The music industry is an unexpected victim of a plastic shortage
ADEPARTURE from 2020 Green Lung, a cult London heavy metal band, was set to make their first US tour. Then came the covid-19. The group used the blockages that followed to produce a second album, “Black Harvest”. By December it was recorded and ready to be mastered and pressed onto 5,000 gold vinyl records. Given the pandemic disruptions, Green Lung has given himself plenty of time, nine months at most, to make them in time for a tour in September. “We were pretty comfortable,” says Tom Templar, the lead singer.
Instead, the first pressing of the record, which is sold out on pre-orders, won’t be available until October. The group could have started on a streaming service like Spotify. But he wanted to wait for the LP, which generates a lot more money in the short term. “Vinyl sales support the we tour ”, explains Mr. Templier. In the end, Green Lung performed their album launch gig on September 1 without a record. The group has thus become the latest unexpected victim of disruption in global supply chains.
First of all CDs, then digital downloads and now streaming made vinyl records a vintage curiosity. In recent years, however, sales have skyrocketed as fans have grown accustomed to owning the music of their favorite bands in physical form (insisting on its supposedly better sound quality). In March, vinyl sales in Britain hit record highs in 1989. “Every artist in the world has spent 18 months twiddling their thumbs, so they make records,” says Ed Macdonald, director of 100% Records, which represents artists such as We Are Scientists, an independent rock band. “Vinyl is an integral part of our business,” he says. Traditional artists are more and more involved. Taylor Swift’s album, “Evermore”, first released digitally in December, broke a 30-year record in vinyl sales. The albums should be released soon by Ed Sheeran, ABBA and Coldplay.
Unfortunately for musicians, squeezing them becomes almost impossible. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, most vinyl pressing factories closed. As covid-19 raged, the biggest remaining countries – America, the Czech Republic, Germany and Poland – had to temporarily shut down, creating a backlog. Today the demand of musicians exceeds capacity. In addition to this, the price of PVC, the plastic used to make LPs, jumped after Hurricane Ida destroyed 60% of U.S. production in August, while demand skyrocketed from companies that use the product in cars, pipes and more (see graphic).
Dirk van den Heuvel of Groove Distribution, a dance music distributor in Chicago, says the big labels created the crisis by shutting down their own pressing factories in the 2000s. If they had continued to operate them, he growls. -it, the majors would have been ready to meet the demand and the small musicians would not be in such a hurry. It is true that large labels can often take priority over presses. But not always. It may be cold comfort to Mr. van den Heuvel or Green Lung, but Ms. Swift fans have had to wait months for their LPs, too. ■
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This article appeared in the Business section of the print edition under the headline “Out of the groove”