they see that having a vinyl strategy is critical to ensure chart domination on a scale like never before. 

On the week of its release, ABBA’s Voyage was outselling the rest of the UK top 40 album chart combined. It had 204,000 chart sales in that first week, with 90% of them on physical formats. There were 29,900 vinyl sales, meaning it was the fastest-selling vinyl release of this century. 

Breaking chart records is, of course, a tremendous thing, especially for anyone who remembers with horror the state the record business was in for the first decade and a half of this century. But this current situation is utterly unworkable and untenable. It is creating a damaging class system where the biggest acts with the biggest orders, very few of whom cared a jot for vinyl sales even a few years ago, are barging and sharp-elbowing their way to the front of the queue. 

With the quandary only set to worsen, it is time somebody did something about it. 

I might not be that “somebody” but I do have a 12-point checklist to fix this as well as it’s ever going to 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. 

Into the future we must stumble. 

1: Are you self-releasing, doing a run of under 1,000 units and this release is make or break for you where, if you don’t get the records on time, you will be out of business? 

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

2: Are you a megastar who did not bother with a vinyl edition for any of your previous releases but now want to have half a million copies pressed of your underwhelming album? 

Back of the queue, bucko. You have to earn your place here and you’ll slowly move up the pecking order on 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 acts gave LPs even a moment’s notice, did your small but regular orders literally keep this pressing plant afloat? 

If they did, you get fast-tracked to the front of the queue and a series of generous discounts for all your future orders in perpetuity. Loyalty must be rewarded. 

4: Did you just try and muscle your way to the front of the queue by using horribly bullying tactics? Did you just threaten to pull all the orders for your entire roster if you don’t get what you want immediately? Are you basically the bellowingly boorish brute at the busy bar brashly waving a £50 note which he presumes will get him served quicker?

You can only get to the front of the queue if you pay the pressing costs of all the other orders currently in front of you. 

5: Did you say that you want a nice picture disc, a record in the shape of, I dunno, a tractor or a range of coloured vinyl made? 

Sure, but they now cost 4,000 times more than what simple black vinyl, pressed in the innovative shape of a circle, costs.

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

You will have to wait in the queue an extra week for every year that you’ve not released new music. Don’t shut me down. I just did. 

7: Are you making all manner of fiddly gimmick releases like stickers that produce holographic images as the record spins, a smooth B side so you can pretend it’s made from shellac, “hidden” 78rpm recordings cut into the label et cetera? Basically, what I am asking is this: are you Jack White? 

Build your own steam-powered pressing plant manned by moustachioed men in striped waistcoats and fedoras to make them yourself.

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


9: Is this yet another anniversary issue of an album that gets re-released every five years (or every other Record Store Day) so that it constantly clogs up the vinyl chart? 

You must wait a week for every year since it was originally released before we’ll even look at your order.

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

We are not taking any orders for anything over two discs per release. Spare a thought for the environment. And your fans’ ears. 

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

They came up with what was called the Early Bird Certificate Package. They sent out a cardboard kit that turned into a diorama and added a note telling purchasers they would get the actual toys a few months later. Following that model, you can just sell the sleeves and put a certificate inside telling the purchaser that the disc will be coming a bit later. People who just buy them to display in those fancy wall frames probably won’t even notice.

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

Lifetime ban. And we’re calling the police.Music Business Worldwide

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