Tyler Bryant listens to finished record albums for flaws in a quality control room at the United Record Pressing facility Thursday, in Nashville, Tenn. The arrival of the compact disc nearly killed off record albums. Four decades later, with resuscitated record album sales producing double-digit growth, manufacturers are rapidly rebuilding an industry to keep pace with sales that topped $1 billion last year. (Mark Humphrey, Associated Press)
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NASHVILLE —The arrival of the compact disc nearly killed off record albums, with vinyl pressing machines sold, scrapped and dismantled by major record labels.
Four decades later, with resuscitated record album sales producing double-digit annual growth, manufacturers are rapidly rebuilding an industry to keep pace with sales that reached $1 billion last year.
Dozens of record-pressing factories have been built to try to meet demand in North America — and it’s still not enough.
The industry “has found a new gear, and is accelerating at a new pace,” said Mark Michaels, CEO and chairman of United Record Pressing, the nation’s largest record producer, in Nashville, Tennessee.
Demand for vinyl records has been growing in double-digits for more than a decade and mass merchandisers like Target were bolstering their selection of albums just as the pandemic provided a surprising jolt. With music tours canceled, and people stuck at home, music lovers began snapping up record albums at an even faster pace.
Record album sales revenue grew a whopping 61% in 2021 — and reached $1 billion for the first time since the 1980s — far outpacing growth rates for paid music subscriptions and streaming services like Spotify and Pandora, according to the Recording Industry Association of America.
Record albums nearly spun into oblivion with sales overtaken by cassettes before the compact discs brushed both aside. Then came digital downloads and online piracy, Apple iPods and 99-cent downloads. Streaming services are now ubiquitous.
But nostalgic baby boomers who missed thumbing through record albums in their local record stores helped to fuel a vinyl resurgence that started about 15 years ago.
It coincided with the launch of Record Store Day to celebrate indie record stores, said Larry Jaffee, author of “Record Store Day: The Most Improbable Comeback of the 21st Century.”
These days, though, it’s more than just boomers.
A younger generation is buying turntables and albums — and cassette tapes, too — and a new generation of artists like Adele, Ariana Grande and Harry Styles have been moving to vinyl, Jaffee noted.
In Pittsburgh, taxi driver Jamila Grady is too young, at age 34, to remember the heyday of record stores.
But she finds records to be irresistible. She created wall art from some of the album covers from nearly 50 albums she’s bought since 2019, starting with “Lemonade” by Beyoncé. She acknowledges it’s an indulgence since she already listens to music through Soundcloud, Apple Music and Pandora.
“For record players, there’s something so beautiful about taking the record, putting it on the payer, and dropping the needle,” she said.
Manufacturers had to start nearly from scratch.
The major labels shuttered their plants long ago, but new ones are coming online. Record makers launching over the last 10 to 15 years include Toronto-based Precision Record Pressing, Memphis Record Pressing, Cleveland’s Gotta Groove…