BY SARAH BERMAN, OPENFILE.CA
Vancouver has a tradition of local forward-thinking record labels, from Nettwerk to Mint to Scratch Records. But the latest imprint to launch in this city has a new, untested idea: Sizzle Teen Records will forgo the CD format and focus on vinyl and digital sales exclusively.
“If you look at the big guys in the music industry, from Warner Brothers to HMV, they’re all pretty much failing,” says label founder Richie Fudalewski. “From our experience, CDs are not worth it.”
Fudalewski says the Sizzle Teen-signed band Previous Tenants discovered they could barely give away CDs while on tour in 2011. “They just toured Canada, and kids were spending 20 to 30 bucks on vinyl, yet [the band] had a free box of CDs that nobody even looked at.”
“Clearly people don’t want to listen to music that way,” he says.
Meanwhile, on January 23rd, one of British Columbia’s largest CD manufacturers announced it would no longer be producing CDs. The Burnaby-based Spin Digital will shut down operations this month.
“We don’t see a future in the compact disc,” says the company’s director David Jewer. “It’s pretty much run its course.”
After sales dropped off heavily in 2011, Jewer says he’ll refocus his business on mixing and mastering. “It’s disappointing because this is the end of a major era in recording,” he says. “There’s no physical media to replace it.”
While Fudalewski sees a future in pressed vinyl, Jewer says it’s merely a passing fad. “They’re making a big mistake in my opinion, because nobody’s going to be able to play it,” Jewer says, adding that turntables are not common household items anymore.
“Vinyl’s not serious. It makes up less than one half of one percent of global sales.”
But at Zulu Records in Kitsilano, where 12-inch records line the walls, sales are shifting in favour of vinyl. “The vinyl side of things is definitely growing, as the CD side is definitely shrinking,” observes Nicholas Bragg, general manager of Zulu.
Bragg estimates his vinyl sales have risen 10 percent since last year. “But the CD market, believe it or not, actually does still have some strength,” he says.
“To give you an idea, something like Adele—a hugely popular record, sold a million copies in Canada—over 60 percent of their sales are physical. If I had to guess what percentage of that was vinyl, I’d say very little,” he says. “For the demographic that’s into Adele, the logical conclusion is to buy the CD.”
Fudalewski says his label isn’t interested in producing megastars like Adele. With only four bands currently signed to its roster, the start-up is focused on a niche market.
“A lot of bands are just spinning their wheels playing Vancouver bars with 30-year-olds who just want to buy beer and are thinking about their rent,” says Fudalewski. “We want to connect those bands with youth again.”
Last year, rumours circulated that major labels were aiming to phase out the CD format by the end of 2012—reports that Bragg says were unfounded. “We met with the record companies at the beginning of 2012, and they’ve assured us they have no intentions of phasing out the CD,” he says.
Still, Bragg says he believes the future of music and entertainment will reside on the web. “It’s still relatively early days,” he says, citing the recent shutdown of Megaupload. “Certainly it’s an exciting time for young bands to get their name and music out a lot easier on the internet.”
Fudalewski predicts a system of subscription-based music sharing, where customers will pay a lump sum to receive digital albums and merchandise as a package. “It’s a digital era, and people just want honest music.”
Diamond Dancer and Previous Tenants will play a Sizzle Teen launch party at the Railway Club on February 11.
Originally published January 26, 2012. Photo by Carolyn Coles (from Flickr).