Vinyl record factories are insufficient in the face of growing demand

The arrival of the CD almost put an end to vinyl records: main record labels scrapped and dismantled the machines pressing of the material to make room for the new format.

Four decades later, a format revival has produced a double digit annual growth and manufacturers are rapidly rebuilding an industry to keep pace with sales, which last year topped $1 billion.

They have been built dozens of disc pressing factories to try to meet the demand in North America, and is not sufficient.

The industry “has found a new gear and is accelerating at a new pace,” said Mark Michaels, CEO and president of United Record Pressing, the nation’s largest record producer, in Nashville, Tennessee.

Vinyl record manufacturing /AP
Vinyl record manufacturing /AP


Demand for vinyl records has been growing in double digits for more than a decade and major retail chain Target was beefing up its album selection just as the pandemic provided a surprising jolt. With music tours canceled and people stuck at home, music lovers started buying records at an even faster rate.

Album sales revenue grew 61% in 2021, reaching $1 billion for the first time since the 1980s, far outpacing the growth rates of paid music subscriptions and streaming services like Spotify and Pandora. According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIIA).

Years ago, vinyl records almost fell into oblivion with sales surpassed by cassettes before compact discs displaced them. Then came digital downloads and online piracy, the Apple iPod and 99-cent downloads. Streaming services are now ubiquitous.

But the nostalgic baby boomers who missed flipping through albums at their local record stores helped fuel a vinyl revival that began about 15 years ago.

Album sales revenue grew 61% in 2021 /AP
Album sales revenue grew 61% in 2021 /AP


It coincided with the launch of Record Store Day to celebrate these independent businesses, said Larry Jaffee, author of “Record Store Day: The Most Improbable Comeback of the 21st Century.”

These days, however, they are more than just baby boomers.

A younger generation is buying turntables and vinyl, as well as cassette tapes. And a new generation of artists like Adele, Ariana Grande and Harry Styles have turned to vinyl, Jaffee said.

In Pittsburgh, cabbie Jamila Grady is too young at 34 to remember the heyday of record stores.

But she finds vinyl records irresistible. She created a mural with some covers from the nearly 50 albums she’s bought since 2019, starting with Beyoncé’s “Lemonade.” She admits that it is a luxury, since she listens to music through SoundCloud, Apple Music and Pandora.

“There’s something so beautiful about taking the album, putting it on the turntable and dropping the needle,” he said.

Manufacturers had to start almost from scratch.

The major record companies closed their plants a long time ago, but they are emerging new ones. Record makers that have debuted in the last 10 to 15 years include Precision Record Pressing in Toronto, Memphis Record Pressing, Gotta Groove Records in Cleveland, and Quality Record Pressing in Kansas.

Major record companies have closed their plants, but new ones are springing up /AP
Major record companies have closed their plants, but new ones are springing up /AP


Singer Jack White of the White Stripes group opened his own vinyl pressing plant, Third Man Pressing, in 2017 in Detroit, pleading with major record labels to reopen manufacturing facilities.

There are now about 40 plants in the United States, most of them small, and challenges remain.

Nationwide, delays are six to eight months due to rising demand and supply chain disruptions for raw materials, including vinyl polymers, have caused problems, Michaels said.

New releases often don’t keep up with demand and new orders take even longer, leaving little capacity for lesser-known eclectic albums, he said.

PGG

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