Minnesota’s favorite artists are starting to pay for the vinyl resurgence.
That includes the Cactus Blossoms, who released a new album on Friday and are eagerly returning to the road to promote it after a two-year tour postponement due to COVID.
Another 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-lead of Retro-Country Harmonizers.
Vinyl manufacturing delays are hampering the music industry worldwide. Pressing factories – many of which were antiquated or completely closed in the heyday of CDs – peaked due to the renewed popularity of 12-inch vinyl records.
Vinyl sales have soared over the past decade, and the pandemic has led to an even bigger spike. Global shipping and supply chain outages have made matters even worse.
So Burkum wasn’t kidding: instead of selling vinyl at concerts, the Cactus Blossoms will be giving away CDs. Do you remember CDs? This includes the group’s three promotional concerts on Saturday at Twin Cities record stores – events that are usually devoted to vinyl.
Vinyl remains the best way for artists to enjoy their recorded music in the era of notoriously low-paying streaming services like Spotify. Yet gigs are an even better source of income.
“We certainly weren’t going to delay the tour any longer than we already had, just to wait for the vinyl,” Burkum bandmate Jack Torrey said.
Other Minnesota artists facing the problem include Dessa and Charlie Parr, who both toured last fall before vinyl editions of their new albums became available.
Dessa began releasing songs from “IDES” online as monthly singles beginning in January 2021. It took 12 installments — a full year — before the tracks could finally be sold on vinyl. Sunday’s concert at First Avenue will be his first with the new vinyl at the merch booth.
“We went to see six different manufacturers and heard the same story from each of them: not until the end of the year”, told his producer Lazerbeak (Aaron Mader).
Even the Smithsonian’s involvement with Parr’s album (on his Folkways label) didn’t help him get it on vinyl any faster. The process that took only about two months “took 11 months from pre-production to getting the product started,” said its manager, Mark Gehring.
Fans of last fall’s shows bought CDs instead — “but I’m sure a lot of them ended up like coasters,” Gehring joked.
Minneapolis indie-rock darlings The Gully Boys have gone even further retro with their latest EP, “Favorite Son.”
“(Vinyl) just wasn’t feasible for us, so we went with cassettes,” said drummer/vocalist Nadirah McGill.
U.S. vinyl sales were up 11.3% in 2021 compared to 2020, according to Billboard affiliate MRC Data. The rise started around 2011, when vinyl accounted for only about 2% of physical album sales. Today, it is more than 50%, with 42 million vinyls sold in 2021.
Worldwide, there are about 100 vinyl pressing plants left to meet this demand, and only 10 are considered high capacity.
Blame mega-acts like Adele and Taylor Swift and big retail chains like Target and Urban Outfitters, all of which are cashing in on the vinyl craze — and forcing smaller artists to wait.
Adele’s “30” was the best-selling vinyl release of 2021 with 318,000 copies sold. Swift had three different vinyl top 10 tracks last year.
“The music industry needed a savior when everyone started getting free music online, and vinyl was,” Lazerbeak said. “So all the big companies got on board, and now we’re seeing things like Taylor Swift as the official Record Store Day ambassador and [Bruce] Springsteen releasing colored vinyl.”
Independent record scores are also crushed by major retailers. At the Electric Fetus in Minneapolis, customers had to wait another two weeks to get vinyl copies of Elvis Costello’s new album last month.
“There’s more juggling and planning,” said Electric Fetus buyer Jim Novak. Of the roughly 100 albums released each week, 10 to 20 percent are initially CD-only due to pressing delays, he said.
Steven Williams, chief buyer of Down in the Valley record store in Golden Valley, said he insisted on competition from larger retailers for certain titles.
“It hurts stores like us who have been selling vinyl since the beginning,” Williams said. “Indie stores are literally the reason vinyl has made a comeback.”
The increased demand is also driving up wholesale prices for albums, he said: “[I] worry that many customers will simply lose interest in vinyl because they are overpriced.”
Minneapolis-based CD maker Copycats Media, which also packages vinyl for record labels, 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 backlogs should level off in 2023. “Luckily everyone seems to know what a problem this is and they’re starting to plan it better,” Kristal said.
Copycats tells potential new customers that if they want vinyl, they’ll have to wait until next year.
“COVID and supply chain issues around the world are affecting a lot of things that we used to take for granted,” Kristal said, “and it turns out vinyl is one of those things.”
Too bad the Copycats pressing plant is too late to help the Cactus Blossoms, who kick off their tour next Wednesday in Boulder, Colorado.
“At least we have the pre-order option,” Torrey said.
Cactus Blossoms Record Store Blitz
Mill City Sound: Saturday noon, 812 Mainstreet, Hopkins.
Down in the Valley: 3 p.m. Saturday, 8020 Olson Memorial Hwy., Golden Valley.
Electric Fetus: 6:00 p.m., Saturday 2000, 4th Avenue. S., deputies.