tides of record sales over the past decade. Serafini doesn't necessarily buy into the so-called "vinyl boom," in that he doesn't believe that new consumers being drawn to the fold actually care about records as a medium. Instead, he sees the change in sales as the result of major labels repackaging classic records as eye-grabbing collector's items, and non-music retailers utilizing the medium's "cool factor" to help sell other items. "Vinyl is a marketing tool for those places," he says of companies like Urban Outfitters. "They can afford to stock popular vinyl, whether it's classics or EDM, and bring in young people to pick up a record and buy a pair of pants."They couldn't care less about what [people are] buying because they don't make much money off that—it's more about bringing attention to the bigger items," he continues. "The music they sell isn't for a true aficionado."
Serafini may have a point: a 2015 study by London-based ICM Unlimited discovered 34% of consumers buying records don't even own or use a turntable. When I talked to him over the phone, Above Board's Dan Hill said he noticed a sharp rise in classic, collector-style albums reissued from major labels in 2015, albums he stressed can usually be bought for mere dollars in a used record bin. After building the world's first pressing machines in the 1960s—then turning their backs on vinyl to sell CDs and digital music in the late 90s and early 00s—major labels are returning to the vinyl market, and they're crowding the indies out of the production line."When we first started doing Razor-N-Tape, we were on a six-week schedule, and now it's up to 12 weeks," says JKriv, one half of the Brooklyn-based independent label (with Aaron Dae) behind underground club hits by artists like Dimitri from Paris. "We have to work with much longer lead-times than we did before." Like many other dance imprints, R-N-T has suffered the consequences of what JKriv describes to me unequivocally as "major labels repressing useless crap that clogs up the plants that were used mainly by small labels like ourselves." Because of the delays, they've also experienced the added pressure of having to ready releases they want to sell at Record Store Day—a biannual celebration of vinyl that typically marks the highest-revenue days of year for labels and record stores alike—up to seven months in advance, due to an external mandate from the organization. But for labels that work record to record, planning that far ahead is a difficult task; there are too many moving parts to keep track of, including cover art, mastering files, and even the productions themselves.
Major retail stores couldn't care less about what people are buying because they don't make much money off that—it's more about bringing attention to the bigger items. The music they sell isn't for a true aficionado." — Michael Serafini, Gramaphone Records
Brooklynphono is no stranger to dealing with the majors, but the company does its best to keep up with orders from regular smaller clients, too. "We have the opportunity to make enough money and pad the nest to protect us in a dry spell," Tom says of working with the majors. "I understand taking in more work than you can consume and delaying a lot of smaller labels who have kept you going in the slow periods. We're fairly well-balanced so that we can keep up with everyone, but we charge a premium to the majors, which helps us keep up with [the bigger plants], and maybe make extra money to buy another machine or build something that'll be here for another ten years."
"If you make a good product and charge a reasonable price, you'll be here the next day." — Tom Vernon, Brooklynphono
Decades-spanning British institution Mute Records, home to famed experimental electronic acts like Depeche Mode and Moby, has experienced the effects of the bottleneck in its own way, mostly with struggles to restock popular albums. "Titles like M83's Hurry Up, We're Dreaming have both suffered stock outages because repressing can sometimes take upwards up to 6 months," Mute's head of marketing and vinyl production, Nicole Blonder, says over email. While Mute tries to stay ahead of the game by re-ordering records well in advance, the label still has found itself without stock on a record for months. "Fans get frustrated, they don't understand, and we feel them," she says. "It's anxiety-producing to say the least, and hurts our bottom line at its worst."
"It's hard to know when things will get done." — Aaron Siegel, FIT Distribution
Of course, imagining a world full of pressing plants with shiny state of the art machines and non-existent lag-times is something of a pipe dream. "It's going to be someone who really has the passion for it," says Justin Carter says of the would-be plant entrepreneur. "Demand outstrips the supply chain, but it's not intense enough for someone to make a new pressing machine, which would probably take millions of dollars." Even with sales spiking, we're still world's away from the golden age of vinyl in 1973, when the singles industry alone was bringing in upwards of 500 million dollars in the US. "Even though there's more demand for vinyl, just how much more demand is there?" asks Carter. "We're not even getting close to the amount records produced during the age when if you wanted to listen to music, you had to buy a piece of vinyl."
"Fans get frustrated, they don't understand, and we feel them." — Nicole Blonder, Mute Records