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Vinyl perfect storm October 16, 2021

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Interesting piece in the Observer from a week or two back looking at the plight of record labels and producers in the UK after Brexit and the pandemic where the effects of those two factors as well as an increasing shortage of supply of vinyl – due to the remarkable rise in that format’s popularity in recent years has left them unable to produce records. There’s more again in terms of problems:

But there is also a lack of PVC after a storm in February halted Texan petrochemical plants, and a fire in 2020 at a lacquer plant in California left only one factory in Japan making the master discs that records are cut from.

A delay for a new Taylor Swift LP is an inconvenience but for labels such as Kniteforce, it is catastrophic. “Because of the vinyl resurgence, the big artists I work with can afford to take time off in their life to make the music because it’s actually worth it,” Howell said.

And keep in mind that while a lot of this is a labour of love, it’s still labour. And the returns while not great, and look at the following with regard to streaming – something that reinforces in me the conviction that that is an abysmal way to listen to music – the least one would hope is that artists would gain something.

“With digital, there’s so little money in it that it’s just not worth doing.” Although Universal Music floated a fortnight ago on a valuation of £38bn based on expectations that streaming will continue to revive the music industry, the money from digital production is not trickling down to artists.

A typical artist needs about 300 streams to make $1 on Spotify (at $0.003 per stream), so those outside the mainstream rely on other income.

That’s genuinely shocking. The implications being:

“I don’t work with a single artist that’s money motivated,” Howell said. “But if you’ve got children and a job and a mortgage, you can’t justify spending three weeks working on a new album if you’re gonna make £50 – whereas the vinyl market will make them £5,000. I’ve been building bit by bit, and I’ve been able to give them an advance.

By the way, and I’m not hugely fond of vinyl myself, I dislike the framing in the piece that there’s nothing between vinyl and streaming. There are and remain download sites, there’s bandcamp which is particularly good, and there’s still CDs being produced. In other words if people value music, and musicians, then there’s lots of ways to ensure that some monies go towards them. 


Meanwhile got to applaud the sense of innovation:

Cannon is also capitalising on the vintage hardware and computers such as the Amiga and Atari that he uses to make music.

“People like records as a tangible piece of art,” he said, “especially in the underground scene. The last one I did comes with a floppy disk with samples that you can load on to an Amiga.”

Just like Pete Shelley did way back when with XL1 in 1983 which had a program for the ZX Spectrum and which allowed those who used it to combine graphics and lyrics and then show them along with the music.  That album also has a fantastic proto-techno piece… Many A Time (c.3.38 minutes in and on).





1. EWI - October 16, 2021

I’m just about old enough to have grown up with vinyl before CDs replaced it, and the confident boasts of college computer science lecturers regarding the loss in quality due to digital compression never rang true (same is arguably still true even for the modern high-bitrate rips).

The degradation of supply networks has shown just how brittle the ‘efficient’ free market really is, and how vulnerable to outside shocks (hello climate change).


WorldbyStorm - October 16, 2021

Yes, in a smaller way with Brexit and a larger way with the pandemic!

Sorry, are you saying that the loss of quality is real or not? It’s something that genuinely interests me.


EWI - October 16, 2021

There are stories of parks full of empty containers in the UK. If there isn’t both-ways trade going on, then this happens…

Sorry, are you saying that the loss of quality is real or not? It’s something that genuinely interests me.

I would subjectively say that it’s real, as someone who just about grew up with vinyl. And the assurances then about what the human ear can and can’t detect as missing with lossy compression have been proven wrong with time.


alanmyler - October 17, 2021

Possibly there is some quality degradation due to compression, at lower bits rates for sure, but honestly do ordinary listeners really notice it? Outside of a certain type of male music tech nerd is it really a thing? Given that my early music recordings were on a mono portable cassette recorder, taped off AM radio, it really has been uphill all the way since then.


WorldbyStorm - October 17, 2021

I’ve mixed views. I’m like you Alan, mono portable cassette recorders, tapes either from albums (usually not great) or radio (sometimes better). Anything is better than that.

And the first record player I had had a terrible terrible amp. It was only in the mid-late 80s when sound systems really got better that sound per se improved for me. And the cost of really good systems was way beyond my pocket. Also radio, clubs, etc, not exactly getting the best sound any particular way.

I like the sound of vinyl but it’s not portable in any meaningful way and it takes up a lot of space so every other option is more utilitarian for my day to day use. CDs are a bit colder sound wise, or – at least at the beginning they used to be. I think they improved but while crisp they seem to be a little lacking. Downloads are so so, but perfectly adequate for personal devices. The truth is that at this point literally every taste is largely catered for. In a perfect world I’d probably go with vinyl but…

Liked by 1 person

2. sonofstan - October 16, 2021

“A typical artist needs about 300 streams to make $1 on Spotify (at $0.003 per stream)”

A colleague here – David Hesmondhalgh – has been busy dismantling that figure, and questioning some of the assumptions that feed into it

(open access)

I’v been looking a lot recently at some of the criticism that surrounded the introduction of recorded music in the first place, or at least its democratisation with the arrival of cheap gramaphones and it has a familiar ring to it as well. not least the faux- regret as to what the young are missing out on, with their new fangled and bogus ways of listening to music.

Lossy compression is qualitively worse – MP3 and that freeware that sSpotify use – but FLAC and whatever Tidal use are at least as good as a high quality cassette, or vinyl on an average turntable.


sonofstan - October 16, 2021
WorldbyStorm - October 17, 2021

That’s very telling re vinyl. But also re streaming.


Liberius - October 17, 2021

that freeware that Spotify use – but FLAC…

My understanding is that Spotify use Vorbis, which is the lossy counterpart to FLAC, Vorbis is outdated and has been succeeded by Opus, but I heard Spotify weren’t interested in changing. All three are free and open-source codecs maintained by the xiph.org Foundation. They’re the stock-in-trade of Linux distributions many of which don’t want to ship by default with rights encumbered formats like AAC. I used to have loads of Vorbis files created by Rhythmbox back in the day, though I had to convert them to AAC when I was using a Sony Walkman mp3 player a decade ago.

On the linked paper, only read a fraction of it but hell music academia comes across as even more elitist and snobbish than even the music press (whose opinions I have never and will never be interested in). Who the fuck are they to complain if people want to listen to music “in the background”, what the hell does “attending to” music even mean?!


3. sonofstan - October 17, 2021

“On the linked paper, only read a fraction of it but hell music academia comes across as even more elitist and snobbish than even the music press”


It can be, but I wouldn’t think DH is one of them. And I think he was quoting an opinion he doesn’t actually hold, but probably guilty, if anything, of strawmanning.
FWIW, a lot of academic writing about popular music is better than journalism simply because it suspends judgement and attends to what people do with music and is sceptical of the shibboleths of the music press of days gone by – authenticity/ craft/ virtuosity. etc.


Liberius - October 17, 2021

In fairness to DH I was referring to the other academics quoted, he seems much more reasonable by comparison, they raised a “we’ve had enough of experts” sentiment in me. I probably should have made that clearer.

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