Vinyl revival – why the turnaround?

According to the Official Chart Company, UK sales of vinyl records in the first quarter of 2013 rose 78%, compared with 2012. In 1993, only 300,000 vinyl records were sold in the United States. In 2012, according to Nielsen SoundScan, 4.6 million vinyl records were sold across the US. What the hell happened? Vinyl was supposed to be dead. Why such a remarkable comeback?

In 2012, independent record shops accounted for only 3% of all physical albums sales in the UK. However, the same indie stores contributed to an incredible 38% of all UK vinyl album sales.

While digital downloads have had a negative impact on physical music sales over the past decade, vinyl sales have seen steady growth since 2007 – the same year that saw the launch of Record Store Day. Coincidence?

Global vinyl sales chart
Graph based on data from IFPI – International Federation of the Phonographic Industry

Around the world, Record Store Day is celebrated each year on the third Saturday of April.  Michael Kurtz, co-founder of the event, believes that the growth in vinyl sales can be tied to the increasing popularity of Record Store Day. By offering in-store performances, special events and limited edition releases by hundreds of artists from around the world,  Record Store Day has raised the profile of vinyl and brought it to the awareness of a whole new generation. Research by ICM suggests 18 to 24-year-olds are buying more vinyl records than any other age group under 50.

For many music lovers and audiophiles, myself included, vinyl has always been important. It’s special for so many reasons. It’s fascinating to find that in an age when convenience is supposed to rule, people are coming back to a very inconvenient format. On a good turntable, vinyl offers an audio experience that is far superior to low resolution digital formats, such as MP3, and very different to high resolution digital. Listen to a track on vinyl and you’ll get warmth and detail that you just don’t hear on mainstream digital formats. Things may change when high resolution digital is readily available some time in the near future, but for now vinyl offers a very different experience when compared with digital.

An analogue album comes with added value. Over and above large scale cover art, records can include sleeve notes, lyric sheets, limited edition coloured vinyl, posters etc. Special boxed sets offer even more. A Super Deluxe Box Set  for “Push The Sky Away” by Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds, for example, includes painstakingly reproduced song notes, unused verses, alternate song titles, photographs, drawings, 7″ vinyl – the list of extras goes on. New vinyl releases often come with a CD or digital download code – so you can have quality and convenience. There are also quirky details to explore. Many bands write little messages that get pressed into the run-off groove in the centre of records. And audiophiles can get a bit obsessive about vinyl weights. For many years a standard record typically weighed 120 to 140 grams. Nowadays heavier records, in the region of 180 to 200 grams, tend to be the norm. Some argue that because heavier records are made of thicker vinyl, this allows for deeper grooves and more dynamic mastering. They take longer to press and are more expensive to produce, but heavier records tend to be better for tracking, and are flatter and quieter than thin vinyl. The there’s virgin vinyl, which is manufactured without the impurities normally associated with recycled vinyl. This is all part of the vinyl equation for the anally retentive audiophile. When was the last time you got excited about an MP3?

Despite the extras, the key to vinyl’s longevity as a format is the listening experience. Vinylheads will tell you that a well mastered vinyl offers an audio experience that is  superior to CD and MP3 (the digital vs analogue debate still rages), but what’s almost as important is that when you put vinyl on a turntable, the process is ritualistic. It’s reverential. You have to stay in the room to listen to the music properly. You have to give it your full attention. You’ve got to turn the record over when it’s halfway through. It demands something of you. It demands that you show the music and its creator respect. When you switch on your iPod and listen to digital formats on the move, are you really listening? Probably not. You hear the music, but most of the time you’re not really listening. There’s normally a world of distraction around you.

I’m off now. I’m going to pour myself a glass of wine, place Bowie’s album “Aladdin Sane” on my turntable and show it the respect it deserves.

2 thoughts on “Vinyl revival – why the turnaround?

Add yours

  1. Great piece, sums up exactly why I got into vinyl. Finding a loved album in a record store is so much more satisfying than grabbing it off iTunes. It’s interesting that my age group is one of the most proactive in the market; i’ve found that friends think that the turntable (which happens to be the same one as your picture) is cool, but that the whole process is a bit of an inconvenience. Good to know i’m not just an old man at heart.

    1. A few weeks ago, on Record Store Day, I queued for 5 hours to get into Banquet Records to get myself some limited edition vinyl (see article on this blog). Most of the people in the queue with me were young dudes. I was probably one of the oldest there.

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