As the Vinyl Boom Continues, Unified MFG Is Helping Indie Artists Catch Up

The California-based manufacturer is intent on making vinyl sustainable — both for artists and the environment
As the Vinyl Boom Continues, Unified MFG Is Helping Indie Artists Catch Up
No, the peak of the vinyl record resurgence wasn't when even Sears (R.I.P.) started selling Fleetwood Mac's Rumours LP — the biggest sonic boom is actually upon us right now, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), vinyl record sales in the US increased by nearly 30 percent in 2020. In 2021, record sales are expected to surpass those of CDs for the first time since the late '80s.

This unprecedented demand — alongside supply-chain disruptions and increased manufacturing prices — has created a worldwide vinyl shortage. The price of the polyvinyl chloride (PVC) that records are made of has skyrocketed 70 percent during the pandemic [via the Associated Press], with the material's use in manufacturing certain medical devices contributing to its increasing shortages.

The market is equally oversaturated with demand and unable to meet supply needs. In an article for DigitalMusicNews, Independent Commodity Intelligence Services' head of North America, Jeremy Pafford, was quoted saying, "There isn't one thing wrong [with the vinyl market]. It's kind of whack-a-mole: something goes wrong, it gets sorted out, then something else happens. And it's been that way since the pandemic began."

In 2020, the newfangled trade association Vinyl Alliance identified the broken supply chain as the biggest issue facing the industry. Early last year, there was also a devastating fire at Apollo Masters Corp — a California-based company that's one of two suppliers in the world of the lacquer masters necessary for pressing records. They previously supplied 80 percent of the lacquer masters, leaving the remaining smaller Japan-based company as the only manufacturer.

Taylor Swift shattered vinyl sales records with the pressing of her second pandemic album evermore, but indie records much cooler than hers from independent artists and labels are really getting the short end of the stick — to the point where some are turning away from the format, according to a report by Pitchfork. They've had no choice, with turnaround times for pressings ranging from eight months to a year, compared to the two-to-three months of times of lower demand. (Plus, musicians are already struggling to bring in a steady income with touring still shaky and a lack of government support.)

Unified MFG is working to turn that trend around. The vinyl/CD manufacturer, based in California, is cutting that wait time in half, as well as offering further discounts for indie labels and artists. Even in these unprecedentedly challenging times, their wait times are 18 to 19 weeks; less than five months. The estimated cost for their order-minimum of 100 units of custom vinyl records is $1,850 USD — the same factory-direct prices afforded to major labels, satisfaction guaranteed or your money back.

They're able to offer these prices through the money they save on advertising to the general public. Clearly, word has still gotten around: Unified MFG has produced projects for superstar clients like Beyonce, DMX, Slayer, Megan Thee Stallion, Ringo Starr, Barack Obama, Stevie Wonder, Sheryl Crow and Rob Zombie.

Established in 2007 by CEO James Hill, a veteran of the music industry with past gigs at Warner Reprise Records and Interscope/Geffen, the company circumvents the vinyl industry's broken supply chain by being a one-stop shop. They do everything in-house and effectively cut out the middle man. Vinyl pressing is also just one of the services available, alongside manufacturing CDs and DVDs, short-run custom packaging, T-shirt and poster printing, and more.

Unified MFG produces high-quality, long-lasting products — with proper care, you can play a vinyl record 1,000 times. But what really sets them apart is their dedication to building brands for artists, which they see as a collaborative process. As a client, they empower you to articulate your artistic vision with an entirely customizable and easy-to-use online ordering system. You can articulate your artistic vision without compromising on any of the specifications; choose everything, from colours to jackets and from sleeves to weight.

The steps are easy to follow and you can quickly receive a free, instant quote for your order. Responsive customer service representatives are able to help you through the whole process — from placing your order to receiving and approving your test pressings to receiving the final product for your eager fans.

And they're equally dedicated to being accommodating to the environment. Unified MFG manufacture everything with 100 percent wind energy and utilize soy-based inks, and they donate a portion of their yearly profits to environmental organizations.

A lot of innovation is still called for with finding more eco-friendly materials to use and developing new ways to produce vinyl — like the eight Dutch companies working on the Green Vinyl Records initiative, looking to make recyclable records based on an injection moulding principle instead of pressing, reducing energy usage by up to 70 percent — but Unified MFG is at the fore of the industry for a reason. They understand the consumer's values, and are striving for sustainability before new technologies even allow for complete transformation.

They know that people still want physical music media — and although digital audio files seem virtual to us, there are infrastructures of data storage, processing and transmission that have potentially higher greenhouse gas emissions than PVC's carcinogens. Streaming still contributes to our carbon footprints, whether or not the waste is as immediately apparently. Unified MFG lets your music leave a lasting imprint for years to come.