Forgive the sound of a broken record: the comeback of vinyl is still going strong. Streaming may be the dominant music format today, but vinyl album revenue is on track to surpass $ 1 billion in 2021, up from $ 626 million last year. Even as vinyl sales are reaching new heights, the type of smaller labels and artists who already helped jumpstart the comeback a decade ago are starting to bow out.
Production capacity, already strained before the pandemic, has been particularly reduced since COVID-19 lockdowns disrupted supply chains; The global demand for vinyl records has recently been estimated at twice the available supply. With giant retailers like Walmart, Target and Amazon now embracing vinyl and multi-colored special editions of huge pop stars like Harry Styles and Billie Eilish cluttering up the pressing factories, turnaround times for independent artists can go as high as eight. months to a whole year. two to three months in times of lower demand.
Complaints about long vinyl production schedules are almost as old as the vinyl revival itself, but this time around it’s different. Several self-produced artists and DIY label owners contacted by Pitchfork describe moving away from vinyl, in large part due to pandemic-era manufacturing downturns. “This vinyl turnaround crisis is by far the worst I’ve ever seen,” says Britt Brown, co-founder of LA-based experimental label Not Not Fun and sister label 100% Silk. “This raises the question of whether the format will even continue to be viable. “
Mike Simonetti, who once co-founded influential label Italians Do It Better alongside Johnny Jewel, recently denounced delays in vinyl turnover in a Twitter feed: “It cannot be maintained”, he warned. Simonetti says the Brooklyn electronic label he currently co-manages, 2MR, will no longer release 12 “singles as widely as before. While this is in part due to economic reasons, he adds that the artists want their records come out ASAP, and the label “The pandemic has drawn a line in the sand all the way to vinyl,” Simonetti says. “Post-pandemic, it must be something you know you’re going to sell.”
Venerable independent husband and wife duo Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang have decided to forgo a vinyl release for their upcoming A sky record because of the interminable delays. “His craaaaz-y, ”says Krukowski, a Pitchfork contributor who has long openly criticized established industry practices. In an effort to maintain the tangibility of a vinyl record, Damon & Naomi chose to print an elaborate 48-page booklet, with visual and written contributors including Jarvis Cocker of Pulp. As Krukowski says, “We made this lavish insert that you would have in the heyday of LP packaging – without the LP.” (The idea of non-musical physical backing pieces for musical releases is in the air: West Virginia’s Crash Symbols label plans to incorporate scrap glass and a handmade zine with their upcoming tape from the Brazilian producer. Grimório de Abril, The glass labyrinth.)
At least for the record, the long and painful process of vinyl seems to have been a boon for other traditional formats as well, notably cassettes and CDs. Dania Shihab, co-founder of Barcelona-based label Paralaxe Editions, which specializes in experimental sounds, was releasing more cassettes than vinyl even before the pandemic, in part due to shorter turnaround times of around four to six weeks. “I wouldn’t say that I will never do a vinyl release again, but it would have to be a particularly interesting release and artist for me to make that kind of commitment,” she says.