Saturday, July 12, 2008

Labels Ramp Up Vinyl Campaigns To Meet Demand

It may have seemed like a fad at first, but the resurgence of vinyl is now turning into a nice niche business for the major labels. With EMI's announcement that it would reissue eight classic albums in the format, all four majors are now onboard the vinyl bandwagon.

EMI will release two Coldplay albums, four Radiohead titles and Steve Miller's "Greatest Hits" on August 19. Universal Music Enterprises will release 20 albums on vinyl this month and an additional 20 at the end of August, while Warner Music Group will issue 24 to 30 albums from its catalog and 10 to 12 new releases from September through the end of the year, according to executives at those companies.

In the independent camp, RED labels will have several hundred vinyl titles by the end of the year, half of which are new releases, RED vice president of indie sales/marketing Doug Wiley said. One of RED's labels, Metal Blade, is reissuing its classic Slayer catalog in deluxe versions, all on colored vinyl with hand-designed blood splatterings on it, Wiley said.

Indie retail started the party, but now some of the chains are carrying vinyl too. In addition to Fred Meyer and Borders, Best Buy has said publicly that it will experiment with carrying LPs.

EMI Music Catalog vice president of A&R and creative Jane Ventom said that the company has always been into vinyl, "but we are getting more into it." She said the move is in response to consumer demand from the iPod generation, baby boomers and audiophiles.

"Music is becoming a social action again," Ventom said. "The kids are now listening to music with their mates instead of on headphones." She added that vinyl allows them to "hear music in its true form."

"People are going back to reliving the way they used to listen to music and they realize that they missed the (album cover) artwork and what a pleasurable listening experience it is," Ventom said.


One of the most important elements to issuing vinyl is sound quality, especially in the MP3 age. That's why Warner Bros. will relaunch its Web site, which touts and sells vinyl and may start offering high-resolution MP3s, according to Warner Bros./Reprise Records executive VP Tom Biery, who heads the label's radio promotion team and oversees its vinyl initiative.

Warner Bros. reissued the first two Metallica albums -- "Kill 'Em All" and "Ride the Lighting" -- on vinyl, and both have passed the 4,000-unit sales mark, according to Nielsen SoundScan. On July 15, the company released "Master of Puppets" on vinyl in two versions.

In September, the label plans to issue a 50th anniversary archive series of vinyl releases, including James Taylor's "Mud Slide Slim," a Rickie Lee Jones album, a Marty Paich album and the Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Blood Sugar Sex Magik." Most of the albums that are issued on vinyl also come with an enclosed CD, Biery said.

The increased interest in vinyl is putting a strain on the handful of pressing plants still left from the format's heyday. "Our vinyl is always late because it gets bumped," Redeye co-owner Tor Hansen said.

"I still have eight machines, and I am currently running at about 75 percent capacity," said plant manager Dave Jump of Nashville's United Records.

The limited pressing network often makes it hard to get vinyl out on the same release date as the CD, but when the stars align, sales can be significant. Warner Bros. offered vinyl and CD on the same day when issuing the Raconteurs' "Consolers of the Lonely" in March; the album sold 42,000 units in its first week, and 3 percent of sales came from the vinyl version.

Looking forward, executives said they want to be aggressive and practical with their vinyl campaigns.

"Everything shouldn't be released on vinyl," WEA (Warner-Elektra-Atlantic) vice president of catalog sales Steve Corbin said. "We want to be selective and smart about what we put out. (But) it's interesting that the consumer sees the value and is willing to pay for vinyl."


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