Fifteen weeks, eighteen weeks, six months: these are the waiting times announced today to labels wishing to press vinyl records. And again, this is an estimate. Impossible to commit, it will be necessary to do with the vagaries. No one is spared, but the independent labels, which have neither the weight nor the financial power of the behemoths in the industry, are obviously those who taste the most severely. However, it is difficult to summarize a situation resulting from multiple problems – starting with a global shortage of raw materials – to a simple majors-indie opposition. In this case, petroleum, for which the drop in production volumes has caused great stress on the polymer, which is essential for the manufacture of vinyl. And wood, which heavily affects the production of paper and cardboard.
Deficiencies to which was added an upsurge in orders caused by the end of the health crisis. Causing a monster bottling in the factory, where the independents suffer, there, from a clear disadvantage, as Mathieu Dassieu, president of the National Federation of independent labels and distributors (Félin) explains: “The pressing supply being very much lower than the demand, a balance of power very quickly established itself, each negotiating with its factory so that its production comes before the others, which inevitably penalizes the independents whose production generally fluctuates. between 300 and 1,000 copies, where the majors are pressing, between 5,000 and 50,000. ” Example which, this fall, alone crystallized the situation: the album 30 Adele whose pressing by Columbia to 500,000 copies spread over twenty orders made the labels scream in the queue … However, her record is only one part of the problem that continues out of the factories . According to the Feline, “The traffic jam will last at least until the end of 2022”.
“Many labels will disappear”
Managing an independent label at the end of 2021 therefore no longer has much to do with the organization but essentially requires patience and above all a large part of improvisation. “You have to be ultra-flexible, explains François Aptel, from the Parisian label Teenage Menopause. You can’t predict anything. The records come the day a guy calls to say “I’m downstairs”. And that again, is for the labels already installed, with volumes of more than 500 copies per release. For those who want to get started or rush smaller editions, it’s even more complicated. Especially since it is necessary to pay down payments. Which cannot, in fact, be reimbursed for a while. So without a minimum of cash, impossible to follow. All this risks above all reshuffling, in the long term, the cards of the independent landscape. Many labels are going to disappear or have to radically change, and that is what is most worrying in the end. “
The solutions ? Set up production units dedicated exclusively to the self-employed? It is mentioned, especially on the side of the Feline. Except that in addition to the material and the know-how, there is a major pitfall: the workforce. Pressing vinyl requires a minimum of training and remains, on arrival, a production line, paid accordingly, which quickly makes some enthusiasts disillusioned. La Félin also plans to call on the music mediator at the Ministry of Culture to bring together factories and labels and try to find common ground in order to put an end to “the law of the jungle”. Who, in the meantime, prevails, each doing what they can.
“We are talking about diversity, but who applies it in this sector?”
Some are turning to the CD, which has its place and its audience but will not replace anything, especially as sales of turntables keep falling, while they are constantly increasing on the vinyl side. Others will be tempted by the tape, back in favor for ten years but struggling to exceed the status of gadget for trendy.
In order to be able to organize tours and promotions in parallel, many are resigned to releasing CD and digital on the scheduled date and vinyl six months later, with the risk of cutting themselves off from the public. “Where it is really tense and where the major-indie opposition is really the most significant, resumes Mathieu Dassieuis that it was the independents who allowed the reboot of vinyl, at a time when the majors had mourned and where 80% of their income was based on digital. And it is they who find themselves in the most critical position today. Especially since the majors’ orders often do not concern new products but their back catalog. “
If the price of vinyl has increased overall in recent months, in particular because of the new import taxes which are reflected in stores but also on sites like Bandcamp or Discogs, that of the back catalog of the majors has suffered at the beginning of inflation year, according to Dassieu, “Totally unreasonable and decorrelated from increases in the cost of raw materials”. We thus find ourselves in stores with classics made profitable for decades, sold at excessive prices (around 40-50 euros) for no real reason. A phenomenon faced with which each record store has its own little theory, from total incompetence for some to a thoughtful positioning on the CSP + clientele for others.
One thing is certain: those who suffer the most are the fundamentals of independent culture – diversity and accessibility. Also undermined, according to Mathieu Dassieu and the Feline, by the reluctance of the media: “At the end of the long period of interruption of concerts, we realized that the national media – press, television, radio – hardly gave any place to independent productions, including on the public service and networks like France Bleu, which are supposed to be close to the territories. Here too, we are looking for solutions with Radio France so that we are no longer limited to playlists drawn from the same fifteen labels, majors or big independents, all based in Paris. We talk a lot about diversity, but who really applies it in this sector? Because that’s what it is in the end: diversity. No niches or meetings between sharp connoisseurs. We are here above all to offer a variety of music and cultures that is not in the mainstream. ”