For The Record :: The Vinyl Bubble Has Burst

Words by: Ben Raven
Posted: 21/6/18 14:31

Peggy Gou's 'Once' EP is 2018's top selling record on Juno.co.uk

Too many releases, not enough sales and a whole lot of crying into royalty statements. What’s going on in vinyl world?

Dance music is a strange game and none more so than in the world of vinyl. Speak to label managers, label artists or distributors and they’re all likely to tell you that the business of selling records in 2018 is a game of survival in a world of paradoxes.

Here’s how things stand currently. Everyone seemingly wants to release on vinyl, but a minority of DJs are actually playing vinyl. CDJs are the centrepiece of most booths largely thanks to their ease of use but also in part because clubs and sound engineers seem to have forgotten how to correctly maintain turntables. Or forgotten them altogether.

Okay that may not be so true if you’re playing top flight venues. But it’s a fair statement for the bulk of dance music venues around the world.

So less DJs playing vinyl. Surely that would mean less vinyl releases each week? On the contrary, the number of underground releases hitting shops each week has swollen to unprecedented levels for this decade. There is simply far more releases going to press than there are shoppers ready to shell out for them.

As the numbers of releases grow, the number of orders that shops make to distributors for the releases they want to buy are falling. Shops are buying a wider number of releases each week, but ordering fewer copies of each release. There is simply too many releases for the vinyl label market to cope.

But isn’t vinyl dead? Okay you can back to sleeping under your rock. Vinyl’s comeback has been proclaimed by everyone from Time Magazine to your mum (probably) but the knock on effect for dance music is, well, complicated. Although vinyl sales in the USA have increased from less than a million in 2007 to more than 14 million last year, those figures are largely buoyed on by the re-issues of classic mainstream albums. Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours’ and Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ are currently at numbers one and two in the UK’s top selling albums of the year and in 2017 although sales hit a 27 year high, 14 of the top 20 albums were reissues.

Ricardo Villalobos holds top slot on deejay.de's top selling records of 2018 for his collaboration with Butch, 'Fünfviertel.'

In dance music, sales have surged also. But so too has the number of labels and artists wanting in on the action. The knock on effect for labels isn’t pretty. Not only do they face more competition from the rest of the market but the rise of streaming is also changing how we listen to music.

And as the number of orders for each release falls, it’s becoming harder for labels to keep hold of a publishing and distribution deal. A P&D deal is one in which a company like Decks or Juno agrees to cover the task and cost of pressing the vinyl as well as distributing it to shops for a large share of the sales. It is a lifeline for many labels as the cost of pressing enough vinyl for a small run with even limited artwork can run well over a thousand Euros each time. But also one which rarely turns a profit for the label after expenses such as artwork, remix costs, or promo (which are usually covered by the labels and not the distributors) are accounted for.

For a hardened few, the old school approach of fronting the cost to press your own run and then hustling the shops for sales, is the only realistic way to make ends meet but it is one that requires the necessary knowledge, contacts and time to make it work. And it is fraught with risk.

Vinyl was already a labour of love at the beginning of the decade but the great irony of today is that now sales are up, the labour has never been harder. The question of whether to release on vinyl only or not has become all the more complicated. If you’re a touring artist, a vinyl only release runs the risk of alienating your fans in South America who may not be able to afford the cost of imported wax. So many artists and labels have turned to Bandcamp as an alternative way of releasing digitally, in part tempted on there by the companies more attractive royalty split than other digital stores like Beatport and by the falling numbers of orders.

Mandar have top ten status on both Juno.co.uk and deejay.de for record sales in 2018.

For some vinyl artists and labels, streaming is becoming an ever more popular option to remain visible to touring markets. But don’t expect to make any money out of the streaming giants like Apple or Spotify for an underground release any time soon.

But at least the record buying public are being spoiled in this latest turn of events? As anyone with their nose in their record alert emails each week can testify, great music is out there but the job of sifting through the ever growing tide of average music has made the task of finding the gold a lot more long winded.

For those who returned to buying vinyl as a means of escaping the problems of an overcrowded digital market the feeling of deja vu is hard to escape. Vinyl is simply not the instant quality filter that it was five or ten years ago.

More choice does not also mean better choices or more sales. Several studies over the past two decades have demonstrated the opposite. American psychologist Barry Schwartz argued in his 2004 book ‘The Paradox of Choice – Why More Is Less’ that more choice only confused shoppers and lead to lower sales.

So if the dance music vinyl bubble has burst, what can done we do about it? Much like the world of digital, we need to ask ourselves as artists and labels, just because we can release a record on vinyl, does the music really need to be released on vinyl? Or in simpler record shop terms, we need less fillers, and more killers.


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