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Vinyl sales prop up independent music


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Hari Sreenivasan: Even with the popularity of streaming music services, last year saw a resurgence in sales of vinyl records. NewsHour Weekend's Christopher Booker has the story.

Christopher Booker: For the first time since 1986, there were more vinyl records sold last year than CDs.

Mac McCaughan: Pressing plants have had trouble keeping up with the volume of records that people have bought over the last year.

Christopher Booker: Mac McCaughan is the cofounder of North Carolina-based independent label Merge Records as well as the frontman for the band Superchunk.

For over 30 years, Merge has released some of the most seminal recordings in indie rock, bands like the Neutral Milk Hotel, Arcade Fire, and the Magnetic Fields.

Despite the pandemic, 2020 turned out to be a good year for the label.

Mac McCaughan: Yes, it's not like a huge jump, but considering that we're kind of predicting a nosedive. It's amazing. And I know personally being stuck at home for all those months gave me a lot more time with my record collection, which is awesome, and gave me a lot of time to learn about artists I didn't know about just by listening to music online and ordering records from not only local stores, but stores all over the country.

Christopher Booker: Ironically, social distance - for lack of a better term, has long been baked into the way the independent music world operates.

Mac McCaughan: People mail ordering music from us has been important to us since we started in 1989, you know. And so while the entire office pretty much has been working at home remotely, the people in our mail order and shipping department, as soon as it was safe to go back into the office and the warehouse, they've been there shipping orders to people and shipping orders to stores.

Christopher Booker: Another surprise boost for Merge, Waxahatchee, the project of singer/songwriter Katie Crutchfiel, had song land on Former President Barack Obama's best of 2020 playlist.

Mac McCaughan: You know if we can only get them to make an all Merge playlist, that might really help us as a label. But for sure, for that Waxahatchee record, St. Cloud, that was a big that boost for that.

Christopher Booker: While the year went better than expected for the label, it wasn't that way for all of the artists. For the younger acts, the ones just starting out, the lockdown year has been a challenge.

Mac McCaughan: Their plan, like many bands' plans, is to go out and tour to promote the record. So, you know, we put out amazing records by bands like Sweet Spirit, Jade Hairpins, Torez, whose tours all got canceled or cut short by the pandemic. And it's really hard to, in the streaming world, to cut through the noise and the massive amount of music that is out there. If you're a new artist and you're trying to kind of break into people's consciousness.

Christopher Booker: What do you think this will do long term to the structure of the independent music world? Have things been forever changed by the last year?

Mac McCaughan: We won't really know until it's been several months post vaccine and we see how things are going in terms of touring and stuff like that and people go back to whatever the new normal is, but I do think that people are really anxious to see their favorite bands again and to obviously see their friends again in those in those situations.

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