For some time, independent record labels have expressed concern about Vinyl hype and the very real problems caused by the production bottleneck. According to small labels, independent artists now struggle to get their work pressed as the major labels leverage their size and budget to squeeze more and more records through a limited number of pressing plants across the globe.
Due to the resurgence of vinyl, not only are these record plants pushed to the brink, but they’re also running on antiquated technology. Despite the huge surge of interest in vinyl over the last decade or so, production is still carried out in much the same way it was back in the 1960’s – typically on refurbished equipment from around this era.
The traditional Vinyl record production process is lengthy and requires a great deal of expertise. Basically, the process is as follows: Audio grooves are scratched into a lacquer foil or copperplate, followed by a highly chemical electroplating process.
The lacquering process alone is enough to limit production severally as there are currently only two companies worldwide that produce lacquers. As you can gather, the whole manufacturing process is both over-stretched and under-invested.
Naturally in this sort of environment, larger labels can squeeze out smaller players by paying in advance to prioritise their needs over anybody else’s. And while it’s great to see a renewed appetite for vinyl in the digital age, there’s a general feeling among many that major record labels are cynically re-selling their back-catalogue for a 3rd time to a generation that abandoned vinyl for CD back in the 80’s, and hasn’t fully embraced digital streaming.
There’s also plenty of bitter feelings about the inflated price of new vinyl releases, with a typical album costing $20 – $30 a pop. In this sort of scenario, it’s easy to point the finger at major labels and cry bully. After all, the smaller labels just can’t compete with the likes of EMI or other majors when it comes to supply chain issues such as the likes of limited production facilities. However, as I’ve previously stated, I’m not overly convinced. Instead, I believe this is simply market forces in action – it’s supply and demand. If there genuinely is a sustainable appetite for vinyl over the long-term, investment and innovation will eventually surface with a solution to improve production. Basically, it’s about time somebody with enough capital and entrepreneurial drive ploughed some 21st-century technology into this 20th-century pursuit.
And guess what… It’s already happening…
Enter HD Vinyl
Earlier this year, Austrian-based company, Rebeat submitted an EU-wide patent for HD Vinyl production, with further plans to secure additional protections worldwide. The new HD Vinyl production process involves 3D topographical mapping – combined with laser technology – to more quickly generate a superior product. Not only will records be more consistent and vastly improved, but the production time will also be reduced dramatically. Best of all, the new style records are 100% backwards compatible with current turntables. Details of the recently filed patent were shared exclusively with Digital Music News back in March, with suggestions the product could surface within three years.
HD vinyl is great news for record collectors across the board. It shows significant evidence that vinyl resurgence is more than just a fad. As I suggested, if there truly is a sustainable interest, real investment in production is the best way to tackle limited access for independent labels. It’s simple supply and demand; and while it might seem frustrating that major labels seem hell bent on pushing re-issue after re-issue, the fact remains, if the demand is there, they’ll keep doing it. It’s easy to point the finger at major corporations, but after all, the classics are classic for a reason.