Friday, January 22, 2016

Selling You the Same Thing a Fourth or Fifth Time

This is an older article, but it's a damned good read. If you're interested in vinyl, and why wouldn't you be, I think you need to know the latest scam that's being perpetrated by the major labels:

There was a gold rush at Sony and the other majors, and it’s hard to shake the feeling that the labels are trying to sell their archive a third time, this time to middle-aged buyers who can remember buying vinyl, naturally switched over to the CD, sold or threw away their old vinyl and aren’t completely happy with streaming today. A look at the vinyl section of a large Berlin store proves the shelves are full of reissues of old titles, mostly from major labels. Record players can be purchased right at the checkout. There’s nothing wrong with that – music should be sold in the formats that meet customer demand. But there are indicators that the majors are actively trying to secure substantial vinyl production capacity at the remaining pressing plants. How? By paying in advance. There might even be presses completely reserved for certain companies. That techno EP can wait – Led Zeppelin can’t. In the course of researching this article, we received emails that confirm such requests by the majors.

If this is the case – and the pressing plants are denying it – it would mean that the majors are attempting to buy their way into an industry that they played a significant role in destroying. And they are attempting once again to starve the indie labels, the very labels that never gave up on vinyl. On Record Store Day, when the shops are full of specially-made vinyl records and customers wait in line for these limited editions, the pressing plants have already had many hard weeks of work leading up to it. Who knows how many machines were quickly patched-up in lieu of a proper repair? Nobody has time to take a breath. The next releases are already on standby, and the machines continue to run at a furious pace.

But the vinyl production process isn’t only slowed down by the pressing plants – there are many steps long before a record is pressed that are also subject to complications. “The problem is the monopolization,” says Andreas Lubich, a mastering engineer and vinyl expert from Berlin. “There are currently many good mastering studios that prepare music for vinyl and also take care of the recording themselves. But the cutting machines are old and have to be used with a great deal of care. Replacement parts are rare and the secondhand market prices are unfathomable. Only a handful of people can repair them. They travel around the world throughout the year and have more to do than they can handle. In the worst case this means that a machine will lie idle for many weeks.”
The trouble starts before that. “There are only two companies worldwide that produce lacquers. One of these companies is a one-man operation in Japan run by an old man who produces the lacquers in his garage. It’s excellent quality, but who knows how much longer he can and especially will want to continue to do this. When we are in contact with him, we attempt to order as many lacquers as we can in order to stock up as much as possible. You don’t really know when you will reach him again. The other company is in the USA and serves a large portion of the market. It is practically a monopoly. This is not good for business.”

The whole thing is worth a read. But for a handful of European companies, running antiquated machinery, the whole vinyl resurgence would grind to a halt.


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