Man holding a copper record that he has just pressed

Hot take: Greek vinyl enthusiast Jesus Agnew holding a copper-plated record worth about $600 and made using the DMM method

Vinyl has been saved from extinction thanks to music geeks, according to new research from Warwick Business school.

New research has shown that innovations in vinyl production by music anoraks in the 1980s and 1990s, which were written off at the time as commercial failures, have kept the production of the plastic discs alive.

Rene Wiedner, Associate Professor of Organisation Theory, said it’s not just revived demand which has kept vinyl flying off the shelves, but also innovations in their production.

He said: “This is a great example of how a technology many wrote off can survive and thrive decades later.

“With vinyl’s comeback in recent years, it’s the knowledge and innovations of record aficionados, which many dismissed as a waste of time, that has kept the supply of analogue discs going. There’s more life in old tech than we might expect!”

The old style format has surged in popularity in recent years, with huge artists like Taylor Swift and Billie Eilish producing limited edition vinyl for superfans.

Devotees to the black disc around the world began experimenting and producing records when they fell out of popularity.

Some of these people have gone on to become experts, providing their own hand-made components as well as consulting work for companies that produce much of the world’s vinyl records today.

Why do music fans love collecting vinyl?

Annie Slinn, from Northampton, is part of the new generation of dedicated collectors. She explained why it’s a special form of music for her, saying: “I love vinyl because it connects me with my childhood, spent listening to music on my dad’s record player. Many of my records are of my late mums, so it’s connecting me with her too.

“I am drawn by the album artwork which you can’t appreciate half as much while streaming and have a few up on my walls as decorations too. As a David Bowie fan, many of my records are originals from the 1970s and 1980s - I love the authenticity.

“When my favourite band released their album last year, they sold multiple formats of vinyl, all different colours based on where you bought the record. I love how modern artists are getting on the trend. I also have been known to queue up early doors for vinyl on Record Store Day at my local shop in Northampton. I'm a real nerd; I just wish they were cheaper!”

Direct to metal mastering (DMM) was developed in the 1980s as sales of the old style gramophone record fell dramatically with the introduction of cassettes and CDs and was dismissed at the time as a commercial failure.

However, it is employed today at some of the largest vinyl pressing factories in the world. Moreover, ultra-limited-edition records are cut or embossed directly into plastic rather than pressed at factories, using equipment designed or modified by music nerds when vinyl seemed destined to become extinct.

The study has found that endangered crafts or technology, like vinyl, stand the best chance of survival over time if allowed to change and evolve naturally without any restrictions.

Enthusiasts like those of the 1980s and 1990s show how even without large scale industrial involvement, tech written off by many as obsolete can make a comeback for a whole new lease of life.

Further reading:

Custodianship across Generations: Preserving the Practice of Vinyl Record Manufacturing

What can jazz teach business leaders about innovation?

How David Bowie vinyl charts success backs up research


Rene Wiedner is Associate Professor of Organisation Theory and teaches Managing People in a Complex World on the Undergraduate programme plus Current Issues in Leadership on the MSc Management. He also lectures on Organisational Behaviour on the Global Online MBA and Global Online MBA (London).

Learn more about digital innovation on the four-day Executive Education course Entrepreneurship and Innovation at WBS London at The Shard.

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