Why You Can't Afford Your Favourite Record
For years, fans have been sold the idea that music is inclusive and for the many, whether it be the access to online platforms, such as Spotify or YouTube, or live music. However, the reality of the modern music industry is that we are not automatically entitled to listen: it’s a business, and a profitable one at that.
On multiple occasions I have fallen victim to the phenomenon known as ticket scalping, where people with no intention of using the ticket themselves buy, only to sell on at a vastly inflated price later. The motivation for a quick profit in this business denies music lovers the opportunity to attend. We have all felt that heartache, missing out on our favourite artist because we couldn't justify the exorbitant cost.
Inevitably, this phenomenon isn't merely constrained to tickets: us vinyl lovers have taken the hit too. Much like ticket-scalping, vinyl-scalping means that genuine record collectors face that same heartache: either stump up the extortionate prices or go without.
This reality is all too real, especially online with sites, such as Discogs and eBay. For instance, Four Tet’s new release ‘Question’, which was initially sold for £8.75, is now unapologetically valued on Discogs at £500. The seller’s description is telling: “Perfect condition, unplayed. 1 of only 100 pressed worldwide”. There is nothing unique here: the internet is littered with descriptions of unplayed, rare and limited edition vinyls, all demanding over-inflated price tags.
Finding ourselves priced out of the music we love is infuriating, but we are unsure of where to attribute the blame, whether it be to the vinyl-scalpers or even the record labels. Often labels deliberately press too few records, thereby exploiting the frenzied hype around a new release to maximize their profit. Combine this with the added trend of artists’ refusal to release tracks: Bicep for example, releases into the public domain only a fraction of their completed material, preferring instead to eek it out in a piecemeal way to high profile events, thus intensifying the buzz. This further intensifies the anticipation for new releases, which inevitably translates into higher ticket prices and more demand for the limited records that enter the market. Thus: an inflated bank balance.
“We have all felt that heartache, missing out on our favourite artist because we couldn't justify the exorbitant cost.”
Some, however, argue that this phenomenon is just part and parcel of the industry. Jason Spinks of Kristina Records told PHASER: “although it’s a cynical view… this is what props up the industry. It’s part of vinyl culture, as there've always been people doing this, even before the internet and Discogs. People make too much of [vinyl scalping], and are in some cases entitled. You’ve got to seek records out and you have to pay”.
Bileo’s 1979 You Can Win 7’’ record is valued at £650 on Discogs. Despite this blatant over-valuation, the argument stands that since this is a rare release, only brought to wider acclaim by Motor City Drum Ensemble’s Dekmantel set, the owner is entitled to take advantage of the financial opportunities that a global vinyl marketplace offers.
Should we not ask for more? We are forced to choose between the music we love and our own back pocket. Essentially, fans are increasingly viewed by the industry as mere consumers: our love of music becomes insignificant. It has been suggested by some, that in order to tackle vinyl-scalping, music lovers should boycott the absurdly inflated prices touted on Discogs, and this could yet prove effective. But is it not the label's ethical responsibility to ensure that music remains inclusive, regardless of financial constraints? Barring collective action or a change in the mindset of those releasing records, there is no obvious solution to this issue. Ultimately, it is those in the industry who must solve this problem, and realise that without fans, music is nothing.