Record Store Day 2014 and the Vinyl Revival

2014-04-11 15.32.31

Record Store Day 2014 is next Saturday, as you probably know, and although we don’t have a formal RSD release the new Virgin of the Birds album is out pretty much now and if you want to buy something Toadly then that’s the one.

It’s understated, and Virgin of the Birds stuff often takes a while to settle in, so I don’t expect it to be an immediate hit but nevertheless this is an absolutely excellent album – one which on first listen immediately had me going back to the start to listen again, which is a rather fantastic thing to feel when you release records for a living.

As well as the first single Every Revelry (see video below) there are exclusive plays of two album tracks Nine Sisters (which contains the best saxophone solo of all time) and The Serpent Plume on this excellent interview Jon did with Dani Charlton from Amazing Radio.

You can buy the album from Monorail or LoveMusic in Glasgow, or from Vox Box Music or Coda here in Edinburgh, or if you are more electronically inclined, from our website here.

It’s only out on 12″ vinyl (or digitally of course), not CD, and I suppose it looks a lot like we’re becoming a vinyl-only label these days, which in a sense we are, but it’s not a deliberate or strategic decision actually, just circumstances.

We can really only afford to release most album in one format, either CD or vinyl, not both, as we simply can’t afford the extra manufacturing costs. With albums like this one and Adam Stafford’s which are both co-released with North American labels, we pretty much have to press vinyl as apparently North American customers have all but given up on CD. Or at least that’s what I am told by my US-based hipster spies.

Now, I love vinyl, don’t get me wrong, and I was at the recording of Vic Galloway‘s vinyl special for BBC Radio Scotland earlier this week where they talked about many of the things I love about the format: the tactility, the artwork, the ritual of playing records, the physical embodiment of your love of music, and all the other stuff.

What didn’t come up, though, were any of my reservations about either the format itself or the much-vaunted revival it has experienced of late.

Revived it may be, but vinyl still only accounts for a tiny number of album sales. A huge percentage increase in sales is easy to achieve when the numbers are low, even if the absolute number of sales is still small.

For larger labels I strongly suspect the future is still in the effective monetisation of streaming and on-demand services, rather than vinyl sales, and for smaller ones vinyl is expensive to press and simply doesn’t generate very much profit on short runs. I love the stuff, as I said, but I am not sure it’s quite the industry saviour which the press paints it as.

Headlines need to be written simplistically and sensationally of course, so they are mostly bollocks when it comes to sensitive issues like this, but the whole ‘vinyl revival’ line reminds me of the mindless and utterly wrong statement that ‘all the money is in touring, nowadays’, which was repeated so often that it became common knowledge, despite being complete balls.

The relatively recent revival of interest in building vinyl collections is a good thing, of course, but perhaps more because it points towards an admittedly small but nevertheless important group of people for whom a strong relationship with music is still a core part of their personality, rather than implying any specific importance of vinyl itself. Some people collect plants, some buy every cooking implement going and create incredible meals, and others want to build a large, beautiful collection of the music that they love, and to surround themselves with that collection. It’s nice.

Is vinyl particularly central to that, as a format, though? I don’t know. It’s bolder and more visual than other formats, so I guess it’s the most obvious candidate. But (whisper it) a good CD gives you better audio fidelity, and I have seen some truly lovely CD and cassette releases too.

There is a definite possibility that a significant aspect of the vinyl revival is simply a passing fashion, no more significant than the retro-fetishism of Super 8 film, Instagram, drinking from Mason Jars, and an awful lot of hipster clothing fashions. It could easily, in other words, go away as fast as it has seemed to appear.

I don’t like to think like this, because I love my record collection, and I love making albums as well. But I do sometimes think the vinyl revival needs to be approached a little more critically than it is, rather than people pointing at 200% rises in sales from tiny to very small numbers, and endlessly parroting the dubious claim to superior audio fidelity.

I still welcome it, of course, and I will inevitably spend far more money than I can actually afford on RSD, but I still think a healthy degree of scepticism is needed, because these simplistic narratives are almost never right, and in the music industry at the moment we need to keep open minds about the future rather than relying on jumping from one version of ‘The Answer!’ to the next.

You should totally still buy the Virgin of the Birds album though. Seriously.

More: ,