Today, almost everything’s digital.
From streaming films on Netflix to downloading an MP3 single of your favourite new band, when it comes to media, there’s not much that is tangible these days.
Digital formats in the music industry, on the whole, aren’t a bad thing. In fact, they are a sign of technological progress. Afterall, you wouldn’t want to jog around the park with one of those ‘portable’ CD players the size of Flavor Flav’s necklace smacking you in the old privates anymore, would you? But, it is true to an extent, that digital streaming and downloads have saturated the biz and made it difficult for upcoming bands and artists to make a profit from record sales.
Remember queuing up in the rain in your oversized parka for what seemed like days (I suppose it depends on how old you are), just to get your hands on a new release in CD or vinyl format? You would run home, CD or record in hand, and embark on a musical journey while reading every word, and absorbing every graphic on the sleeve. It was an experience – before smartphones happened and everyone got distracted my the shiny lights.
Nowadays, it seems like people have been programmed to be inpatient and the concept of getting lost in the work of a band or artist is fast becoming an ancient concept.
But, will vinyl ever make a mainstream comeback?
In 2014, vinyl record sales (in both 12-inch and 7-inch format) in the UK reached one million units – their highest figure since 1996. This vinyl record sales a £20 million a year business once again.
Since then, sales have plateaued slightly but have not dwindled, suggesting that there is still some life in the old dog yet.
Some do say that a younger demographic now buy 12-inch vinyl from outlets like Urban Outfitters at around £28 a pop, just to keep in the cellophane and display on the wall next to their Crossley to look cool in front of their pals, which is why today’s mainstream pressings come with a download code. But I reckon that’s a load of bollocks: fads alone can’t account for a whole one million or so units a year, consistently.
Last year in the US, Record Store Day spurred 131 percent gain in vinyl album sales. Believe it or not, 521,000 vinyl albums were sold in the week ending 21 April. That’s huge.
According to a study from Nielsen Music, another striking thing about last year’s US Record Store Day is the fact that independent retailers account for 74 percent of sales, with music fans buying anything from Sublime to Madonna.
It seems that there isn’t just one demographic of people buying vinyl just to glue to their wall at home – people of all different shapes and sizes are buying vinyl because they love the music – and they want to support their local stores.
The gradually growing success of Record Store Day has given labels a renewed faith in printing vinyl and distributing it among independent stores, which in turn has given an expanding vinyl buying demographic more choice than ever before (or at least since vinyl sales originally started to dwindle). And as we know, in life, word travels fast.
Looking back at the period before record sales rose once again, Billy Fields, Vice President of Warner Group and vinyl expert said, “It was an underground held up by DJs, punk and indie rock.”
But as mentioned, since the success of Record Store Day, vinyl awareness has spread and a new generation of music fans are starting to buy 12-inch records to sit at home and share with their friends.
Small London based record label Dirty Water Records has been printing small batches of vinyl for nearly two decades to a modest but influential niche of 60s garage throwback fans, and its entities like this that have kept the crackle of the record rolling through uncertain times. And they press some cracking tunes…
Perhaps as vinyl picks up, even more, momentum and a bonafide spherical revolution is on the cards, small indie labels like Dirty Water Records and Loose will be able to strike deals with the bigger boys on the block to offer a broad range of quality music to the masses.
Digital may have given the music consumer convenience, but it’s taken away the connection between the music and the fan.
Billy Fields said this about digital: “when you reduce the visual marker to a thumbnail, it’s not like holding a CD let alone a 12-inch LP.” More and more people look to be craving that old-time bond with music. Many feel the crackle of the vinyl sounds better than the polished edges of an MP3, and others want something they can hold. Some want both.
Both mediums have their pros and cons, but surely there’s a commonplace for vinyl in today’s homes (and not just as ornaments)? Vinyl sales are getting stronger with the passing of each Record Store Day, and if there’s any justice in this world, it will find a place to live alongside the MP3.
Much like fashion, trends are cyclical, and it might just be vinyl’s time to spin again. In the missing link between sound and feel, for many music fans, vinyl bridges the gap.
Will vinyl ever make a comeback into the mainstream? I reckon so.