Why Are Independent Artists and Labels Turning Away From Vinyl?

Faced with interminable manufacturing delays, some of music’s DIY players are giving up on the beloved format.

Forgive the sound of a broken record: Vinyl’s comeback is still going strong. Streaming may be today’s dominant music format, but revenues from vinyl albums are on track to top a staggering $1 billion in 2021, up from $626 million last year. Even as vinyl sales scale new heights, though, the type of smaller labels and artists who once helped kickstart the comeback a decade ago are starting to bow out.

Production capacity—already strained before the pandemic—has been especially squeezed since COVID-19 lockdowns disrupted supply chains; the global demand for vinyl albums was recently estimated at twice the available supply. With giant retailers like Walmart, Target, and Amazon now embracingvinyl, and multi-colored special editions from huge pop stars like Harry Styles and Billie Eilish crowding pressing plants, turnaround times for independent artists can range from eight months to a whole year—up from two to three months in times of less demand.

Complaints about lengthy vinyl production schedules are nearly as old as the vinyl revival itself, but this time feels different. Several self-released artists and DIY label owners contacted by Pitchfork describe moving away from vinyl, largely due to pandemic-era manufacturing slowdowns. “This vinyl turnaround crisis is by miles the worst I’ve ever known it,” says Britt Brown, co-founder of the L.A.-based experimental imprint Not Not Fun and house-oriented sister label 100% Silk. “It raises the question if the format will even continue to be viable.”