Vinyl vs Covid: How vinyl survived in Melbourne during the pandemic

Vinyl vs Covid: How vinyl survived in Melbourne during the pandemic

Vinyl Melbourne
Words by Niam Hegarty

It’s a pretty obvious statement that the music industry has been hit extremely hard by Covid, yet one section of the music industry that has been able to grow - and in some cases thrive - in these strange times has been the world of vinyl and vinyl collecting.

During the pandemic I came out of vinyl collecting retirement and began buying physical music again. I was interested if others had felt the same urge to jump off the couch and head back towards the turntable.

A common problem in the world of vinyl seems to be pressing times, with pressing plants facing huge backlogs due to the pandemic. In some cases, smaller labels were waiting six months to get a record pressing back.

But Melbourne’s responded to supply and demand. The long running Zenith Records plant in Brunswick is the established name, with Program Records the first new vinyl pressing plant in Victoria in 30 years to open recently. Small Run offers lathe cut records for those looking for smaller quantities.

There are dozens of vinyl retailers in Melbourne, no shortage for whatever your taste or persuasion. Some recently opened stores include Funky Duck Vinyl, where you can literally order vinyl and booze pairings online to be delivered within the hour, and SoundMerch, a storefront with a great selection of vinyl that opened in Collingwood only a few weeks ago.

With new vinyl stores opening regularly in Melbourne to add to the healthy number of established spots, there is notably no shortage of options for music fans, despite Melbourne suffering through the world’s longest series of lockdowns. But why?

I spoke to Zach at vinyl retailer Oh Jean Records and Jake from Damaged Records (label and online store) about the state of physical music and vinyl during these crazy times.

Read more features about the Melbourne music industry here.

Zach, Oh Jean Records

Oh Jean Records

Vinyl sales are always strong, I mean, it feels like it’s the main format people are after these days. If anything lockdowns shone a spotlight on records as an investment in yourself. A tangible product you can play, cherish, and hold onto forever.

With money not being spent on more perishable items, people started investing in their collections, so I would say online traffic ramped up dramatically in that sense.

I think the world of vinyl can always be improved, reducing overall costs is the biggest point to look at, and whether there are enough resources to fulfil worldwide demand, otherwise I’d say it’s in a healthy place.

I am a record collector first and foremost. I have been collecting records from around the world for over 30 years, and that history is part of my drive. I think it’s easy to see when people aren’t invested with that passion, for me it burns bright.

I think for record nerds like myself, there is the endless search, never any sense of being complete, so that drives you to keep digging. I just love going to record stores and discovering something new or even just feeling nervous optimism in the potential of finding those ‘holy grail’ items we all have in our head.

Jake, Damaged Records

Damaged Records

We all know how artists have been affected by the pandemic and fans still want to be able to support their favourite artists directly. Purchasing vinyl or merchandise is a great way to put money right into the pockets of artists. Considering we’re all stuck at home, there is a lot more time to spin vinyl and kill that boredom – it’s a real homebody activity.

There are also just a lot of great bands / labels popping up (especially in Melbourne) that’s making for a really exciting time in local music.

I think we’ve been lucky to a degree as a label. Considering we’re almost full-time musicians and tour up to 6 months of the year in Clowns, being stuck at home this year presented the unique opportunity to work on the label harder.

I like collecting vinyl in the same way that some people like collecting books. It’s a physical thing that you can hold in your hands, see the artwork in the way it’s meant to be seen, read, and put it on your shelf to be proud of.

I feel like I sometimes ALMOST get the same sense of euphoria blasting vinyl through crisp and warm speakers on a Friday night over a couple of beers as I do watching a live band (big call).

Perhaps, most importantly, if you’re a big band/music nerd like me, there’s often a lot of information about the band or record written on the jacket or insert. I love nerding out on bands, how they came to be, who they listened to, the scenes they participated in, the labels they were involved with and how they contributed to the ecosystem of music – it’s all connected in some way and I love bridging those connections.

I’d say it’s this obsession that keeps me invested in running a label, it’s creating my own history and contributing to a music community that is very exciting to me.

Check Oh Jean Records out on Nicholson Street in Fitzroy. Damaged Record co and Agency is run by the folks from Clowns. Check them out here.