Blame Adele. That’s what many retailers said when the popular artist placed an order for 500,000 copies of her November album to be pressed six months in advance, tying up production across the board. But it’s not just Adele; it’s also Coldplay, Abba, and other crossover artists; it’s the fact that one of the world’s few pressing plants burned down; it’s the paucity of such plants in the first place, paired with the cost of replacement parts; it’s COVID; and of course, it’s the increased popularity of vinyl. Some plants are now estimating a 9-12 month lag between ordering and arrival; others are taking orders for 2023. If any of our readers have an intense love of vinyl along with a lot of money and are willing to play the long game, taking a loss for years before making a profit, please open an Amazon-sized vinyl pressing plant!
Pictured above: Daybreak Basements and Broken Hearts, by Earth House Hold (Brock Van Wey / bvdub), released on A Strangely Isolated Place.
The big story in terms of our site (and we suspect for other sites as well) was the opposite: the continued surge in recording and music submissions. For the second year in a row, artists found extra time on their hands to compete long-planned projects. In the Internet era, no one actually knows how many albums are being released each year, but we can make a fair estimate of how many are released in the instrumental world. We receive approximately 140/week (20/day), and see approximately the same number appear on retail sites such as Boomkat and Norman Records, plus even more on Bandcamp; to be conservative, let’s estimate 20 more/day for an annual total of 21,900. We still manage to listen to “our” third, but that’s still a lot of recordings, especially as our staff dwindled in 2021 and our active writers wrote a bit less due to happy occasions such as new jobs and children. We pride ourselves on the fact that a bedroom artist is as likely to be reviewed here as a major artist, but the times are tough for coverage. The brighter side: there’s more great music out there than ever before.
The photo above is taken from the Digital Dust blog, which went on hiatus in 2018. We really hope someone gets in there to organize that music collection!
As for the type of music, the major story continued to be the pandemic. For a couple brief weeks in spring, we thought we saw the light at the end of the tunnel, and imagined a “post-pandemic summer” that never arrived. Almost everything released this year was recorded during and/or informed by the crisis. Many projects were born of isolation or recorded through shared files. Field recordings continued to be crucial to our understanding of a sonically different world. Rock artists continued to record magnificent works without touring, while electronic artists produced an incredible body of work while the clubs were closed. Even orchestral artists found ways to collaborate in the windows between lockdowns. But from start to finish, 2021 was the year of the home listener.
Pictured above: Until We Travel, a curated collection of travel recordings from the vast Cities and Memory archive.
In the year’s final quarter, we began to see signs of real progress (although still no vinyl). Concert halls opened for the vaccinated. Artists began to announce tour dates. Clubs began to move from outdoor traffic parties to indoor DJ events. We still have a long way to go, especially in areas with low access to vaccines. But it’s safe to say that the music we relied upon when we were isolated will find new life as we mingle with each other once more. A huge thank you to everyone who works in the music industry, even if only recording from home and distributing to friends and family. The gift you share is a lifeline to a world in need. (Richard Allen)