The Vinyl Industry Has Been Experiencing Major Holdups This Holiday Season And Headlines Are Blaming Adele, But It’s Much Deeper Than That.
Heading into the holiday shopping season, there were rumblings about how vinyl record pressing plants were heavily backed up with orders, more than usual. With big-name releases like Taylor Swift’s re-recording of her Red album, a reissue of the Beatles’ Let It Be and Ed Sheeran’s =, there was one album that drew the most ire and blame for this problem: Adele’s 30.
A few weeks before its November 19 release date, the word was a fulfillment for 500,000 copies of Adele Adkins’ fourth album was the main source of backing up all other artists wanting to have vinyl in a four-to-six month turnaround period. Now it’s looking like artists (especially artists on a smaller scale) will have to wait much longer than six months to submit an order to have a record in their hands.
Plenty of articles speculated what happened. A Vulture article on November 4 spelled it out: “Did Adele’s 30 Cause This Year’s Major Vinyl Delays?” An NPR article on November 18 had the headline: “Rumor has it Adele broke the vinyl supply chain.”
But now that the record is out on store shelves, it’s worth looking back into this.
As expected, Adele’s record label, Columbia, has another blockbuster on its hands. Across all physical formats, 30 sold over 500,000 copies in its first week, per a report in Billboard (which also included “traditional album sales, streaming equivalent album (SEA) units and track equivalent album (TEA) units.”) And it continues to sell.
While that’s great to look at when you’re on your phone reading articles or looking at Spotify numbers, walking around a big box store on Black Friday tells a different story.
Out of sheer curiosity, this writer walked around two Target stores in Dallas County on the evening of Black Friday. One store advertised a buy-two-get-one-free offer for all CDs, vinyl and DVDs. Another advertised Adele’s 30 on CD (which has three bonus tracks only available on CD at Target) and double-LP on sale for two dollars off. Both locations had plenty of copies in their racks, end-caps and floor displays, while TVs worth hundreds of dollars kept going to cash registers for customers.
For artists wanting to have a vinyl record of their own to sell online and at shows, seeing this is understandably infuriating.
We wanted to have a deeper conversation about this vinyl back-up, so we spoke with a number of locally-based sources for their thoughts on this matter.
Don’t Blame Adele
“Adele’s album is not the issue,” says Josey Records’ co-owner Luke Sardello. “The press quantity being quoted is a worldwide press quantity for starters, and there are plants in Europe that could have covered her album without much delay.”
Chris Penn from Good Records agrees. “I wouldn’t place the blame on Adele at all,” he says. “I would partially place blame on labels like Columbia for creating a backlog at the pressing plants. When vinyl was essentially the only medium, some of the labels had their own plants. Currently, labels see the viability of LPs, but I think they are apprehensive to invest and have their own pressing plants at their disposal. They would rather lease out machines by the year at plants.”
Competing for space at a pressing plant is even higher now. And when there are only a few dozen pressing plants in the United States, the long line forms to the right for small to mid-tier acts.
“The reason you hear of a number like 500,000 is it obviously gets way cheaper to manufacture that many at once,” Penn says. “Also, it gets it knocked out so they can move on to their next big tentpole release/artist.”
“I Hear Vinyl’s Making a Comeback”
Vinyl now sells more than compact discs as a physical format. And while streaming on Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal and YouTube remains the most convenient way to hear music instantly, there are people (young and old) who want music on a disc (vinyl or compact).
“Vinyl is at an all-time high in popularity and continues to grow,” Sardello says. “That accelerated during the pandemic and lockdown as people were looking for something to do. The increase in popularity hasn’t yet been matched with appropriate pressing capacity. Vinyl records take about 30 seconds to make when running at peak efficiency, so you can simply only make so many records in one day. More presses and pressing companies are coming online to help alleviate that issue, but it will take time to catch up.”
For Addison-based Hand Drawn Records and Pressing, they have seen their business go through the roof, which is of course great for the local economy.
“Delays can’t be isolated to a single artist or plant – the demand is far exceeding capacity,” says Hand Drawn’s Dustin Blocker. “Around July 2021, I saw a report that 300 million units were already on order, but the entire world can only manufacture 150 million units annually. So that backlog is still persisting.”
Earlier this year, the pressing department of Hand Drawn started producing records on 24-hour runs to meet with demand. Blocker says they are already booked solid through 2022 even with the 24-hour cycle and adding an additional one million units to their capacity.
Then you have to factor in how much more it costs to ship anything through the mail these days.
“Past the demand crunch, international – and even regional – shipping has been a nightmare for the last several months of this year. The price of shipping is skyrocketing for raw and finished goods,” says Blocker.
You also have to deal with labor. “Labor is the other key issue,” Blocker says. “Most plants are battling to compensate fairly against large distribution facilities who are pulling from the same workforce.”
With the costs of manufacturing vinyl growing, it’s forced plants to raise their prices.
Blocker notes that having a full warehouse that cranks out LPs every day is great for the local and worldwide economy. And it’s better for the artists themselves. Remember when industry people feared no one would buy records ever again because of peer-to-peer networks?
