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Out on vinyl

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Statistics show another fall in CD sales. The compact disc’s older cousin is, however, enjoying the opposite trend – demand for vinyl records is growing. Sales doubled annually in the US this year, and experts at SoundScan, which monitors audio data storage, say turnover could exceed 3 million LPs in 2009. These figures are not especially high; an identical number of CDs or digital music files sell in around two days in the US. Nevertheless, they spell good news for a technology earmarked for quick extinction in the mid-1990s.

Czech LPs take over the world

With the vinyl market on the move, US music labels have been desperately scouting for production sites. Most big LP factories in the west abandoned production with the rise of the CD. No one would risk building new factories for today’s limited vinyl runs. Relief came from the Czech Republic – and from Loděnice in the Beroun region in particular. Local record manufacturers hadn’t suspended production even during the vinyl slump of the 1990s, and so overseas clients landed on an ideal combination of high standards and tradition. The country has unexpectedly turned into a major vinyl record manufacturer.

“Last year we produced just below 2 million LPs in Loděnice,” says Eric Mueller of Pirates Press, which mediates commission for US labels, mostly from the independent scene. Its clients include more than 3,000 music producers internationally. “The majority of the LPs end up on the US market, but not all of them,” says Eric Mueller, praising the Loděnice factory’s flexibility. The Loděnice firm also takes care of paper LP covers.

Celebrating days of vinyl

Vinyl records are no longer the strict preserve of DJs and collectors; they’re being sought out by music lovers. At a time when sound can be downloaded with a single mouse click, an expensive and beautiful vinyl recording serves as a reminder of the human beings behind the music.

LPs also offer hope to music retailers. Across the ocean, small stores, independent of the big chains, are trying to please their customers on many levels. In June, American retailers declared every third Saturday of the month to be a Day of Vinyl Records.

Participating stores sell only limited editions of vinyl records released especially for that day. The first Day of Vinyl at the end of June featured rare singles from Tom Waits, Green Day and Wilco, otherwise only available at online auctions where they retail for triple their original price.

The big labels are also trying to match the growing demand for vinyl in a clear sign that the LP industry is no longer an obscure market for enthusiasts. “There are currently 80 vinyl record titles available on the Czech market,” says Veronika Douglas of the Czech branch of Universal Music. “Most often they’re old albums in deluxe versions, with a bigger booklet and a remastered edition,” she says. “The latest Metallica album Death Magnetic is the bestselling LP, grossing 700 copies.”

Vinyl records are also enjoying a boom on the independent scene, which sees the CD as a symbol of the mainstream labels shunned by indie artists. Some alternative music releases have only been put out on vinyl. Among the most remarkable recent recordings are a series of singles from Silver Rocket, Sporto’s second album More and the debut of esoteric folk singer Jindra Holubec Valerij Dubjanin from Polí5. They are backed by the enthusiasm of labels that usually recognise it’s impossible to profit from similar albums released in several hundred CD copies. Still, the sales figures are rising. “At the moment, a Czech LP is being released every 14 days on an independent label,” says Petr Čepek of the Damage Done label.

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