It's all over the news- from countless newspaper and magazine features (including write-ups in the Wall Street Journal, Rolling Stone Magazine, USA Today and other major publications), numerous online articles, and even the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric. It's the vinyl record revival and more importantly, the resurrection of analog sound. But is vinyl for real?
Yes, vinyl records, left for dead with the advent of the 'digital age' are selling again. In fact, in 2008, it's reported that 1.88 million vinyl albums were purchased, which is the highest number since Nielsen SoundScan began tracking LP sales in 1991. Additionally, vinyl sales rose 14% between 2006 and 2007, from 858,000 to 990,000. And the sales figures for 2009 will surpass the number for 2008 with ease. In comparison, CD sales have nosedived over the past three years, from 553.4 million in 2006 to 360.6 million in 2008. MP3 sales grew from 32.6 million to 65.8 million during the same time period, according to SoundScan.
More people purchased vinyl records in 2008 than they have in almost 20 years, according to the Recording Industry Association of America.
Progression of LP/EP sales in millions
• 2005 $14.2
• 2006 $15.7
• 2007 $22.9
• 2008 $46.2
• 2009 $56.7
Numbers indicate dollar values using shipment statistics from the Recording Industry Association of America.
Is the dreaded download the future of music? Yes, the sales of digital music are on the upswing, but there is almost too much available. Bands no longer need a record label contract to release their music. The result? An over abundance of bad music that has no right being released to the public, anyone can offer a song for ninety-nine cents; the music landscape is polluted. Vinyl on the other hand can't be easily reproduced and appeals to the senses. Besides the sound quality being better, there is more room for artwork, you can see it and hold it. Digital files are not a tangible product; you can't see them or touch them. They are infinitely reproducible and instantly available. Where will the song that you downloaded last month be in two years?
This is not a fad or cycle; music lovers young and old are being drawn to this historic audio format. The downloading generation has discovered the tangible benefits of vinyl and vinyl record sales are soaring across the country. Moreover, it seems to be a worldwide event, preorders and sales of vinyl records are on the increase in many countries across the globe.
Vinyl is cool again. Teenagers, who once may have scoffed at their grandparents' and parents' record collections, now wait in line to get the latest releases. More and more mainstream artists are releasing new material via the format and Capitol Records (along with many other major record companies) are now reissuing classic albums on vinyl. And now, along with the baby boomers, a new generation is discovering the special allure that vinyl records have - the limited editions, colored vinyl, picture discs, audiophile records (180-220 gram), the album cover art, and the sound - all elements in this grand resurgence.
This resurgence is fueled by many other factors. Let's explore some interesting aspects of the vinyl record.
Yes, the hiss, snap, and crackle of a record are soothing music lovers around the globe. Vinyl records use analog recording methods; it is a clear, well-defined sound. The music is not compressed and digitized into the ones and zeros that you get with the CD or MP3; or what I term as "binary sound." There is warmth, an ambience that vinyl brings to the music and since the human ear hears in analog-not digital-vinyl records naturally sound better. So this is the secret that the DJ's, record collectors and audiophiles knew all along!
The Collectible Factor and Availability of Vinyl
Most recording artists are also fans of other artists' music; they own vast and eclectic record collections. Sometimes finding rare and collectible vinyl created by artists who have influenced their own music and whom they admire can be just as satisfying as creating and recording their own music. They also delight in finding rare vinyl of their own music. In fact, John Lennon was an avid record collector and amassed quite a collection of Beatle's bootlegs.
Buying and selling records is big business. Besides the garage sales, flea markets and yard sales, online auction sites such as eBay sell millions of records. It is reported that eBay users buy and sell six vinyl records each minute (or an average of one every ten seconds) totaling more than three million records each year. Some records still maintain their value decades after their initial release and have sold for thousands of dollars. It's been reported that the album that is bought and sold the most in the vinyl format is the Beatles' "White Album." Other acts such as Elvis Presley, the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan, Madonna, Led Zeppelin, among many others, are highly sought after and still command top dollar for specific releases. Soul and jazz music, along with classic rock, are always in demand. Additionally, online giant Amazon is committed to expanding their 'vinyl section' offerings to include thousands of music artists. Major electronics chain Best Buy has also begun selling vinyl records, making this decision after conducting a test in 100 of their stores and discovering that vinyl records were more popular than they anticipated.
There is also a lot of vinyl support in such musical genres as hip-hop, punk, and heavy metal. "Indie" music is now being pressed into colored vinyl, limited edition releases, and picture discs. These are the future collectibles and sometimes sell for higher-than-average prices. The online community has responded as well with literally thousands of web sites dedicated to the vinyl format. Many music artists are making sure that they give their fans a choice of music formats, with vinyl appearing to be taking the lead.
Then there is the actual physical aspect of going out to your local record store and buying a record. Browsing through bins of used vinyl, anticipating the new releases and rushing to the store to get that new record from your favorite band is exciting and pleasurable. The downloading generation has discovered the tangible benefits of vinyl and records sales are soaring across the country. Yes independent record stores have been closing at an alarming rate, but the shops that do stay open are flourishing. Paul Russe, the manager of Off The Record, an independent record store in San Diego, is encouraged by the future of the independent record store.
"I think there will always be record stores," Russe stated. "Otherwise, it's like saying there won't be any bookstores because everything in print will be a digital download. Digital is just a convenience. And anyone who loves music will always gravitate toward record stores."
"I've always marveled at every new generation of 15-year-old boys who go to the Doors vinyl section and say, 'Wow, an original Doors LP!' "related Marc Weinstein, founder of Amoeba Music, the three-store chain whose Hollywood branch is among the largest independent retail record stores in the U.S. "Major labels should have capitalized on this years ago."
"By the end of 2008, over 50% of our business was in new vinyl, which amounts to millions of dollars a year," said Matt Wishnow, founder of the New York-based online music retailer Insound.com. And there seems to be no end in sight.
In our age of iPods and MP3 music, playing a record is almost a ritual experience. There is the physical interaction between the person playing the album, the music itself and the machine. Playing a record can be a communal event where the music is shared with friends and family. But it is not only the music that intrigues the masses. Add unique and compelling album cover art and deluxe packaging, and a whole new generation of vinyl record lovers can share in this phenomenon.
Going hand-in-hand with the increase in vinyl record sales is the increase and availability of turntables. Nationally, turntable sales shot to over 500,000 last year compared to 275,000 in 2006. Record players and the paraphernalia that goes with them - styli, cleaning tools, vinyl records and even the old-fashioned amplifiers - are making a comeback. Manufacturers of turntables have given the consumer a plethora of options to choose from, from the very affordable unit to some that cost thousands of dollars. Students in colleges around the U.S., as well as globally, are now beginning to consider a turntable in their dorm room one of their necessities.
Many recording artists are not only releasing their new material via vinyl but in digital format for those who choose that medium. Many records may come with a certificate for a free Internet download, which can sometimes be a bonus cut that may not be included on the record. It also allows the music to be portable, and the consumer can choose between the alternate formats. As the demand for vinyl continues its upward climb, so to will the affordability of the records. Many mainstream releases via the vinyl format are competitively priced, allowing for more units to be sold. Add to this the already flourishing used vinyl record market, where a music lover can pick up an LP for under five dollars, and we have a new vinyl model that will flourish for decades to come.
Will vinyl records regain their dominant position in the music industry that they once held? One can only guess, but with CD sales continuing to plummet and more and more music lovers discovering the value of vinyl, this historic audio medium will not fade away anytime soon.