Making Vinyl Europe and the Haarlem Vinyl Festival
Our Man in Amsterdam Walks You Through the Brick Lined Streets of Haarlem on a Vinyl Adventure
During the last two weeks of September 2023, there were two significant gatherings and conferences in Europe which were focused completely on our favorite audio medium: vinyl. Both events were located in Haarlem, Netherlands, just a stone's throw away from Amsterdam, in the beautiful Haarlem PHIL. This European town located in North Holland was full of old-century charm and there seemed to be a palpable buzz on the streets about the region’s focus on vinyl manufacturing, community, and culture for the week. I was fortunate and honored to be invited to moderate sessions at both of the events that took place that week.
The celebration of records began with Making Vinyl Europe 2023 on Thursday and Friday (9/28-29). Making Vinyl was an opportunity for several manufacturing and music industry groups to present their latest findings and figures related to the music industry, particularly vinyl's role in it during the 21st-century. At the conference, I was very pleased to moderate a session titled “Thank You, Taylor Swift" featuring Esther Vollebregt, Elsie Chadwick, Nadine Steffens, and Megan Page. The goal of this panel was to investigate and discuss - and also to bring light to the fact - that over the last 12 months, Taylor Swift has been the reigning heavyweight champ of vinyl sales. Of course, our conversation included many modern day pop and rock figures who have also created a strong demand for their music on the vinyl medium. However, the main statistic that surprised even me was that for every 25 records sold in America, one of them is a Taylor Swift album. Metrics like that serve to - and describe the importance of - Taylor Swift as a media entity. Not only to the music listening community, but certainly to the manufacturing community as well.
Another interesting take away from the conference was the discussion and exploration of the youth market as it relates to buying and collecting vinyl. A recurring conversation had by several conference members over the weekend was that many younger listeners may not even own a turntable! However, the conversation usually led to a conclusion of: who cares? Does it really matter? People are free to collect whatever it is they like to collect. One can’t listen to a stamp or coin collection, so maybe some younger vinyl collectors are just waiting for the right time to unwrap their prized possessions and enjoy not just the aesthetics of a vinyl album, but also the sonic qualities and benefits located therein.
While the astounding vinyl sales numbers during the last few years of the pandemic have waned a bit, it seems clear - to me, at least - that the vinyl resurgence is here to stay. The pure aesthetic pleasure of holding an album jacket, enjoying the artwork and photography, reviewing the liner notes and lyrics and reveling in any added extra bonus that there might be is irresistible. And that’s all before putting the platter on a turntable! The physical attributes that a vinyl package provides is hard for humans to resist. There is a market, and there will continue to be a market, for people to enjoy their favorite music through vinyl. My gut tells me that entertainment consumers are looking for different ways to put down their phones, tablets, and other devices, and enjoy a medium that’s a bit cooler than we may have become accustomed to these days. Also, people want to enjoy things with the understanding that they’re not being listened to for marketing or other purposes.
I was fortunate to have coincidentally shared several travel arrangements with Michael Fremer, the dean of vinyl and audiophile journalism. Speaking with him, and hearing his insights alongside both newcomers to the industry, and other industry veterans, was incredibly enlightening and revelatory. Record collecting and audiophilia require that the person engaged in that activity is a true believer. Through all the advancements in digital audio and technology – and there have been many, and there continue to be – Michael Fremer has steadfastly supported the vinyl record, even during its darkest days; he’s always been a believer. So, it’s particularly enlightening to witness his discussions about the format, but also to watch him wholeheartedly explore the new directions, improvements and audiences which are finding records to be an important part of their regular entertainment diet.
Following the Making Vinyl conference was the inaugural Haarlem Vinyl Festival which featured an outstandingly expensive schedule of events that were not only focused on the vinyl record, but also on a myriad of musical performances throughout the town of Haarlem. The two conferences complemented one another excellently.
At Haarlem’s Vinyl festival, I moderated two sessions. The first was an interview with Robert Haagsma who just completed and released the third volume of Passion for Vinyl, which is a beautifully made coffee table book that highlights, and explores many notable record collectors throughout the world. I also moderated a session titled What’s Inside the Sleeve? where my panelists - record store owners from the Netherlands - traded record store war stories.
As if that weren’t enough, I was also honored to be granted some face-time with Colleen “Cosmo” Murphy, a world renowned disc jockey and the founder of Classic Album Sundays. She was a guest on my podcast, Radar through The Vinyl District and the Haarlem Vinyl Festival was hospitably kind enough to grant us a very luxurious environment with which to conduct our interview. The previous evening, Colleen put on a great show, playing a vinyl set at the Jopen brewery in Haarlem. While I was there, I was sufficiently impressed to see that she was playing her DJ set through a pair of mighty Klipschorns speakers. For her, having good sound is as important as curating the perfect playlist. You’ll hear more about that event - and Colleen’s story - at a forthcoming Radar podcast at The Vinyl District.
Also of note on this trip was my tour of the mighty Record Industry pressing plant, which is one of the largest record pressing plants in Europe, pressing approximately 50-60,000 records a day. Having the opportunity to witness the inner workings of a plant which creates the medium that we love so much was breathtaking. The plant’s staff was engaged and appeared entirely positive about the execution of their duties. They were friendly and ready to chat about all aspects of vinyl production. I hope you’ll take some time to watch the videos I took, and look at some of the pictures that I captured during my visit.
However, as I mentally replay my vinyl adventure in the Netherlands, it is the people that resonate with me the most. What an amazingly eclectic group of individuals with their own varied interests and careers. Bear in mind, these events weren’t merely gatherings of record collectors, the people attending these conferences were involved in many different facets of the vinyl industry; for most of them, this was an extension of their career. Even though they may have been involved in manufacturing, marketing, licensing, or other unsung corners of the music industry, they all appreciated - and championed - the modern day’s advancement of the vinyl medium.
Once, or twice, during several gatherings, I encouraged everyone to stop their conversations and to gratefully appreciate the fact that we were gathered together with other like-minded individuals who also loved vinyl records and who reveled in lively conversation about them. While there are many of us out there, it’s rare to get us all in the same room - or, the same country - and to have the honor to discuss records, nothing but records.