In late December 2019, for the first time since Nielsen Music began electronically tracking music sales 29 years ago, vinyl albums surpassed 1 million copies in a single week. Among those most eager to capitalize on vinyl’s resurgence: the creators of film and TV scores and soundtracks.
“There are fans who are score collectors and there are fans who are vinyl collectors. They’re both collectors’ markets,” says Brian McNelis, senior vp music and soundtracks at Lakeshore Entertainment. Lakeshore released seven scores and soundtracks on vinyl in 2015; last year, the number soared to 30.
Film studios are now working to target this growing group of obsessive collectors with a flood of new vinyl offerings, even though they’ve stopped releasing as much film music on CDs. “Almost every soundtrack we do now has a vinyl component,” says Universal Pictures president of film music and publishing Mike Knobloch. Universal releases the music through its own Back Lot Music or, more frequently, a major-label partner or specialty labels like Austin-based Mondo Music and New Orleans-based Waxwork Records. Universal went from one vinyl release in 2012 to 20 in 2018. Similarly, Sony Pictures has also ramped up with 18 vinyl releases in 2019, double that of 2015.
The overall numbers are still small, but the increases are significant. Pop culture company Mondo expanded into vinyl in 2011 with one title and is now up to 60 vinyl releases a year (in part due to a merger with Death Waltz in 2014). Milan Records, which Sony Music Masterworks acquired in July, now averages one vinyl release per month.
“Vinyl has definitely become the most in-demand physical format for fans of film and TV music. There is an expectation among fans that their favorite property will get a vinyl release,” says Milan senior vp JC Chamboredon. “Vinyl has also become something more than just a record. It is an extension of the property. It is very common for fans to buy vinyl not for the music but as a collectible item.”
Certain titles, such as Mondo/Death Waltz’s 2016 reissue of Angelo Badalamenti’s beloved TV score to Twin Peaks, pressed on “180-gram damn-fine coffee-color vinyl,” have sold up to 36,000 copies. “It was like, pandemonium,” says Mondo Music record label manager Mo Shafeek. “Anytime we sell over 5,000 units, it’s a big deal for us.” According to McNelis, “3,000 units is a fair break-even number for most titles.”
Titles typically sell for between $20 and $35, although prices can extend northward for special editions. Companies like Lakeshore and Mondo license the music and artwork from the studios — McNelis prefers at least a 10-year license — and then they add drama: Bells and whistles range from fake blood splattered on horror film records to pop-up art that comes to life upon opening the sleeve. A collectors’ edition for the Stranger Things score included a vinyl swirl of the TV show’s Demogorgon monster. “We try to get creative with the entire packaging,” says McNelis.
Going wild with vinyl design can be risky. Mondo’s Shafeek made 75 sets of clear vinyl filled with green “Xenomorph blood”-colored liquid for the 2016 reissued score to Aliens. To manufacture the two-album set alone cost $100. But as it turned out, “The person was very good at making liquid-filled records… but not good at shipping them,” recalls Shafeek.
Though the majority of releases are scores for current films, there’s still big demand for classic titles, such as any John Williams score or Universal’s 2016 release of Alan Silvestri’s score for Back to the Future on vinyl for the first time. Shafeek has a list of 20 titles that he is “begging desperately” to see if the studios will license. Yann Tiersen’s score for 2001’s Amélie, which has never come out on vinyl, tops his list.
Some titles continue to sell consistently year after year. Recently, the vinyl soundtrack to 2017’s Call Me By Your Name, which also includes portions of the score, has proved an evergreen with fans wanting more. Music on Vinyl will release the soundtrack on 180-gram red transparent vinyl for Valentine’s Day — limited to 10,000 copies worldwide — following previously released editions on black, blue, yellow and peach-colored vinyl.
“Cliff Martinez’s score for 2011’s Drive also remains a fan favorite,” says Brad Schelden, soundtrack buyer for Amoeba Music in Hollywood, adding: “It has been a best seller ever since it came out.” The vinyl version continues to sell hundreds of copies a year at the store. Lakeshore has issued several editions, including a limited-edition pressing in 2015 and a fifth-anniversary version in 2016. Appropriately enough, says Schelden, the store’s best seller for 2019 was the vinyl for Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood soundtrack.
Chamboredon worries that a rush to release too much on vinyl could hurt the health of the vinyl score market, while McNelis already sees more titles being released, but slowing sales for each.
But Shafeek anticipates continued growth. “There is the joy of sharing music that very often flies beneath the radar of most music fans, even though it may be heard by millions of people in theaters.”