In an era in which even digital album sales have fallen, vinyl has bucked the trend. In 2014, record sales grew by more than 50% to hit more than a million, the highest since 1996 and the upward curve has continued in 2015. Vinyl is at the heart of Record Store Day, an event created in 2007 when some 700 independent record stores in the US combined to celebrate music retailing and the passion for music collecting.
On one level, this resurgence could simply be the latest manifestation of a contemporary condition — what the music commentator Simon Reynolds dubs “retromania”. Old bands are reforming, new artists building their sounds and looks on classic acts, and enthusiasm for the fashions and cultural paraphernalia of the past is endemic. The revival of vinyl could be similarly motivated by mere nostalgia for the antithesis of digital streaming: large and fragile discs in cardboard sleeves that manifest a distinctly un-digital crackle when played on the similarly redundant technology of the record player.
In a wider context, the highest-selling albums of 2015 so far do reflect a distinctive fusion of nostalgia, with classic albums by bands such as Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Bob Dylan mixing with modern acts such as Arctic Monkeys, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds and Royal Blood. But long-established artists of the calibre of Madonna, Daft Punk, Björk, and Jack White are also present within the resurgence and are releasing vinyl versions of their new albums. So, if nostalgia is not the sole driver for vinyl’s significant commercial comeback, what is?
The revolutionary design feature of CD players was their ability to enable listeners to skip tracks and reshuffle albums. Vinyl, on the other hand, was and is different. Track skipping is a tricky business and, due to the fragility of the discs, you run the risk of dropping the stylus and causing damage. Consequently, the album as a track-by-track experience (as intended by the artists and central to the listening experience of classic LPs such as Dark Side of the Moon) has returned.
As a recent Wall Street Journal feature reported, in 2014 90% of raw materials for vinyl production were produced by one company. This means that the future of vinyl production will require considerable investment from record companies in the re-production of expensive technology. Given the decline of the bricks-and-mortar record store within the retail landscape, distribution will also be a decisive consideration if the upsurge in demand for vinyl is to be a sustainable one. Read more…