Independent Record Labels Need To Be Counted
By Robert Benson
With vinyl record sales up more than fifteen percent over last year’s totals (858,000 ‘units’ bought in 2006 versus 990,000 in 2007, according to Nielsen Soundscan), has the comeback of this historical audio medium reached its pinnacle? No one can say for sure, but one thing is certain, these sales figures are not a full indication of just what is happening in the ‘vinyl world’ and how many records have truly been sold.
These sales figures may be underestimated and under represent the exact sales figures because they don’t always include the sales at the smaller ‘indie’ record shops where vinyl does the best. I spoke with Virgil Dickerson, owner of one of these ‘indie’ record shops, SuburbanHomeRecords.com and Vinyl Collective (based in Denver, Colorado) about what he is noticing about the trend to go back to vinyl records.
“Certainly, my CD sales have dropped off, and I have seen an increase in the sales of our vinyl records. People want a tangible product to go along with their music. The record album artwork and the great sound of vinyl are also factors in the resurgence,” detailed Virgil. “Digital music lacks the ‘soul’ of a record and there is almost a therapeutic ritual when you experience playing vinyl, the act of physically playing the record, the smell, turning the record over to hear the other side- are all factors as to why people are in love with the format.”
But, is the vinyl resurgence just a passing fad, what do you see for the future of the vinyl record?
“Some of our customers are what I term as ‘lifers,’ people who will buy records whether they are popular or not and may even have an extensive collection of records. And then there may be some that are just jumping on the ‘vinyl bandwagon,’ buying records to be cool or because they are popular now, but there will always be a place for vinyl within the music community,” said Virgil.
As previously noted, Virgil is the owner and operates Suburban Home Records, a record label that signs and releases music from bands from all over the world as well as Vinyl Collective, a unique vinyl friendly web store. And with such an eclectic array of musical genres to choose from including punk, alternative country, heavy metal, rock and roll and just about anything in between, his customer base is as varied as the musical styles that they offer.
We discussed some of the vinyl record formats that are being manufactured, including audiophile vinyl, picture discs, limited releases and colored vinyl.
“With regard to colored vinyl, we do it because we want each pressing to be distinctive. Colored vinyl is more prevalent now than, lets say, ten years ago and is highly sought after; people want it, so we appease our customers by releasing it,” explained Virgil. “We have some that are just one color, clear vinyl and we have added some with speckles and swirls.”
“Picture discs are also highly sought after as well, but are much more expensive per unit to manufacture. They are usually released with no jacket (they are kept in a clear re-sealable package) so that helps to reduce the cost. And the sound quality can fluctuate from good to bad depending on the pressing plant that is used. Audiophile records are more expensive as well, manufactured as 180-200 gram records instead of our norm, which is 140-160 grams,” said Virgil.
We also discussed the difference in sound quality between audiophile records and the normal standard vinyl releases.
“Audiophile records have a better sound quality because a higher grade of vinyl is used and the grooves are cut deeper into the vinyl, producing a much clearer sound. I would think that they are also less susceptible to scratching and scuffing and withstand the normal wear and tear that a record gets form use, because of their thickness,” related Virgil.
We talked about ‘limited releases’ and why these are not only popular, but profitable as well.
“Well, instead of pressing, let’s say, 5,000 copies of a particular recording, we may only press 500. This helps to keep our costs down and collectors love this type of release; they will own an uncommon or rare record, which can affect the resale value of the record, depending on various factors such as the artist, condition etc.”
What other marketing ploys are utilized in the record business?
“We are starting to sign up bands for a 7” ‘split’ series. We will do a pre-order for each 7” and have several artists already committed to the project including Chuck Ragan/Tim Barry, William Elliott Whitmore/Josh Small, Fake Problems/Look Mexico, Rocky Votolato/Chad Price (of Drag the River), just to name a few. The artists will do a cover of a song that has influenced what they do today. We not only have our own artists from Suburban Home Records, but other record labels and artists as well. And this is not so much a marketing ploy, as it is a unique opportunity for artists to be heard by other fan bases that may have not heard of the artist before the split and may also introduce the listener to another kind of musical genre that they may not listen to. With luck, we hope to have customers be interested enough to collect the whole series,” detailed Virgil.
We have just met the man behind the scenes at Suburban Home Records/Vinyl Collective, one of hundreds of independent record labels that produce quality vinyl records and allow independent musicians to be heard by the masses. Why these sales are not tabulated with the ‘big box’ record stores or major labels is food for thought. But if Suburban Home Records/Vinyl Collective keeps releasing quality vinyl records, it is just a matter of time, before they too, will become a “major label” and be counted, as the sale of vinyl records continues to move upward.
Author Robert Benson writes about rock/pop music, vinyl record collecting and operates http://www.collectingvinylrecords.com, where you can pick up a copy of his ebook called
"The Fascinating Hobby Of Vinyl Record Collecting."