The Mess Of The Record Press - Please Read
A slight departure from my usual blogging, in that I want to talk to you about the current (and general) state of the vinyl pressing industry.
Thanks for reading! See you next week!
Haha, I kid...well...sort of...But there are significant changes (problems) going on and it is an industrywide issue. So I am writing this so that you know what is going on when it comes to pressing records and how it affects Kniteforce, but also our dear friends at Liftin' and Blue Badger and Time Tunnel and MPS and Cantina and, well, everyone.
In a nutshell - demand for vinyl massively outstrips the availability within the pressing plants, and it has come to a fairly alarming head in recent weeks. A little history:
Vinyl is an OLD medium. We are talking everyone wearing a hat in a sepia toned world where leeches were used as medicine old. The actual making of a record is a long drawn out multistep process that has changed very little from its inception, but involves cutting the music into an acetate, “growing” the A/B side stampers in vats of chemicals, heating up plastic with a huge boiler then splatting it between two stampers, having a label stick itself to the hot plastic, leaving it to cool, and then putting it in a sleeve and selling it to everyone.
This is why, when CDs were invented, the entire music industry (other than Djs) farted itself happy with the speed and ease of music reproduction. Less hassle, less expensive, easier to manufacture - perfect. Hoorah!
And because of that massive shift to CD sales in the 1990's, the vinyl selling side of the industry died very quickly, except for niche markets like records for Djs and the odd big act that still wanted to do vinyl.
And because of that change, many pressing plants died, so by the year 2000, there were very few clinging to life.
Roll on to the last 6-10 years, and the vinyl market has had a steady increase in popularity with no sign of it decreasing. Only now, there are only about ten major pressing plants left in the world, and a bunch of smaller ones, and very few new ones because, as noted before, it is a horrendous format in many respects, a lot of work and hard to make a profit.
The situation has finally reached a fairly critical point in that the major labels are now pressing so many new Micheal Jackson or $FaceRapper22 records (fuck knows) that they are squeezing out smaller labels like myself and others. And by squeezing out, I mean that quite literally. I am hearing of labels struggling to find anywhere to press anything.
Many plants have closed their doors entirely - if you email asking to press a record or eve for a quote, you get ignored, or told that they are not taking on any new customers.
Almost all that are “allowing” you to press with them are now quoting 6 months or longer turnaround.
This means that anything I cut today is likely going to be arriving in January 2022, and I know other labels are being told the same thing.
The pressing plants are also not allowing people to increase previously made orders. Always before, if you ordered 300, you could ask to up it to 500 and they would accommodate you if they could. Now? Not so much. They are likely to tell you to do a new order and those records will be with you in 6-8 months. This has resulted in a weird situation for us, and I am sure for other labels too. Record sales have exploded recently, yet we cannot get enough pressed.
I flatter myself I suppose when I say that KF is one of the larger record labels in our scene - we press a LOT of records, some smaller runs, some larger, from multiple labels. So we have some “power” I suppose? But still, we remain very small compared to Universal or whoever, so when one of the big labels comes in with orders for 100,000 units, we get shoved aside.
And of course, there is not much any of us smaller labels can do. We cannot move to another plant for reasons mentioned above. Either no one is taking new people, or they are charging extraordinary amounts of money to press a record - we have been quoted DOUBLE what we now pay from the few plants willing to consider taking us on, making it pointless to do.
A little side note here: Another effect of this huge demand is that sometimes the standard of the pressings have gone down. There are more and more cases of warped or dished records and it doesnt matter which plant you are talking about. This is due, we suspect, to less care being taken at some places, as well as changes in the base plastic.
From most pressing plants perspective, if the record plays the music fine, it is fine, and they won’t take it back or refund you. If you say its no good for scratching or mixing or whatever, their answer is “that’s not what you are meant to be doing with the record - its for playing music.” They view it like a car - it gets you from A to B. If you wanna use the car to go round a rally race track, that’s your business, but its not designed for that so if it doesn’t work well for it, then…”eh”. Anyway....
So we are now in a situation where you cannot argue about pressing turnaround times or dished records very much because the demand is so heavy they literally dont need your business and know you have nowhere else to go. If you threaten to leave they happily show you the door. Ask for a refund and they happily show you the door. Supply and demand - they don’t need us, and they know it, basically.
It is a problem.
Now, I have painted a fairly bleak picture, so here is the good news. Despite all this, many pressing plants DO care about their customers, they remember loyalty, and they do want you to have the best product you can get. We work with Curved, who are stunning, and who press via MPO (one of the major plants), and I know other plants and factors are also very good. BUT no matter where they fall on the “nice” scale - they all have the same problem. They are overwhelmed, overworked, and floundering in a sea of orders they are trying to complete.
I will also say, my pressing plant has said “its gonna be a 6 month turnaround” before, and then it has been basically the same as normal. This is because they HAVE to look at the worse case scenario and pressing times. A machine breaking down, a lack of plastic, a sudden increase in the need for $FaceRapper22s debut album (he is so hot right now), any of that happening is a major problem that disrupts everything. So while we have to prepare for drawn out deliveries etc, it may not be as bad as I have made it out to be.
Even if it is, records will still arrive, the vast majority will be flat, and everything will be fine. KF has a LOT of things on the go, so they will come in bunches here and there over the coming months. There might be some longer gaps is all. Some of the labels that usually press less will have bigger gaps though, and in either case, we will all need your support.
Still, all of this is to say to you: If you are buying records regularly, you are going to need to get used to things being slower, and I ask you to try and be forgiving of unexpected delays and issues that we cannot predict until they happen.
Please be patient with all of the underground record labels releasing music right now. I know the vast majority of the owners, and they are good people who are doing their very best to get you your music. But they are in an industry that is in a total mess. If you are feeling frustration about delays or whatever, know that we are too, and know we are doing all we can to get the music to you, but much of it is quite literally outside of our control. So your understanding is really appreciated!