Surging vinyl sales as part of the premiere of the supply chain

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TORONTO – Everyone seems to be blaming massive orders from Adele’s new album for a historic backlog among vinyl producers, but Nashville singer Lindsay Ell says people should just go for the pop superstar.

Last year, when the Calgary-born country artist planned to release her own album “Heart Theory”, she learned about delay chains that make it impossible to release the vinyl version on the same day as digital platforms.

“By the middle of COVID, many of the vinyl factories were not even in full operation,” Ell said.

But she did not want to let the fans who pre-ordered vinyl packs get hung up, so she turned to modern technology for a lifeline.

“What I had to do was throw in a digital copy and say, ‘We’ll send your vinyl when it’s ready,'” Ell said.

By all accounts, vinyl printing will only intensify in 2021 – and there is little relief in sight.

Even though total album sales fell in Canada this year, vinyl sales rose – an astonishing 53 percent to 476,000 units in the first half of 2021 compared to the same period a year ago, according to a study by MRC Data and Billboard.

Around the world, vinyl presses are stretched to the limit with 24-hour, almost seven days-a-week production still not meeting the demand.

Add to that smaller acts fighting for factory bookings, like big label artists digging into their back catalogs with huge press orders. Rihanna has just released her entire discography on vinyl, while Taylor Swift has released a four-vinyl re-recording of her 2012 album “Red”.

Things getting worse are lack of key materials and concerns that some retailers are not stocking up on the hottest titles for the Christmas basket.

Adele drew attention in a recent interview to the overcrowded vinyl industry as she revealed that her album “30” needed to be re-released six months early to ensure that enough copies were ready to be released this Friday.

Variety later reported that their label had printed a total of 500,000 vinyl copies, an order that could help the British singer break first-week sales records, but only further highlighted the market.

Ed Sheeran told an Australian radio station that he was determined to finish his new album in July, because “Adele had basically booked all the vinyl factories.”

Neil Young grappled with his website as the backup vinyl orders pushed the expected summer release of his album “Barn” to December.

These complaints are trusted to Shawn Johnson, president of Precision Record Pressing in Burlington, Ont., But he said it is not fair to blame a single artist or album for capacity difficulties that have existed for years.

When vinyl saw a recovery about a decade ago, manufacturers could not have predicted how fast the market would grow, he said. They also did not anticipate a global pandemic that would encourage temporary closure facilities and closed-door music lovers to invest in turntables.

“In the market now, every capacity unit is taken because there is excess demand,” Johnson said.

Kinks in the supply chain have also gone down to vinyl factories. Rising nickel prices have increased the cost of new vinyl press sheets, while the demand for plastics has led to a shortage of PVC compound to make records. Cardboard album sleeves were also affected by a historic shortage of wood earlier this year, Johnson said.

“Supply chain challenges come and go,” he added. “Something goes down and something gets worse.”

More uncertainty is likely next year as a flood of new albums comes from artists who have been recording music in the last two years. Johnson said some labels are looking to get the preference by booking vinyl production sites in late summer 2022. He is not confident that capacity problems will be alleviated.

“I do not think it looks like there is a chance that the market will level off before the middle of 2023,” he said.

“And whether it’s balanced or not depends on (when) demand continues to grow.”

The gloomy forecasts concern some in the Canadian music industry, who imagine artists returning to the streets without selling vinyl on the merchandise table.

Ontario indie label True North Records experienced first hand how Colin James released his latest album “Open Road” last summer only to learn that the press was not ready for the November digital and CD release . He would have to wait until February 2022, to fall into the trap of selling his tour without fresh vinyl.

“We’re trying to talk to artists who are dropping their stuff now and saying, ‘Look, if you want vinyl, let’s extend the release, maybe even in the second quarter of 2022,’ said Judy Smyth, distribution and supply. Chain Manager at True North.

“Production timelines are now at least six months.”

Smyth suggested a risk for vinyl to come out a few months after the digital release is that some potential customers will move on.

“If you set all this momentum for a huge album … you lose it all,” she said.

“Then there are only people who are really into vinyl who get it.”

Co-star indie label Six Shooter Records began to feel the pain earlier this year as his recordings began to “push back” from the production schedule, said Digital Media Manager Sarah Sleeth.

Faced with a longer window, the Toronto-based company began to consider unique vinyl designs that would captivate the imagination of superfans and serious collectors.

“We decided to use these unexpected lead times and work them for us instead of against us,” Sleeth said.

Two separate albums released this year by the Hamilton duo Whitehorse were among the test subjects.

“Strike Me Down” came in three different color designs. The balanced version consists of two clear records, which are formed together. Between the layers, pink liquid and a burst of gold glitter are used in the music video for “Am I Just Gonna Stand Here (While You Take My Girl Away).” The special edition sells for $ 169.

The other Whitehorse album, “Modern Love”, features a vibrant “splatter” design that matches the vinyl cover. But it is set to debut on vinyl almost 11 months after its release in other formats, and much later than Six Shooter had originally planned.

They mark their expected arrival in early 2022 with promotions associated with Valentine’s Day and the possibility that fans who have purchased a digital copy will double for the vinyl.

“There’s always a bit of nervousness, like, will the fans still pay attention?” Sleeth said.

“But luckily we find them waiting … so it really works out in our favor.”

This report from the Canadian Press was first published on November 17, 2021.