First, it was a 2018 fire at a Texas petrochemical plant that cause a shortage. In early 2020, the Apollo Masters fire in California cut the world’s manufacturing of lacquer masters by about 80%. But the record industry managed to weather both.
The reason is that vinyl is popular again – too popular for smaller labels like Howell’s. A flood of fresh releases, such as Abba’s new album Voyage, are being matched by reissues later this month from the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, not to mention an 18-LP box set of David Bowie.
Yet there are just a few pressing plants of meaningful size globally, so there is little capacity for smaller labels who might need only several hundred to a few thousand records pressed for a single release.
The huge jump in demand – global sales of vinyl are up by more than 700% in the past decade, says the IFPI (International Federation of the Phonographic Industry) – is coupled with typical Covid- and Brexit-related shortages such as a lack of lorry drivers and hikes in customs costs.
This reminds me of the 1970s when the Arab Oil Embargo created an oil crisis that saw the spike of everything related to oil–including the petrochemicals needed to make vinyl–forced the industry to change the way they did things.
To cut costs and to make do with less, the record industry did a couple of things. First, less vinyl was used to manufacture each record. Each finished piece of vinyl was made thinner, lighter, and flimsier. Many of today’s vinyl releases are on 180-gram vinyl. After the Oil Crisis, we started getting records that were 100 or even 80 grams. Second, the industry turned to recycled vinyl. New records made with old vinyl tended to sound quite crappy. Recycled vinyl contained impurities that affected sound quality.
By 1980, music fans were sick of flippery vinyl that often came pre-warped out of the shrinkwrap. I returned dozens of brand new records because they skipped. Even undamaged new records tended to get damaged quickly because the vinyl was garbage. No wonder everyone was so interested when CDs came along.
Today, with predictions of US$100 oil as the world economy struggles to get back up to speed for a post-COVID economy, things could get even worse.
Read more of The Guardian article here.