“As an artist myself, I’d much rather be selling records to fans versus giving away a free download, trying to make up the lost revenue by selling a koozie and a T-shirt,” says Blocker.
The Big Box Dilemma
The big difference between making vinyl in 2021 versus say, 1993, is demand. Music chains and big box stores ceased carrying vinyl in the early 1990s, putting all their chips on CDs and cassettes (and eventually, only CDs). But vinyl never became an extinct format. It wasn’t even an unhip format. Plenty of name artists released their music on vinyl during the peak CD years, including Pearl Jam, Neil Young and Nirvana.
While you had to rely on mail order or mom-and-pop shops to get your hands on vinyl singles, EPs and LPs, you knew vinyl was still around. Be it a fan of a hip-hop artist, a punk band or an indie rock act.
But now there are big box retailers like Target, Walmart and Best Buy that have embraced vinyl as a viable format again. Along with a major label industry facing a major financial under-cutting in the age of streaming with laughably-paltry royalty rates, selling vinyl is a lucrative and profitable business.
Erv Karwelis, whose Idol Records has made vinyl releases for over 25 years, has worked with about a dozen vinyl manufacturing plants in the US and around the world. This log-jam in 2021 had warning signs stemming from issues that happened years ago.
“The first vinyl production delays started with Record Store Day, when major labels started flooding the twice-per-year event with their exclusive RSD titles,” Karwelis says. “Now it has evolved into a non-stop flood of ‘limited edition’ exclusive color vinyl versions of their hit titles and new releases at major chain retailers like Walmart and Target and Urban Outfitters, along with Super Deluxe box set reissues of every hit title ever released.”
With an average of a nine-month turnaround time, people are thinking more about 2023 than 2022. “The plants are requiring record labels to pay for the job in advance when the order is submitted, so we are tying up thousands of dollars and not receiving the finished goods up to a year later,” Karwelis says.
In hopes of having something to release on a physical format, smaller acts and labels have gone back to what was once the most dominant formats: CDs and cassettes.
“It’s very difficult for a new artist to have to wait up to a year after they finish recording a new album to release it,” Karwelis says. “So many artists and labels have been releasing new titles digitally and on CD and cassette formats so they can have physical copies of their new release to sell at shows.”
The Reality of the Wait
G.I. Sanders whose NTX Vinyl is now in three booths at three different antique malls — including its newest one in the Painted Tree Marketplace in North Richland Hills — steers the ship for the DFW Legacy vinyl reissue series and knows that his orders are a blip on the radars of pressing plants.
One of the DFW Legacy Series projects is on Hand Drawn’s schedule for next year, while others will come from a plant in China. Only pressing a few hundred copies of each item (like classics from Doosu, Flickerstick and Slow Roosevelt), he understands the wait will be longer now.
“[The vinyl delay] doesn’t really impact us because we’re dealing with defunct artists who are no longer around,” Sanders says.
The DFW Legacy Series currently has a few reissue projects planned to be out in the first six months of 2022: Hagfish’s Buick Men, 40 Percent’s Portland, a hip-hop record made by Ben Rogers (from the Ben & Skin Show) and the Sandy Does . . . Dallas compilation — which originally came out in 1996, where acts like the Toadies, UFOFU, Slow Roosevelt and Course of Empire covered songs from the Grease soundtrack.
The rush is not there, but for a band like Caterpillars, who look forward to releasing their next LP in 2022 on Friend Club Records, they have to wait and wait and wait.
“We have a dedicated manager, PR firm and art director,” says guitarist Eric Braun. “The hardest part for us is like, ‘OK, cool, we just recorded what could be our crowning achievement as a band.’ We have no desire to release a compact disc or a tape. At least not with what streaming services have brought to the table. So ‘where do we go from here?'”
So, they are in a holding pattern. “We have extended our release based on when the god damn hell our record can actually be pressed on vinyl,” Braun says.
So what does the future look like? Hopefully good.
“I think the problem will work itself out with that and consumers speaking with their dollars,” Chris Penn says. “I am not sure we need a Bob Seger live album from 1976 on orange and red swirl vinyl, but as a store owner I need the classic albums such as Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds always readily available and the latest album from a hot new artist like Phoebe Bridgers. The industry is going through a bit of growing pains but hopefully, by 2023 it will get back to a more normal three-to-six month lag time for the production of records.”
Money for more vinyl casts a good forecast. “The reality is, if anybody who collects vinyl for it to continue to be a thing, all of this is good,” G.I. Sanders says. “It’s bringing more energy, eyeballs and collectors into the hobby. That’s what’s gonna help it sustain.”
Sanders doesn’t think the young fans buying Adele’s 30 will all become vinyl lovers for life, but at the very least, there is a chance there will be more of them because of all of the copies available.
“If it just stays really niche, and only collector audiophile-focused, there’s a chance it may not sustain because of the suspense in the supply chain and the sheer effort to keep this business alive on so many fronts,” Sanders says.