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The Vinyl Quagmire


I'll admit it, I love vinyl. I used to have a vinyl player in the 90s, and I still have my Japanese Bodies Zoth Ommog 12", as well as the Skinny Puppy EPs and albums on vinyl. Also some other cool stuff from Reconstriction and Cleopatra, and some minimal techno a friend once gave me. And of course my copy of Legend "Fearless" is sitting right behind my laptop in my office, whereas the Artoffact CD might take me a few minutes to find. I even have a white-label from the first demo Artoffact ever received with PEACE TO ARTOFFACT scrawled on the cover.

I sold my player in 2004 when I moved away, and I still regret doing that, but that's neither here nor there. A lot of people talk about vinyl now like it's going to save the industry. Worse, a lot of people talk about vinyl as though labels who don't press vinyl are somehow "not with it" and on the verge of going out of business. I suppose a lot of people say a lot of things that are completely based on fantasy.

But I worry about the vinyl resurgence. We've started doing vinyl for Artoffact, because we love the format, and we're happy how well people have responded. Saltillo, Haujobb, Architect, Marsheaux, Rational Youth, and now the 7" Legend/Solstafir split have all received vinyl pressings, or are about to. But we cannot claim to be vinyl experts, and that's the concern. We know CDs, we've been working with them for 15+ years, but we don't KNOW vinyl. And, the truth is, a lot of people in the industry don't know vinyl. The expertise left the building years ago when the format supposedly died.


The techonology also left the building---literally. Plants and machinery got destroyed. Know-how left to do other things. People moved on and embraced the coming Digital Future. Now, especially in North America, there are very few plants serving a huge demand. There's a rush-rush mentality and no one seems to mind cutting corners. A lot of vinyl re-issues we receive for distribution are obviously made from CD masters, not only in the audio, but also in the cover art. Pixelated covers, blown up to 12" x 12" from the 5" x 5" of their CD sisters are the norm. Defects, poor packaging, scratches, bad cutting, frayed or uncentered holes... it's quite a quagmire. And try to get some basic answers to basic questions from most vinyl brokers.... and you don't exactly get reassuring replies.

Like I say, I love the format, but the behind-the-scenes conditions are depressing. No one is going to bring the expertise back into the industry and no one is going to rebuild a plant, simply because it's hard to imagine that this trend will last for 30 years. And who wants to invest in training or hardware for something that might not be worth anything (again) in 2020. So we're kind of stuck, in a way. With a major spike in sales, a dozen or more documentary films, vinyl-only stores popping up everywhere, and labels both small and big using vinyl to help with the bottom line, it's hard to poo-poo the format.

And I'm not here to poo-poo it. But, seriously, there is an elephant in the room that no one is talking about (except for Beatles fans), and we hope that vinyl fans and customers will start to also Demand Better when it comes to the product they receive. It really is the coolest format, and we truly want it to stay that way.