Artists scramble for vinyl records as resurgence in popularity creates shortage

·3-min read
The release of Adele’s album “30” - due November 1 - had to be set six months ago to get vinyl and CDs made in time
The release of Adele’s album “30” - due November 1 - had to be set six months ago to get vinyl and CDs made in time

Adele had hoped for a summer release of her long-awaited fourth album, 30, but the singer’s schedule hit an unlikely roadblock – the global shortage of vinyl.

As artists have seen sales of physical albums decline in recent years due to the growth of streaming services like Spotify, collectable and beloved vinyl records have experienced an unlikely resurgence to become a key part of album releases.

Vinyl sales soared by 108 per cent in the US in the 12 months, according to the Recording Industry Association of America, but the format has now fallen victim to its own success.

Manufacturers have been unable to keep up with the soaring demand for old-school LPs, which has left even the world’s best-selling star having to wait in line.

“I’m printing CDs and vinyl but there is a 25-week lead time,” the Tottenham singer told BBC Radio 1. “So many vinyl factories bloody closed down even before Covid so I can’t print them anywhere.”

Over one million vinyl records were sold in the UK in the first three months of the year, according to the Official Charts Company - AJ Mast/The New York Times
Over one million vinyl records were sold in the UK in the first three months of the year, according to the Official Charts Company - AJ Mast/The New York Times

During the first six months of 2021, 19.2 million vinyl albums were sold in the US, up from 9.2 million during the same period in 2020. The UK has also seen a boost, reporting a rise of 16 per cent in the first three months of this year.

Over one million vinyl records were sold in the UK in the first three months of the year, according to the Official Charts Company. The British Phonographic Industry forecasts that this year music companies will earn more from vinyls than CDs for the first time since 1987.

Left for dead with the advent of compact discs in the 1980s, vinyl records are now the music industry’s most popular and highest-grossing physical format. For many music fans, owning records gives them a physical connection with the art they love - particularly important during pandemic-necessitated isolation. For others, it is about the much richer sound.

And Gen Z are buying even more vinyl than millennials, with a survey by MRC Data showing that 15 percent of respondents born between 1997 and 2012 say they have bought records in the past year.

The business relies on an ageing infrastructure of pressing machines, most of which date to the 1970s or earlier and can be costly to maintain.

There are just a handful of vinyl pressing plants left in the world and they are battling a shortage of PVC, the compound used to make vinyl, after extreme weather in Texas forced chemical plants to close. The problems were exacerbated further by Covid-19 shutdowns. Brexit has also reportedly delayed deliveries into the UK of vinyl pressed in the European Union.

“In the 15 years-plus that we've been running the business, the average turnaround time is probably about 14 business days. But right now we're pushing, like, five months for black vinyl,” Eric Mueller, the president of Pirates Press, told NPR.

As a result, the release of Adele’s album “30” - due November 1 - had to be set six months ago to get vinyl and CDs made in time.

But Adele’s 30 Exclusive White Vinyl is already at the number one bestseller spot on Amazon in the CDs & Vinyl section on pre-release.

Previously, Adele, a self-professed lover of the old-fashioned medium, chose to withhold her albums from streaming platforms for seven months to maximise her physical sales. Eagle-eyed fans of Adele will have noticed the singer’s own vinyl collection during an interview broadcast this week with British Vogue from her home in Los Angeles.

There are worries, however, that the renaissance may be at risk if further delays frustrate consumers and artists. And for many musicians, especially ones without major-label backing, sticking with vinyl has now become a question about whether it is worth the trouble.

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