Why does it take so long to make vinyl records?
Production times for vinyl used to be 2 to 3 months and labels and artists would plan their release campaigns around this. Now, we're looking at 10 to 14 months for vinyl runs. (Except our short-run Atomic Groove Packages™.)
There are several factors that account for the constantly increasing production times.
The total capacity of the roughly hundred vinyl pressing plants around the world is about 160 million records per year. The current demand, or orders in the cue, are between 320 and 400 million records. In other words, demand is approximately double that of capacity. To put this in perspective, the biggest year in LP sales ever was 1978 with 334 million records sold. If the vinyl manufacturing industry had adequate capability, we would have surpassed this by now.
This massive spike in demand started in June 2020. Artists were forced to cancel tours and concerts and started pushing for sales of physical product. Music fans around the world could no longer spend their disposable income on concert tickets, so many of them turned to buying vinyl instead. No one in the vinyl industry was geared up for this huge influx of demand. To make matters worse, every stage of the manufacturing process from producers of raw materials, printers of the vinyl packaging, pressing plants and transportation were hit with either shutdowns or slowdowns due to Covid restrictions.
Big retailers like Walmart and Target started selling vinyl, and labels that would normally press 5,000 records are now ordering 10 to 15 thousand. This, naturally put additional strain on the supply chain for vinyl records.
February 7th, 2020, Apollo Masters - one of only two manufacturers worldwide of vinyl lacquers, which is needed for the first step in the vinyl making process - burned to the ground. MDC in Japan is now the only company in the world that can make lacquers. At first everyone in the vinyl industry panicked. Luckily, MDC has been able to increase their production capacity, but having only one supplier of lacquers is concerning to say the least.
DMM (direct metal mastering) is an alternate way of cutting a vinyl master that bypasses the lacquer stage. Some of the bigger plants in Europe, including our vendor for the Atomic Groove Packages™, utilize this technology.
So what's an indie artist to do?
Yes, vinyl is the cool new, old thing. But CDs have been the biggest physical music format for quite some time. 2020 was actually the first year since the 1980s that vinyl sales surpassed CD sales. And even though CD sales have been declining for over a decade, they actually rose in the first half of 2021 according to RIAA, as you can see on the graph below. Here at Atomic Disc we also saw an increase in CD manufacturing of over 50% in 2021 compared to the previous year.
While vinyl production times are constantly in flux, and for most manufacturers, currently estimated to be around a year, CDs can be turned around in as little as 4 business days. That surely makes planning a promotional campaign easier.
A little math
The other interesting aspect to look at when comparing the two formats is profit margin for the independent artist. Let's say you order 200 copies of both CDs in jackets and vinyl in jackets for your release.
|CDs in Jackets||Vinyl in Jackets|
|Per unit cost to make:||$1.59||$10.50|
|Sale price at your shows:||$12||$20|
|Gross profit margin:||87%||48%|
It would be rather silly not to make CDs, wouldn't you say? Major label artists like Coldplay and Ed Sheeran are even selling CD singles, with only one song on it for up to $6.50.
The good news is that artists are making music and fans are buying physical product like never before. There are rumors that many of the vinyl manufacturing plants may be increasing their capacity and there are new players about to enter the market. This will hopefully help bring vinyl production times down so it will be easier for artists and labels to plan their releases. And high fidelity CDs are still cost efficient, fast, and easy to make.
Photo credit: Samuel Regan-Asante