Music fans who came of age in the 1980s remember the popularity of Michael Jackson’s music. His Thriller album spent a record 37 weeks atop Billboard’s album chart, and 80 weeks in the chart’s top 10. Jackson’s album has since crossed another threshold, selling a record 100 million copies worldwide, according to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA; Washington, DC). Thriller reached that milestone with the help of a different kind of record—the vinyl LP.
Thriller albums purchased in Europe probably were pressed in the Netherlands. A plant in Haarlem, first opened in 1958, went on to become CBS Records’ most important vinyl production facility in Europe, according to Record Industry, the company that now owns the site. During vinyl’s heyday in the 1970s and 1980s, the facility pressed more than 50 million records annually. Record Industry says the Haarlem site pressed more than 35 million Thriller records.
|Ton Vermeulen, owner of Record Industry, and employees inspect some recent pressings.|
Record Industry acquired the pressing plant from Sony Music Entertainment in 1998, a time when compact disc sales had all but replaced vinyl. But the Dutch plant found new life as consumer tastes returned to vinyl. CDs, made from polycarbonate, still make up the lion’s share of the market for physical forms of music, albeit a declining one. Record shipments, however, are on the rise.
Brooklyn-based Brooklynphono is also riding that wave. One of a little more than a dozen pressing plants left in the United States, according to ABC News, the company was founded nearly 15 years ago, catering to struggling artists. The owners are singing a different tune today. “In the past we could turn a record around in three to four weeks, and now it takes us fourteen weeks to get our client the product,” co-owner Fern Vernon-Bernich told ABC News.
For 2014, the most recent full-year figures available from the RIAA, music labels shipped 13.2 million vinyl LPs and EPs, up 41% compared with 2013. Vinyl’s 14% market share in 2014 marked the first year since 1987 that records represented a double-digit percentage of the market for physical music, the association says. Vinyl’s growth trend continues. The RIAA’s first-half 2015 figures show that vinyl shipments were up 42.8% compared to the first six months of 2014.
Record Industry owner Ton Vermeulen, a former DJ, is responding to demand by adding extra shifts. His company is now capable of making 30,000 records a day, and it still has capacity to expand. “I’m convinced there is a group of music lovers who want to own their music, and the traditional LP format just feels right to them,” Vermeulen says. Or, to put it another way, vinyl still spins them “right round, baby, right round.”