Jack White calls on major labels to invest in vinyl: ‘We’re all on the same team’
Vinyl, the forgotten growth story in the music industry, needs immediate attention.
The type of support that the major labels can and must provide.
That’s the unexpected plea from Jack White, the legendary White Stripes co-founder, vinyl evangelist and owner of Third Man Records.
The Detroit-based rocker is calling on the major labels to invest once again in the booming vinyl business, a space that’s been exposed by surging fuel prices and the supply-chain issues created by COVID-19.
“With industry-wide turnaround times for vinyl currently leaning towards the length of a human pregnancy, it’s obvious, in a world so contingent on being of-the-moment and timed just right (a single, an album, a tour etc.),” he explains in a piece-to-camera, “these timelines are the killers of momentum, soul, artistic expression, and far too often, livelihoods.”
The solution: more pressing plants.
“There are people who will say – isn’t this good for Third Man? More demand than you can handle?,” he continues. “To which I say, even though Third Man benefits in the short term, in the long term it ultimately hurts everyone involved in the vinyl ecosystem given the bottlenecks and delays. Something needs to be done.”
While indies and investors how powered the growth of vinyl over the past decade or more, “the bigger problems we now see require major solutions,” he continues.
Those big problems need the big players.
“In this spirit, I turn to our collegial big brothers in the music world, Sony, Universal, and Warner, and politely implore them to help alleviate this unfortunate backlog and start dedicating resources to build pressing plants themselves.”
The issue, he explains, won’t be fixed by drawing a line in the sand.
Forget “big labels versus small labels,” he continues, “it’s not independent versus mainstream, it’s not even punk versus pop. The issue is, simply, we have all created an environment where the unprecedented demand for vinyl records cannot keep up with the rudimentary supply of them.”
The seemingly insatiable hunger for wax has created opportunities not just for the label ecosystem, but also for intrepid music fans with an appetite for risk.
The story of Neil Wilson went national last year, when the ABC reported the passionate music fan sold his home in the leafy suburb of Ashgrove, Brisbane, to buy a record plant.
Wilson has etched out a career in architecture and project management, but rolled the dice to buy a press, one of only a handful set to operate in Australia.
“We’ve done the sums, we’ve spoken to a lot of people and done forecasts, worked really closely with accountants and … people in the industry, and we believe in it,” he said.
In 2020, Melbourne company in Program Records bought Australia’s first new record presses in 30 years for the sum of $400,000, The Age, a price tag lower than a one-bedroom dump on the outskirts of Sydney.
Vinyl is no trifling matter. Last week, the RIAA reported vinyl has roared past the US$1 billion mark for the first time since 1986.
Scrutiny of the data confirms the argument laid out by White.
In the year to 2021, vinyl shipments grew 67% to 39.7 million units, well ahead of the 23.7 million units shipped in 2020, and the 17.2 million units shipped just five years earlier, in 2016. That’s more than double the volume in five years, a period dominated by growth in revenue from streaming businesses.
“Across the globe, there are now a handful of new companies, building both automated and manual vinyl presses,” adds White, a proud independent artist whose White Stripes were presented to the world by the Richard Russell’s XL label.
“It’s easier to purchase a vinyl press now than it has been in four decades. And with more ancillary innovators popping up every day helping advance every facet of the industry, this isn’t a difficult decision to make. It’s a no-brainer.
“We’re all on the same team with the same goals. I truly believe that with a good faith investment in the infrastructure that got us here, we can continue on this upward trajectory and further inspire the worlds around us. Now is the time.”
The global vinyl situation will be explored in greater depth when the IFPI “Global Music Report 2022” is presented next Tuesday evening, Australian-time.