MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota’s favorite recording artists are starting to pay for the resurgence of vinyl.
That includes the Cactus Blossoms, who released a new album last week and are anxiously returning to the road to promote it after two years of tour postponements from covid.
One more problem, though: Vinyl copies of the record won’t be available from the pressing plant until May.
“We hope a lot of our fans still have a CD player in their car,” said Page Burkum, co-leader of the retro-country harmonizers.
Delays in vinyl manufacturing are stymieing the music industry worldwide. Pressing plants — many of them antiquated or shut down altogether during the heyday of CDs — have been maxed out due to the renewed popularity of 12-inch LPs.
Vinyl sales have climbed over the past decade, and the pandemic brought an even sharper uptick. Global shipping and supply-chain breakdowns made things even worse.
So Burkum wasn’t kidding: In lieu of selling vinyl at concerts, the Cactus Blossoms will offer CDs. Remember CDs? This includes the group’s three promotional gigs Saturday in Twin Cities record stores — events that typically are all about vinyl.
Vinyl is still the best way for artists to profit off their recorded music in the era of notoriously low-paying streaming services such as Spotify. Still, concerts are an even better revenue source.
“We certainly weren’t going to put off touring even longer than we already had, just to wait for the vinyl,” said Burkum’s bandmate Jack Torrey.
Other Minnesota artists to face this problem include Dessa and Charlie Parr, both of whom toured last fall before vinyl editions of their new albums became available.
Dessa began issuing songs from “IDES” online as monthly singles starting January 2021. It took 12 installments — a full year — before the tunes could finally be sold on vinyl. Sunday’s concert at First Avenue will be her first with the new vinyl at the merch stand.
“We went to six different manufacturers and heard the same story from all of them: not till the end of the year,” her producer Lazerbeak (Aaron Mader) recounted.
Not even the Smithsonian’s involvement in Parr’s album (on its Folkways label) helped him get it on vinyl quicker. The process that used to only take about two months “took 11 months from pre-production to having the product in hand,” his manager, Mark Gehring, said.
Fans at shows last fall bought CDs instead — “but I’m sure many of those ended up as drink coasters,” Gehring quipped.
Minneapolis indie-rock darlings the Gully Boys went even further retro with their latest EP, “Favorite Son.”
“(Vinyl) just wasn’t feasible for us, which is why we went with cassettes,” drummer/singer Nadirah McGill said.
U.S. vinyl sales rose 11.3% in 2021 compared to 2020, according to Billboard-affiliated MRC Data. The uptick started around 2011, when vinyl accounted for only about 2% of physical album sales. Now it’s over 50%, with 42 million vinyl LPs sold in 2021.
Worldwide, about 100 vinyl pressing plants remain to meet that demand, and only 10 are considered large-capacity.
Blame mega-acts such as Adele and Taylor Swift and big retail chains like Target and Urban Outfitters, all of whom are cashing in on the vinyl craze — and forcing smaller artists to wait.
Adele’s “30” was the top-selling vinyl release of 2021 with 318,000 copies sold. Swift had three different titles among vinyl’s top 10 last year.
“The music industry needed a savior when everyone started getting music for free online, and vinyl was it,” said Lazerbeak. “So then all the big companies got in on it, and now we’re seeing things like Taylor Swift as the official ambassador of Record Store Day and [Bruce] Springsteen issuing colored vinyl.”
Independent record scores are getting squeezed by big retailers, too. At the Electric Fetus in Minneapolis, customers had to wait two extra weeks for vinyl copies of Elvis Costello’s new album last month.
“There’s more juggling and planning involved,” said Electric Fetus buyer Jim Novak. Of the 100 or so albums released each week, 10-20% are initially CD-only due to pressing delays, he said.
Steven Williams, head buyer for Down in the Valley record store in Golden Valley, said he stresses over competition from bigger retailers for certain titles.
“That hurts stores like us who have been selling vinyl all along,” said Williams. “Indie stores are literally the reason vinyl made a comeback at all.”
Increased demand is also driving up the wholesale prices of albums, he said: “[I] worry that many customers will simply lose interest in vinyl because they are getting priced out.”
Minneapolis-based CD manufacturer Copycats Media, which also packages vinyl for record companies, is finalizing plans to build Minnesota’s first vinyl pressing plant. Details are expected later this year.
Copycats president Justin Kristal echoed the industry-wide refrain that vinyl delays should stabilize in 2023. “Fortunately, everyone seems to know how big a problem it is, and they’re starting to plan for it better,” said Kristal.
Copycats is telling prospective new clients that if they want vinyl, they’ll have to wait until next year.
“Covid and the supply chain issues around the world are affecting a lot of things we took for granted,” Kristal said, “and it turns out vinyl is one of those things.”
Too bad Copycats’ pressing plant will arrive too late to help the Cactus Blossoms, who’ll launch their tour Wednesday in Boulder, Colo.
“At least we have the preorder option,” said Torrey.