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Will the Vinyl record renaissance last? (OP-ED)

Among the many things that have made an unexpected comeback, the return of vinyl records was something no one anticipated. Before the pandemic, the Vinyl record industry was nearly extinct, thanks to the rise of cassette tapes and CDs. By the time the Internet made its way into the music scene, purchases of vinyl records were at the lowest it had ever been. That said, sales slowly began to climb and by 2019, vinyl records earned $224.1 million in the first half of the year.

However, it wasn’t until the world was deep into the COVID-19 pandemic that vinyl popularity took a huge jump into the mainstream. Thanks to popular artists like Taylor Swift, vinyl record sales have continued their upward trajectory. United Record Pressing CEO Mark Michaels remarked on Swift’s success in an interview with CNBC.

“When Taylor releases a new record, there may be eight, nine, 10, different variants of that same record — different colors, different combinations, maybe there’s some unique tracks that weren’t included on the digital release, or the CD, but you get it on the vinyl,” said Michaels. “There’s a lot of fans that say, ‘There are eight different variants. I want one of each, please.’ They’re very supportive.”

Taylor Swift’s 1989 album was recognized as the best-selling vinyl record in 2023 and had even helped put vinyl records back in the UK’s inflation basket for calculating UK shop prices. That said, problems are mounting. The vinyl boom hasn’t been free from criticism, especially from those concerned about its potential impact on the environment. Artists like Billie Eilish have called out artists who pay more attention to the money gained from vinyl sales than how unsustainable the product can be.

“I can’t even express to you how wasteful it is. It is right in front of our faces and people are just getting away with it left and right, and I find it frustrating as somebody who goes out of my way to be sustainable and do the best that I can and try to involve everybody in my team in being sustainable — and then it’s some of the biggest artists in the world making f****** 40 different vinyl packages that have a different unique thing just to get you to keep buying more,” Eilish said in a Billboard interview, “It’s so wasteful, and it’s irritating to me that we’re still at a point where you care that much about your numbers, and you care that much about making money — and it’s all your favorite artists doing that s***.”

Her comments weren’t received without backlash, with many claiming the statement was a jab at Taylor Swift. It isn’t a surprising speculation considering the multiple releases of vinyl records for her various albums. That said, the singer maintained her conviction in a statement on her Instagram that these practices have been perpetuated by everyone in the industry including her.

However, another problem in vinyl’s future is its accessibility. While its popularity skyrocketed thanks to mainstream artists, now that major labels have gone full speed in producing vinyl, there’s little room for independent artists to thrive.

According to The Herald, smaller artists feel pushed out by major labels and artists who have taken up a majority share of booking time at vinyl pressing plants. That said vinyl has shown no signs of slowing down. According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) vinyl outsold CD sales for the second time since 1987.

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