So far the 2000s edition of the roaring 20s has been anything but. The effects of the pandemic have been wide-reaching, touching nearly everything you can think of. The music world is no exception.
For the past few years, the Discogs Database has indicated a steady increase in the volume of new releases put out each year. About a quarter of all the releases in the database were released in the past decade. About 280,000 new releases were cataloged in the database last year alone. So with supply chains, release date delays, and other interruptions in the music world, how do we expect to see this reflected in the database? Is this how a new decade starts: not with a bang but a whimper?
The Impact Of Supply Chain Disruptions To Releases Added To Discogs
Each year, the number of new releases added to the Discogs database is growing. Items added to the database in the same year they’re released generally make up for about 15% of the total volume of submissions a year.
This year, we’ve noticed the volume of new release submissions are lower than what we’d expect to see by this time. While it’s not massively off, looking at the upwards trajectory of new release submissions from earlier years, we’d expect it to be higher.
This is compounded by the fact that submissions have been higher than ever over the past few months. So far, we’ve seen just under 460,000 submissions added to the database this year. That puts the proportion of new releases at about 11% – several points lower than any year over the past 10.
Where Are New Releases Getting Held Up?
Of course, with life as we know it kind of on hold right now, it only makes sense that our record collections and the data going into Discogs would be affected as well. The effects of the pandemic and subsequent shelter-in-place orders have had a significant impact on record stores, artist release schedules, distributors, shipping, events, and everything surrounding releasing new music.
The slowed distribution of new music into ears and collections isn’t great for anyone, but it’s fascinating to see the effects of a global event reflected in the data entered into Discogs. We weren’t able to find any other ghosts of current affairs in Discogs data up until this point – the closest we could think of was the late-2000s recession or 2010’s travel disruptions from Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull eruption, but if there was an interruption in the flow of music it must have recovered quick enough to go unnoticed in the database. If you can think of an event that might have impacted the data or have seen anything to suggest it, we’d love to get into it.
Pressing Plants Mostly Still Operational
According to the Vinyl Alliance, for the most part, vinyl pressing plants are still operational, though some may be working at a slightly lower capacity than usual and are facing decreased orders. “The biggest issue is the broken supply chain. Lockdown of air travel and reduced transport capacities led to a sharp increase in shipping rates and delays. Transport between pressing plants, dealers and end customers is becoming expensive, even if there is demand.” Robert Morgan-Males, CEO of Audio-Technica Europe explained.
Speaking to the CEO of Deepgrooves pressing plant in Leeuwarden in the Netherlands, Chris Roorda (also of Deeptrax Records), he noted that business took a hit in early March when the impact of the coronavirus was first starting to be felt in Europe. Business quickly recovered in subsequent weeks, albeit with some tweaks to operations. “At the moment we are almost on the same level as we were in February with a completely different approach. Because of the restrictions in the Deepgrooves vinyl pressing plant, all our office crew except from one, is working from out of their homes and the working force in the pressing plant has been reduced because of safety reasons. This abnormal situation is taking a lot of flexibility and creativity because a lot of suppliers are closed, but we do have different routes and are flexible enough to cope the current situation.”
It’s a situation that demands ingenuity, which they’re leaning into to best serve the community of artists and labels desperate to get a physical product out to support their income streams, and music fans hungry for new music and a relief from boredom. “At the moment we are expanding our business with more pressing machines so we can serve more and different products in a faster and even more eco-friendly way than before… We feel obliged to offer these services as an extra, to help each other out and to overcome the direct occurring distribution problems. We are also offering split payments towards our customers to help them, so they can offer it already by pre-order.”
Delays In Album Release Dates
While it seems pretty straightforward to put an album out in the digital age, there’s a lot of unseen steps that go into releasing an album. Because of the sheer volume of music being released on a daily basis, artists and labels obviously want to do everything in their power to stand out from the crowd. That includes shooting music videos (usually done months in advance), locking in TV appearances, tours, festival dates, press, and anything to keep awareness up in the public eye. Without the typical access to press and promotional engagements, many big artists have instead opted to push back their album release dates.
On the other hand, some artists who have chosen to stick with their release dates for new albums may have benefited from the stemmed volume of new releases, getting more eyes and ears on their output.
Record Store Day Releases Temporarily Off The Table
The postponement of Record Store Day is another blow to the new release schedule. Originally slated for April 18, shelter-in-place measures saw plans for RSD pushed back to June 20. Earlier this week it was announced that RSD would be delayed even further and split over days in three months; August 29, September 26, and October 24.
That’s resulted in the hold up of another sizeable and usually reliable wave of new releases and reissues that would have been added to the database by now. However, with the announcement of new RSD dates – or drops, as they’re referred to on their website – came the promise of additions to be made to the official list of releases coming out especially for the day. That new list is due to be announced on June 1, so we may get even more new releases than originally anticipated.
Will The Number Of New Releases Bounce Back?
Assuming some semblance of normality returns over the coming months (if there’s a God, please make it soon) this drop in new releases may be just a blip that’s superseded by a surge in new releases come fall. With so much uncertainty – not just in the music industry, but the world at large – it’s impossible to say whether 2020 will stand out in the database as the first year in memory we saw fewer new releases. Time will tell.
In the meantime, thank you to all the contributors who’ve been busy submitting releases to the Discogs database – whether they’re new or they’ve been out for a while (or a long time). And thanks to the artists releasing new music and keeping us sane!