Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

The Vinyl Pause of 2020

Chris Eggertsen, Billboard:

The manufacturing and storage facility for Apollo Masters Corp. — a Banning, Calif.-based manufacturing plant that supplies the lacquer used for making master discs, which are then used to create vinyl records — has burned down in a massive fire, the company confirmed in a statement posted to its official website.

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The fire, which was first reported around 8 a.m. PT Friday morning (Feb. 7), broke out while employees were inside the building, though all escaped safely, according to The Desert Sun, which first reported the blaze. But the loss of the plant — which, along with MDC in Japan, is one of only two worldwide that produces the lacquers needed to create vinyl records — comes as a difficult blow to the booming vinyl record industry. Billboard reported just last month that 26% of all physical albums sold in the U.S. in 2019 were vinyl.

While vinyl may be on an upswing relative to ten or twenty years ago, its sales are nowhere near the 1970s and 1980s.

Still, I’ve long been one of those buyers. While I’m glad all of the employees of Apollo Masters are safe, I’m gutted by the likely fallout from this fire.

Steady State Sea” (via Coudal):

You will be able to buy new vinyl titles in 2020 — or most of 2020, anyway. Ironically, the long waiting time to get a respective record pressed after cutting its master may be critical in delaying the consequences of low supply of vinyl offerings. That waiting time to press can take several months — and that’s assuming all money needed for the pressing is gathered and ready to spend. (Incidentally, before the mid 2000s, the waiting time used to be dramatically shorter.) Many new albums coming out in 2020 already had their respective masters cut in 2019.

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However, from the end of 2020 onward will be the big question mark regarding vinyl supply in retail.

And it wouldn’t be surprising if labels began to start a more conservative release schedule effective ASAP. If any label does have a stash of lacquers, they will likely be reserved for releases that the label would consider low-risk in sales — such as legacy artists or hot new acts.

I listen to music in two formats: for convenience, a large local library of digital files mixed with streaming; and, for a more relaxed, immersive experience, vinyl. I love spending a couple of hours in a decent record store, walking my fingers along the shelves until I find something I like. This fire has the possibility to make all of that a rare occasion. It is going to be tough to recover from, but not impossible — it sounds like direct metal mastering is a good way out.