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Did record labels really sabotage vinyl on purpose?

Tom Pakinkis
Last Shop Standing

Independent retailers have claimed that record labels deliberately lowered the quality of vinyl records they produced in the Eighties in order to accelerate the popularity of CD.

The opinion is aired by multiple music shop owners speaking in new film Last Shop Standing, which brings together the experiences of independent music retailers from across the country to document ‘the rise, fall and rebirth of the independent record shop’.

“It took a few years but vinyl suddenly vanished and nobody wanted to talk about it. I had two and a half thousand record needles sat in the shop that I put in the bin,” said former High Street retailer and current ERA chairman Paul Quirk.

“We had the shop full of vinyl and we were very committed to it. What frightened us, in a way, was that Woolworth’s was saying, ‘Bring your vinyl, stick it in the bin’. They were devaluing it completely and they were taking their lead from the record companies.”

Graham Jones, who interviewed indie record store owners for the film, which was inspired by his book of the same name, added: “If you go back to the Eighties as well, the vinyl that we had was all recycled vinyl. So the actual quality of vinyl recordings had started to diminish.

“The records were thinner and more flimsy. Everything was designed for us to switch our music collection over to CD.”

Truck Store manager Gary Smith said: “Certainly when I began in the early 80s we would get people bringing in five or six copies of the same album back because there’d be a fault in the vinyl. The 70s vinyl seemed to be fine and the 60s vinyl was fine, it’s just that the stuff in the 80s was really thin and not very good quality.

“CDs are great for their portability and all that, but a lot of the advertising was done on the superior sound quality, which just wasn’t true.”

Speaking to Music Week following a pre-screening of Last Shop Standing in London this week, however, BPI chairman Tony Wadsworth debunked the notion that labels engineered an untimely decline for vinyl. 

“One of the themes that was only touched on in the film was that labels drove out vinyl, which is frankly absurd,” he said. "Whenever I’ve worked for record labels, if something has a demand, you meet that demand, you don’t stop making stuff for which there is still a demand.

“The fact of the matter is that CD was a very popular format and vinyl started to reduce for the mass market. But, there is still a passionate niche market for vinyl, which needs to be met.”

Wadsworth ultimately praised the film, though, for the amount of optimism and enthusiasm it presented from many indies.

“It’s true, there’s an opportunity [in music retail now],” he said. “The shops that have managed to stay in business by various levels of ingenuity are now in a great position to capitalise on that and there seems to be a lot of creative ideas about how to stay in business.”

Last Shop Standing will be released on September 10 with screenings across the UK. More information can be found at lastshopstanding.com

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Tags: Labels, Retail, indies, CD, vinyl

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