Addressing Bottlenecks in the Vinyl Supply Chain | Characteristics
The demand for vinyl records has been increasing for over a decade and has really exploded in recent years. But many independent artists and labels face major delays in pressing and distributing vinyl, forcing them to postpone vinyl releases for months. The situation also made the challenge of operating an independent record store even more difficult.
The increased interest in the format over the past 15 years is not bad news. In the first half of 2021 alone, vinyl record revenues rose to $ 467 million according to the Recording Industry Association of America. Compare that to 2019, when vinyl revenue for the entire year was $ 504 million, noted then as the highest figure since 1988. While small labels and independent artists were the first to return to vinyl, mainstream players have taken notice, especially over the past five to seven years.
“I think a lot of this demand is related to the independent majors and the majors,” says Mike Mannix, owner of Centripetal force, an independent label from Nashville that leans towards psychedelia. “On the contrary, it makes it harder for me to sell my records, because there are so many vinyl records on the market now.”
The big three record company conglomerates – Universal, Sony and Warner – squeezing massive amounts of releases from their most popular artists might have less of an impact if it weren’t for a limited supply of presses that produce records vinyl. Until Third Man Pressing opened in Detroit in 2017 with a small batch of new presses, the last time the machines were produced on a regular basis was in the early 1980s.
“There are only a handful of plants,” notes Todd Hedrick, owner of the East Nashville bar and record store. Vinyl faucet. “And only one of them is big enough – the one here in Nashville, Plain recording pressing. In a good way, the demand is very high. But they don’t have the capacity. even run [some of its presses] basically 24/7, they can’t keep up.
Production capacity is just one of the complex factors behind the long delays between finishing an album and selling vinyl copies. Hedrick also points to an issue that dates back to late 2019, when the Big Three centralized all of their vinyl shipments. Deal with the Direct Shot dispenser exclusively, rather than dividing the work of routing discs through stores among several companies, significantly slowed the process. In February 2020, a fire caused catastrophic damage to Apollo Masters Corp. in California, one of the only major suppliers of lacquered records required for traditional vinyl pressing, the final impact of which is not yet known. Weeks later, the COVID-19 pandemic forced baling factories to temporarily close or operate at significantly reduced capacity and triggered an ongoing shipping crisis.
Unfortunately, artists and labels operating on a smaller scale bear the brunt of these problems. They are often the most vulnerable to lasting impacts when bottlenecks delay an exit.
“The little artists are trying to schedule tours, they are trying to do record release gigs, and they can’t afford to sit on an album for a year before it finally hits the masses,” explains Mannix. “And they’re the ones who are already about to ask, ‘Is music my career, or am I going to have to do something else?’ “”
Even artists who operate on a larger scale are experiencing bottlenecks. Sturgill Simpson’s latest album The ballad of Dood & Juanita was released digitally and on CD in August. Hedrick notes that the vinyl’s release, originally slated for December 3, has now been pushed back to February.
This can cause headaches for artists as well as independent stores like Vinyl Tap, where Hedrick collects pre-orders and scrambles to adjust his marketing plans when a release is postponed until the last minute. For now, it looks like the popularity of vinyl and the inability to quickly resolve any of these issues is here to stay, and companies like Vinyl Tap and Centripetal Force are trying to adapt.
“I think it’s going to be a problem until 2023,” Mannix said. he quotes Centripetal Force LP Edition from Lou Turner’s 2020 album Songs for John Venn. He submitted the master for pressing in January 2021 but did not receive copies until the end of October. Now he’s told it could take up to a year to receive new records.
Mannix notes that some pressing factories are experimenting with direct metal mastering, a process that does not require hard-to-find lacquers. It is also working with partners in the UK to make separate label releases, which helps bypass shipping delays and high postage rates from the US to international customers. Independent record stores are also joining forces. Hedrick says they rely on the The Record Store Day team for more information, which they are more likely to have because of the close work they do with labels.
“That being said, all of the conversations we’ve had over the past two and a half years are that it is exactly like that,” he continues. “I don’t know if there is any other solution than being able to build more urgent factories to meet demand, and that just doesn’t seem like an option for anyone. I think it’s incredibly expensive to get working parts for these factories.