Still Can’t Beat the Original: Vinyl Revival

In 2013 digital album sales in the U.S. decreased overall by 8.4%, causing people to start blaming music streaming services like Spotify and Pandora for decreasing people’s want to buy music. However, on the other end of the spectrum vinyl sales in 2013 rose by 32% from 2012, with an increase of 4.5 million units to 6 million units sold. While most people may have started buying less digital music, a steadily growing population were specifically choosing to go analog in a digital age.

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But aren’t records sort of, you know, relics?

It’s true that records originated from a previous decade– they started being developed as a new technology starting in the early 1900s and by 1946 the first vinyl LP was created. During the 50s records became widely used and they were the primary method of playing music until 1983, when the first CDs were invented. So, during the 90s vinyls became an outdated technology and overall vinyl sales declined sharply. Until 2007 rolled around, when statistics showed that vinyl sales had jumped with a 33% increase from the previous year.

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Why the sudden interest in such an archaic method of listening to music?

There has been a lot of thought given to why this so-called ‘vinyl revival’ occurred and is still occurring today. Here are a couple of theories:

1) the eventuality of people getting sick of the low-quality sound in digital music and/or the craving for a more ‘old’ sound to music,

2) a social response to the ever-growing “digitization, corporitization, and globalization” of the music industry,

3) the idea of ‘authenticity’– that vinyl has a closer connection to the music and the artists themselves, especially by way of something so tangible rather than ‘unseeable’ digital music,

4) a part of the larger revival movement of ‘retro style’, where people are currently drawn to more vintage and vintage-esque items.

No matter what the cause is, vinyl has come back and has a very real upward trend. Not only is there a resurgence of an outdated technology, some artists have been modernizing the idea of a ‘record’ to bring it into the 21st century. The first artist to come to mind– and most likely the leader in revolutionizing the record– is Jack White. His 2012 album Blunderbuss held the achievement of most records sold in 2012 with 34,000 units, beating the Beatles’ Abbey Road by 4,000 units. His record label, Third Man Records, has produced records that smell like peaches, are gold-plated discs, had to be smashed to play the single in the center, and for White’s latest album Lazaretto, a record with “a hand-etched hologram floating in the “dead wax” between the last grooves and the label”.

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Vinyl revival has also spurred another trend: Record Store Day, celebrated every third Saturday of April. Created by independent record store owners in 2007, it has encouraged people all around the world to come together and connect over a shared love of vinyl. Many artists have shown support for the internationally celebrated day, and every year there are a number of limited edition records pressed specially by artists for release on RSD.

Vinyl sales still only make up only 2% of album sales in the United States. However, in comparison to CD and digital album sales vinyl is the only market with an increase in 2013, while the latter two have had decreased album sales overall. There is obviously something special about vinyl: more and more people are realizing and enjoying vinyl as a more appealing method of listening to music, whether it be purely for the style or for the music itself. Either way, vinyl is back and has no signs of disappearing again anytime soon.

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3 thoughts on “Still Can’t Beat the Original: Vinyl Revival

  1. Although by no means am I a vinyl connoisseur, I have enjoyed the dusty Beatles records that have been played on occasion from my mom’s old record player from her teenage days. I also find it very intriguing that there is a “Record Store Day,” as I, and I would imagine many others, associate record stores as something of the past, and the idea of a vinyl revival is something that would never occurred to me as one who is sheltered from the plights and toils of technology in the twentieth century. An interesting project would be to compare the Vinyl market to CD markets, Walkman markets, and other past music technologies, to predict and see if they follow the same trends, and to predict a trend in the length of popularity for said music technologies.

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  2. The randomness of this upsurge in demand speaks to how unpredictable social groups are. I find it mildly hilarious that firms spend large proportions of their profit hiring research teams and scientists and conducting studies to find out what people want to buy, and how the firm can reap the biggest financial reward. In fact, there is a whole sub-field in neuroscience dedicated to exploring how individual’s brains react to certain products, believing this is finally the key to unlocking the mind of the buyer. Yet, in the end, people’s tastes sometimes just change. Some of these changed are less surprising than others, and firms can thus adjust to them. Still, I doubt many firms saw this upsurge in demand for vinyl records coming. In this sense, most firms are at an equal disadvantage to the whims of the buyer.

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  3. This resurgence, if it continues, could be the last bastion of the recording industry as we know it. Large recording companies have spent the past two decades trying to cope with the advent of the digital age and failing. And now, just as more and more artists are choosing to abandon traditional recording contracts in favor of publishing independently online, people start reminiscing about the good ol’ days, when LPs cost an arm and a leg and you couldn’t just rip them and pass them along. With vinyl, you pay for that nostalgia more than anything– production costs are obviously higher than digital downloads and even CD’s, but record stores often sell vinyl records for over $30 a piece– what I like to call the “hipster toll.”

    If this trend continues and expands, I would be unsurprised if recording companies began to shift their business models to cater to the vinyl crowd– publishing more new artists on vinyl, releasing reissues and remastered versions of older albums, etc. While the iTunes digital download model won’t go away, download revenues have been steadily dropping for the past several years. The vinyl trend may serve to subsidize that, if only for a little while.

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