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Re-birth of Vinyl Records, Supported by Streaming Generation


Sony Music Entertainment (SME) has announced that it will resume the production of vinyl records, aiming to start distribution in March 2018.

It has been 29 years since the last press left their vinyl factory in Japan.  The demand for vinyl is booming around the world, but the stocks available in the market are mostly second hand.  SME is looking to capitalise on this market growth, and take the opportunity to make sure that the knowledge of vinyl production is preserved.

Last Chance to Retain the Equipment and Knowledge

Sony Music Studio Tokyo in Nogizaka brought numerous hits and masterpieces to the world over the years.  In February this year, Sony installed a cutting machine to record the sound onto a disc in this very studio.  Here, musicians can instantly groove the master vinyl record to the highest quality with the help of digital technology.  “Finally, we can work on great sound quality again.”

The demand for vinyl has increased significantly in recent years, but the availability of equipment and technicians is in sharp decline.  One of Sony’s employee had to fly to the USA to purchase a used cutting machine.  Many of the sound technicians have already retired, with only a few left.  SME asked retired engineers and those from rival companies to work with them.

SME has already established a vinyl-only music label, but the production is contracted out to specialist companies inside and outside of Japan.  This operation has been limiting the number of available records, restricting sales.  This supply shortage made SME step up its own production.

The factory which re-starts vinyl production is Sony DADC Japan in Shizuoka prefecture.  By River Ooi, this factory was founded by late Norio Ooga, former CEO of Sony Japan.  As a trained Baritone singer (he studied in Germany and befriended Herbert von Karajan), his career in Sony was dedicated to the technology which would preserve and reproduce the best sound.  He spearheaded the development and commercialisation of the CD.  Ironically, his very success in the new technology forced the shift in the factory’s focus from vinyl production to CDs, and subsequently optical discs for software for computer games.

Not Nostalgia, Genuine Choice

Mr Mizuno, current CEO of Sony Music Entertainment says, “Vinyl records will never cease to exist”.  He believes that the ease of access to music through streaming service contributed to the recent boom in vinyl sales.  By purchasing vinyl records, the music consumers OWN their favourite piece of music. On top of this, the warm sound of vinyl which was lost in the process of digitalisation is sensational, and the time a listener spends on the process of laying the disc on the turntable and carefully dropping the needle is priceless.

The artistic quality of covers is also a contributing factor.  Vinyl covers are always treated as art, as they can carry statements of the musicians and artists involved.  Some became an icon of the era, one of the most famous examples being “London Calling” by The Clash.

In the USA, vinyl record covers are on display in numerous fashionable clothing and lifestyle stores, and 70% of their customers are under 35-year-olds who are digital natives.  In the UK, there is a Vinyl official weekly chart, which is a mix of re-release and new-release, though still dominated by classic records, such as Bob Marley and Beatles.

In Japan, Tower Record Shibuya revived Pied Piper House, a legendary vinyl store which was the epicentre of Japanese pop music in the 70s and 80s. It started as a pop-up event in June 2016 and attracted a lot of interest from young customers.  The popularity proved to be persistent, and so it is currently a semi-permanent “event” with a rolling extension.

Being with the Market Trend and Leading It

Japan may be a unique market when the streaming services dominate the world.  CD and Vinyl, called “Package”, still dominate 73.5% of music consumption.  Record Industry Association Japan hopes to increase this package market with more releases of new vinyl records.  In 2016, it sold 790,000 discs, an eight-fold increase in 10 years, but it only constitutes 1.5% of total music “package” sales.  It is a very hard task to bring this analogue technology back into the mainstream market, but Mr Mizuno believes in providing a variety of ways to enjoy music for consumers, from streaming to vinyl.  It would enrich musical life.

At the moment, he is keeping to himself the name of the artist who will release the very first revival production.  Fans have to be patient, just like taking time to enjoy the run-up to the moment you drop the needle.

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