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The Future of Vinyl
by Paul Bristow
Sting and Snow Records

A few years ago, many people were worried about what would happen when the few remaining pressing plants – stopped producing. At that time, with the appearance of CDs and other digital formats and with the decision – by most London High Street shops – to stop stocking 45 RPM 7 inch vinyl singles (and 33 RPM 12 inch vinyl albums); it seemed that it would just be a short time before Square Dance Records vanished from the shelves!

It was, therefore, great news when the London High Street stores started to stock vinyl again! It seems that the "public" liked vinyl so much; they wanted both the new and the old formats to be available. Here, in the U.K. "Virgin Megastores" – one of our largest music retailers – has begun to guarantee to provide the "top 30" new releases in vinyl.

This was the case when James Wyatt and I visited United Pressings in Nashville – where most Square Dance records are pressed. Cris Ashworth, the C.E.O. of United, told us that he had had to enlarge production, take on the "mastering" process, buy additional pressing plant and extend the working week for his business to 24 hours-a-day, 7 days a week! Vinyl will be available for many years to come, so it would seem.

However, there is a new threat to future vinyl production and this time it only affects Square Dancing music.

In simple terms, we are not selling enough and here I am talking about all the labels. Record sales are at an all time low. We are not selling enough copies, of new releases, to cover pressing costs. You would think that a "number one, two, three, four or five" position in the best-seller list would guarantee that the production costs would be met i.e. that the particular tune would "break-even" on a profit/loss basis; this is not so. We need to secure the future of vinyl production somehow.

The options are: increase the selling price, reduce the costs – i.e. use cheaper music sources, stop production – or sell more. Do you want to pay higher prices? Would you mind if all the new music sounded "cheap"? How would you feel if all the producers stopped making music, if you could only increase your selection by buying from existing, previously released, stocks of records? There is a very real chance that this will happen! The only real option that producers have is to "sell more".

Possibly some producers would continue production but stop pressing i.e. not make the new music available to anyone, except for their own staff. There is not enough income from MP3 and CD sales to cover the costs. However, it could be that the callers on a label will share production costs and then keep the music for themselves! In this scenario, to have new music, you would need to go to the studio and pay for it to be recorded – music production costs are between $800 to $1000 U.S. dollars per tune. If you could find 200 friends, to share these costs, then you could start you own company and actually save a little on the unit costs per tune! Assuming that you have the expertise and skills necessary to select, re-arrange and produce popular tunes in the Square Dance format…

Another solution, to the problem, is to "subscribe" to the record labels i.e. take out a Standing Order. This would increase the number of record sales, provide more revenue for future record production and indicate to the producers that there is still a reason to go on! The record producers need your support; if demand falls any further then companies will stop producing. Standing orders are one way to help support the industry – the future of vinyl is now in your hands…

Paul Bristow - Owner and Producer of Sting and Snow Records

10/30/02


Article Copyright © 2002. Paul Bristow. All Rights Reserved
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