I’m Sorry, But No More Vinyl.
This post is going to sting a lot of my readers, so let me introduce a previous version of myself. I used to frequent record shops in South Chicago and flip through old jazz, gospel, funk, and house records on a weekly basis. The most exciting part of that experience is that a lot of the stuff were white-labels, basically test pressings that labels discarded, or less commonly, an acid house track that was meant to be DJ’d once in the early era of raves. Then I transformed into the type of guy that would arrive to a new city on tour, and spend my little free time doing nothing but browsing record stores. They usually had the same crap, and I’d buy what I didn’t already have, only to have to babysit it for the next 3 weeks until it could be forever shelved into my collection. I contributed too! I lobbied hard for vinyl releases of much of my music in the 2000’s, and I felt like holding a 12″ sleeve with my record in it was some kind of trophy. I became obsessed with library music (and still am), and collected everything from Bruton to KPM to Coloursound score music.
Then, in 2008. I moved across town. My record collection weighed hundreds of pounds, and I quickly realized that if it wasn’t on display in my living room, it was borderline worthless as I had a habit of digitizing something after buying it so I could enjoy it literally anywhere that wasn’t in front of a turntable. It didn’t take long for me to realize that if 500 records took up this much space and resources, then every one of my releases took up a nearly identical amount of space and resources. That’s like, a small warehouse of vinyl, and the majority of it was recorded digitally!
Cutting vinyl became too expensive to make profit unless you were selling many thousands of copies, and I disregarded it as I no longer had a relationship with a record label anyway.
Vinyl sales are up. Way up. It’s like, this natural movement back to recorded music’s roots, man. Not a day goes by where someone doesn’t send me a message somewhere asking for me to re-release music on vinyl, or where someone doesn’t tell me that I absolutely should “cash in” on this vinyl craze.
I call bullshit. Yeah, vinyl sales are way up, and it’s because crude oil prices are way down. Record labels found reborn profit to be had in a format that, in most ways, bypasses piracy. More bands release vinyl, and more people buy vinyl. Dinosaur bones are on a closeout sale, and weirdly, the same people who will buy a Prius are replacing a hard drive full of music with shelves of vinyl.
I’m not what you would consider an environmentalist by any means. I eat meat, I drive a medium sized SUV, and I run the AC at a solid 74°F. But vinyl is made of really nasty shit.
The magic material, since the 70’s anyway, is polyvinyl chloride, or PVC as the kids call it. If you break down PVC, you get deadly chlorine gas and heavy metals. Its service life also comes into question. Without lead used as a stabilizer, you can expect your family to be absorbing toxic particles from your vinyl collection as it ages. It’s shown that when used as a plasticizer (phthalates, as the kids call it), it increases the prevalence of asthma and allergies in households¹. All the way back in the 70’s, before we moved hazardous manufacturing processes overseas where nobody seems to sue their employers, factories creating PVC were directly linked to cancer in their floor employees². Most of the automobile industry has stopped using phthalates in cars, healthcare providers are beginning ban the use of PVC in their facilities, and the EU started regulating its use and environmental impact since 2000.
TL;DR – Vinyl is entirely made of toxic stuff that is nearly impossible to recycle on a consumer level, and very dangerous and inefficient to recycle on an industrial level.
And yes, lots of stuff uses PVC. It’s virtually unavoidable in the developed world at this time. What irks me is that vinyl isn’t necessary in 2017. It’s a decoration or homage to your love of music. Last year, fed up with being asked to reprint vinyl, I polled my fans and crowdfunded a 3xLP release of Soundtrack To A Vacant Life. I simply wanted to give my fans what they wanted, and I barely made a profit. I personally thought it sounded inferior, despite weeks remastering the digital recordings and poo-pooing the test pressings quite a few times and starting over. Oddly, I didn’t regret this decision until the fraction of copies I allocated for selling on tour and Alphabasic arrived. Box after box arrived at my doorstep, and the stacks got wider and higher. A box that could fit 75 recyclable CDs held 4 LP sets. Every single one of these was either going to be dragged with me on tour, or put into yet another box of its own and shipped to my customers. And for what, a decoration?
My music is responsible for thousands of large, virtually non-recyclable discs made from toxic materials that mostly sound inferior to the digital recordings that were meant for digital reproduction. I’ve been waiting for a time when I can move on from CDs while making my CDs carbon-neutral in the meantime, so what the hell was I doing making all this vinyl of an 8 year old album? Listening to music doesn’t have to pollute the environment. So why are we choosing to do so? Because marketing, that’s why. Me writing this is counter-productive, as I have the remaining vinyl for sale right now in my store. But there’s literally nothing else I can do with it. It’s here, on this planet, until it slowly breaks down into toxic garbage. If you want it, buy it. I’m the shortsighted asshole who made it exist.
I’m writing all of this for 2 reasons:
1. I want my fans to understand exactly why I will not be making anymore vinyl. The special edition of Piety For Ashes is actually carbon negative, and part of the reason I made it is, well, a sort of a compromise or peace offering to vinyl collectors.
2. I don’t want to make anyone feel bad, but in the future, I do want my fans to think about how much they really want to buy that LP rather than a lossless digital file. After all, I can relate to the love of vinyl as a former LP junkie.
But as the saying goes: Nothing delivers beautiful music like a giant wad of poly(1-chloroethene).
Edit: I’m getting a whole lot of messages from vinyl defenders (waxsplainers?), and I want to address the most common argument:
“My house uses PVC for the drinking water. It’s not deadly!”
1. Polyvinyl chloride is widely proven to be a carcinogen.
2. Most “PVC” pipes used today are PEX, not polyvinyl chloride. It hasn’t been legal to use actual PVC pipes in hot/cold water distribution for 40 years.
3. Many places (Chicago, NYC, Florida off the top of my head) do not approve PVC, CPVC, or PEX in any plumbing outside of wastewater and sewage. I don’t have the data for this, but I’d bet that places allowing plastic-grade pipes for potable water are in the vast minority.
4. Polyvinyl chloride pipes, since 1977, have different makeups that are heavily tested and regulated (look for the labels NSF-61, NSF-PW).
5. Heavy metals (even lead) are used as a stabilizer in PVC, which is limited and regulated in plumbing, but not at all in the production of LPs.
6. PVC is notoriously difficult and dangerous to break down and recycle. It can be done in highly sophisticated facilities, but incinerating it releases hydrochloric acid, among many other nasty things that most recycling plants aren’t equipped to deal with, so they toss PVC aside into the landfill.
If you can find a consumer recycling facility that dares touch the stuff, let me know. But in the meantime, we’re stuck with shitty suggestions.