An old stack of records sits in front of a shelf full of vinyl in a local record store.
Music Industry

This vinyl move has me a bit concerned about its future

One of the things that drove people away from vinyl towards the CD was the physical quality of the polyvinyl chloride used in its manufacturer. It was awful. The oil crisis of early in the 70s boosted the price of petrochemical byproducts like PVC. This shocked the industry into a cost-cutting mode over the next few years.

Virgin vinyl–nice, thick records made from fresh PVC–gave way to thinner, floppier records made of recycled PVC which contained impurities that resulted bad audio. This generation of albums was prone to warping, scratched easier (leading to more skipping), rumble, and clicks. I might be my faulty memory, but I seem to remember that these records had static electricity issues, leading to annoying pops.

A vinyl record released in 1972 might weigh 180 grams. By the end of the decade, we were buying albums with weights of 100 grams or lower. The product was crap.

A good part of the vinyl resurrection was a refocus on the quality of the raw material used in its manufacture. Labels got back into thicker, heavier pressings (180 grams and up) that laid flatter on the turntable, allowing the stylus to track the grooves more accurately. Warping was less of a problem. And the use of virgin vinyl went a long way to reduce rumble, clicks, and pops.

Problem solved. Back to the future. A return of the good old days.

Now, though, some labels are looking at changing things up in order to make vinyl more eco-friendly. New PVC formulations are emerging and may even one day be eclipsed by albums made of something not to harmful to the environment. Warner, one of the major labels, is making a big push in this direction.

One thing that does concern me, though, is Warner’s apparent move to downgrade the amount of vinyl used in their albums from 180 grams to 140 grams. If more than 60% of Warner’s vinyl output gets lighter, this would mean an annual savings of more than 500 tonnes.

If that happens, these records will still be much heavier than they were in the bad old days. But having witnessed the thinning of records in the late 70s, I’m a little concerned. Could this be the start of a slippery slope to another era of bad vinyl? Let’s hope not.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38025 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

2 thoughts on “This vinyl move has me a bit concerned about its future

  • It won’t make it that far if they keep gouging their customers.

    Reply
  • I was a loyal vinyl buyer after getting back into it in 2013, the prices have driven me away. I stream, torrent for back catalog filling … just because, but now when I want a physical copy I have moved back to CDs. The music industry is amazing at ruining good things.

    Reply

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