Vinyl is back. While streaming services such as Spotify make it easier than ever to listen to music, true fans are shelling out to own their favourite records on wax. In fact, vinyl is so popular that major bands are delaying the release of their new albums to wait for their turn on the few remaining record presses.
One Melbourne band is bucking the trend. Five-piece The General Assembly made a conscious decision not to release their debut, Vanishing Point, on 12-inch. In fact, frontman and songwriter Matt Wicking has put a blanket ban on any and all physical merchandise. That means no CDs, no T-shirts and definitely no vinyl.
“I would love to be able to put our album on my record player at home,” Matt says. “I can see why vinyl’s become a hit again, I love collecting old records myself. So it wasn’t an easy decision. But I never had an intention of starting a small manufacturing business. And that’s what it can become when you become successful at music.”
Having studied environmental studies, Matt is all too aware of the impact our consumer lifestyle can have on our world. Outside music, he works with sustainability groups helping artists and organisations green their practice.
His album’s title Vanishing Point refers to the way ecosystems are hurtling towards extinction. Despite being a hardcore vinyl junkie, he’s had to face up to the bad news that those 12-inch records were toxic for the planet. He quotes a mantra that he heard from an expert: no to vinyl and that’s final.
“It’s nasty in its production and it’s nasty at the end of its life,” he says. “That was something that was really hard for me to hear as a music lover. It meant when I came to this step, I realised I either turfed my values or went down a new path.”
This new path might not be an easy one. In the internet age, it’s harder than ever to make money from music. Streaming services are booming, but tend to pay artists in trickles, rather than torrents. These days, albums basically work as loss leaders, with the bulk of any money made from gigging and selling merchandise.
“It’s definitely cutting off a potential income stream, so we need to think creatively about how to fix that,” Matt says. “I’m having faith in us as artists, as creative people, to find a way. We can still sell our music online and we’ve got a fan club where people can subscribe to the band for a monthly amount and be part of our inside circle.”
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Matt hopes these new models will help fans feel more like a community that gives back, rather than simply a circle of consumers.
Traditionally, people have been a bit snarky towards rock’n’rollers who wear their social conscience on their sleeve. But Matt isn’t worried his politics will put people off. After all, it was music that made him political in the first place. “I loved Rage Against The Machine when I was younger, bands who were intensely political,” he says. “I think it pricks your interest. We’re animals that make sense of the world through story and song. If the music around us isn’t reflecting reality, that’s going to cause a problem at some point.”
Other Aussie bands are also keen to become more environmentally friendly, he says. He’s been helping them take the first steps towards a digital-only future. “I reckon the more who do it, the more will follow. It could become the rule, rather than the exception, to live your values through your music.”
The General Assembly
- Gig: The Toff in Town, November 16
- Debut album, Vanishing Point, is out now via Believe Music – digital only, of course.