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Adele’s 30: are high-profile artists causing a vinyl crisis?

London pop-soul artist Adele released her fourth studio album ‘Adele 30’ this month, but with vinyl delays and shortages, her spotlight has left many more obscure artists in the dark in terms of vinyl production and sales. Katie Martin explores the subject for Lippy.

Since the mid-2010s, vinyl sales have been soaring at a dizzying rate. With Gen-Z demonstrating a passion for all things retro, the allure of a physical and collectible format has captivated an “internet” generation that in recent years has yearned for the nostalgic comfort music has offered previous generations in the analogue form. As vinyl was thrust into the modern world, retro classics and chart-topping releases alike thrived amongst young adults causing vinyl sales to hit 9.2 million in 2014, the highest they had been since 1996.

And vinyl’s popularity hasn’t stopped there. Vinyl has dominated the realms of music production in recent years with an impact that has seeped into a wide variety of genres, expressed best in Lana Del Rey’s Born to Die and Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours both featuring in the top ten best-selling vinyl LP’s of the 2010s. So why has this vinyl revolution turned in to a crisis?

Amidst the release of Adele 30 this month, the Tottenham-born singer-songwriter has become one of many successful artists to benefit from the boom with 500,000 vinyl copies of her LP being pressed to meet demand. Alongside her, artists such as Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift, Elton John and ABBA have all been competing to book slots in pressing factories to get vinyl copies of their albums released due to Adele’s massive production scale.

However, with these larger artists taking priority in the production line, up and coming artists and bands with smaller budgets will now have to wait up to nine months for their albums to be released on vinyl. And if proposed release dates are missed because of this, the vinyl sales of an artist’s album can be reduced to 30-40% of what they would have been― a sizeable cut, considering most musicians make the vast majority of their money from touring and merchandise.

Despite all these issues, you might want to hold off on cancelling Adele.

In the wake of Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic, vinyl is just one of many products to have its distribution slashed due to factory closures and hikes in customs costs, meaning that this crisis is not strictly new. Combined with this, our eagerness as consumers to buy vinyl as a means to somewhat make up for missed concerts and festivals during lockdown has caused demand for vinyl albums to skyrocket, whilst supply is plummeting.

Yes― we could turn our frustration over the empty record shelves in Urban Outfitters towards big-label artists holding up the production queue. Alternatively, a collective investment in the cassette and CD renaissance could offer a solution for consumers and artists alike.

Several artists have recently acknowledged that they’re converting to comparatively easy-to-make CDs and cassettes, which cater to fans’ fondness for physical copies whilst also providing artists with merchandise that is cheap to manufacture, yet also provides them with a substantial income from its profits.

By embracing cassette and CD formats, which have recently begun to emerge in stores such as HMV and Urban Outfitters, we can experience music in a way that reminds us of a time before the pandemic and strays away from the stress of digital alienation, which online streaming can not offer.

And buying cassettes and CDs doesn’t just benefit consumers and artists practically. The idea of both formats being easier to produce and distribute than vinyl could potentially mean that we could appreciate the music of both well-known and small artists, without pitting them against each other in competition to produce hard copies of their albums, due to a shortage of production resources.

It’s hard to say where the future of vinyl lies, or whether the emergence of new analogue formats could completely overtake its prominence in the music industry. However, if a reliance on vinyl can be avoided, other formats could contribute to making smaller efforts to bridge the gap between artists, provide cheaper production, and allow an all-round fairer place in the market for every musician.

So, whether you’re a lover of Adele or prefer to stick to indie artists, consider getting your ‘edgy’ fix of retro nostalgia by breaking up with vinyl and finding a passion in CDs and cassettes!


Words by Katie Martin

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