Did labels deliberately sabotage vinyl?
Mon 10th Sep, 2012 News 2750 viewsin
Today, a documentary called Last Shop Standing will be released in the UK. Focussing on the “rise, fall and rebirth” of independent record shops, looking at the changing status of vinyl and featuring appearances from the likes of Fatboy Slim, there’s already plenty in the film to pique the interest of ITMers.
But that’s not all that’s intriguing about Last Shop Standing. As well as taking a look at what’s been a difficult while for independent music retailers, the film also has something of a conspiracy theory under its belt. According to Music Week (who’ve presumably already seen the doco), Last Shop Standing claims that record labels deliberately lowered the quality of vinyl records produced in the eighties to boost the popularity of the CD as it entered the market. So what’s the basis for the accusation?
“If you go back to the eighties as well, the vinyl that we had was all recycled vinyl. So the actual quality of vinyl recordings had started to diminish,” said Graham Jones, the man behind the film and a former record distributor himself. “The records were thinner and more flimsy. Everything was designed for us to switch our music collection over to CD.” It’s an account corroborated by record store owners. “Certainly when I began in the early 80s we would get people bringing in five or six copies of the same album back because there’d be a fault in the vinyl,” said store owner Gary Smith. “The 70s vinyl seemed to be fine and the 60s vinyl was fine; it’s just that the stuff in the 80s was really thin and not very good quality”.
So is the idea that labels sabotaged vinyl all the product of a few over-imaginative old guys, or is there some truth to the accusation? Well, the poor quality of new vinyl is something that was picked up on in our forums in the early 2000s, but the head of UK record industry trade body BPI Tony Wadsworth denounced the accusation. “One of the themes that was only touched on in the film was that labels drove out vinyl, which is frankly absurd,” he said. “Whenever I’ve worked for record labels, if something has a demand, you meet that demand, you don’t stop making stuff for which there is still a demand.”
But sabotage or no sabotage, the fact remains that vinyl ain’t dead yet. A couple of years back, the guys behind recordstore.com.au went to bat for wax on ITM. “The fact is, from within the dance music community – and even more so from within genre based sections of that – vinyl does indeed look like it is ‘dying’,” they wrote. “But this is a myopic view that fails to take into account the real figures in the global music industry as a whole…it’s a fact reflected in international sales figures of physical product; the only one not declining is vinyl.”