Key Production CEO Karen Emanuel talks physical music trends for 2024

Key Production CEO Karen Emanuel talks physical music trends for 2024

With sales growth continuing for vinyl and even CD seeing a rise in sales revenue in the past year, there’s a positive mood in the physical sector for the year ahead. 

The BPI reported that vinyl LP sales increased for the 16th consecutive year in 2023, growing at their fastest rate this decade with an 11.8% rise to 6.1 million units. Meanwhile, the annual rate of decline for CD slowed to its lowest level since 2015, dropping by 6.9% to 10.8 million units. 

In revenue terms, there was even better news for CD, with ERA reporting the first year-on-year increase in sales for the first time in 20 years.

Karen Emanuel is the CEO and founder of Key Production Group, a leading manufacturer for vinyl pressing, design and packaging. Founded in 1990, the company has been at the forefront of manufacturing vinyl, cassettes, CDs, DVDs and bespoke products for the music industry.

Here, she offers up her top predictions on what to expect from the vinyl market and other physical releases in 2024…

1. The backlog has cleared, vinyl will go from strength to strength  

Vinyl sales have been on the up and that growth will continue into 2024. In fact, the vinyl industry is in the best place it’s been for years. Recently it had been impacted by various factors which caused huge backlogs on orders as demand far outweighed supply. Processes were slow, minimum orders were high and increased prices were paid to compete here. This actually happened during Covid when artists were releasing more and fans couldn’t go to shows and festivals so were buying more physical to connect with the artists. Also, labels were pressing a lot of their back catalogue to keep up with unprecedented demand and there simply wasn’t capacity along with dreadful supply chain issues. As a result of this backlog, with it taking nine months to make a piece of vinyl, some smaller artists stopped releasing on vinyl. 

That’s all behind us now as the backlog has been completely cleared and the process of pressing vinyl and distributing it is smoother than ever. New pressing factories have opened, and others have increased the number of machines, resulting in much increased capacity. As a result, supply can now meet demand and we’ll see the industry begin to realise this with more artists releasing more music on vinyl. Vinyl isn’t going anywhere!  

2. Vinyl will weigh less, and CDs will lose the jewel box, as production becomes more sustainable 

The methods of producing and packaging records will become more sustainable. As a Certified B Corp, we ensure sustainable practices across our business and we’re starting to see new trends in this space being adopted by the industry. For example, records will be pressed to 140 rather than 180 grams. It doesn’t sound much, but saving 40 grams per record uses less substrate, which on a mass-scale hugely reduces the carbon footprint, both in production and wholesale distribution. While 180 grams might feel better in your hand, having a lighter record has little to no discernible difference in sound. 

Supply can now meet demand and we’ll see more artists releasing more music on vinyl

Karen Emanuel

There is also research being made into alternative compounds for record manufacture (for example bioplastics) as well as alternative manufacturing processes, all with a view to making the whole process more sustainable.

Currently a few factories are offering an alternative compound which has a much improved carbon footprint. It replaces the fossil fuel part of PVC with biofuel instead. While this is currently a little more expensive, with enough take-up it should become the norm. Chemically it’s exactly the same material, so there are no problems with the sound quality of playability.

Factories are also using regrind to make new records and research is being done for a way to process old vinyl to make new compound, which is very exciting. While for CDs, we’ll begin to see traditional jewel boxes slowly phased out for cardboard packaging.

These practices will become more commonplace in 2024 as the industry pushes to reduce its carbon footprint, and as more players enter the market, we’ll see newer types of sustainable materials emerge. However, companies must be responsible here! It’s crucial they understand the correct language to back up their sustainable work and crucially don’t greenwash their practices.  

3. The influence of K-pop, combining physical releases with digital via ‘SMinis’ 

People love vinyl because it’s physical. Nothing beats holding the sleeve in your hand, pulling out the record and carefully placing the needle down. Vinyl, like cassettes and CDs are ornaments of our love for music – it’s a connection to the artists we adore. But what if there are other ways we can carry music and still keep the physical object as an ornament or memento?  

Well…the K-pop scene is certainly leading the way here. ‘SMinis’, which are essentially small keyrings that look like mini CDs, are being used for fans to enjoy their music. A QR code leads you to a download link whereby you can play the music linked to the ‘SMini’. They are collectable and unique to the artist and it allows fans the chance to buy something physical that’s not vinyl, cassette or CD. These ‘SMinis’ are creative and personal to the artist and can then be kept by fans as memorabilia, just like we would any other physical release. I think we’ll begin to see the UK market adapt to this trend, as it combines the physical and digital in a creative and exclusive way. 

4 Records will become more varied in colours and effects 

Vinyl records are becoming more and more unique with the use of different colours and effects. Record collectors love limited-edition vinyl that are theirs and theirs only and with the effects available, records can be unique to the buyer. This demand is driving more variation in vinyl production.   

So I think we’ll see more coloured vinyl next year with more creative designs. We’ll start to see effects such as splatters and image prints across the records. Artists now have the ability to try out different colourways, effects and new designs that will offer their releases more character, creativity and exclusivity.  


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