During 2018, I have covered many stories about music including the popular series “Sounds of the 1960s: Garage Bands and Rock”, “The Anniversary of the Vinyl LP”, “The Path to Record Store Day” and other topics. In each of these articles, I have briefly touched on various music formats; however, the vinyl record has remained the main item of focus. Throughout the year, there have been several writers concentrating on the vinyl record as the resurgence of the format continued to grow while other physical formats decreased in popularity. In this article, I will focus on several items covered in these news stories of the year documenting this still surprising growth of a format once declared as dead.
When speaking of the resurgence of vinyl records, I always like to refer back to the time when CDs began to take over in the 1980’s and practically destroyed the format. For more information on when this first started read this article from Time Magazine. According to this article, Philips ran the company that manufactured the first CD in Hanover, Germany in August of 1982 which was “The Visitors” by ABBA.
It was mostly hype that encouraged people to ditch their vinyl for CDs even though CD players at the time could cost up to $1,000 and the CDs of the time were much more expensive than Vinyl LPs. Promises such as no surface noise, nothing touches the disc (so no sound distortion), no disc wear, were a huge draw for the curious of this new phenomenon. There were several news stories and advertisements proclaiming the almost indestructible CD such as this one, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sexaA2uPgUM. The CD was first introduced to the public of the United States in 1983 although the medium’s popularity is sometimes seen beginning with the release of “Brothers in Arms” by Dire Straits in 1985.
For additional information on this beginning CD and what led to CDs eclipsing vinyl, read this article from The Guardian. Music fans began to quickly buy CD players to play the new format on and by 1988, CD sales eclipsed vinyl. The hype continued with such marketing techniques as the jewel case which was just a fancy name for a plastic enclosure.
This was a time when record pressing plants were being shuttered, record stores were removing vinyl from their shelves, music artists stopped releasing both vinyl LPs and 45s, and part of a generation began to not even know what a vinyl record was. I remember when my niece and nephew came to visit my parents house around 2004 where I had my vinyl records stored in the basement.
They spotted my collection of 45s and had no idea what they were looking at. I showed them one and their reaction was that they had never seen a CD that large. They were mesmerized by the object in front of them. The only remaining glimpse of life for the vinyl record came from the collectors and audiophiles who remained devoted to the format. For them, they could typically only find their object of desire in yard sales, flea markets (, thrift stores, and the like. Often, they would find them in the trash.
During 2018, we have seen the vinyl record, as well as the equipment to play them on, continue to become leap forward and become more mainstream as the interest in them has grown. Each year has seen increases in both. I remember seeing an advertisement for the prescription medication Xeljanz XR which was frequently shown during the year. The ad focuses on a young couple with their small child out looking through vinyl records, buying some, and playing as well as dancing to one on an old suitcase style turntable. It begins with the statement, “Needles essential for vinyl, but maybe not for adults with rheumatoid arthritis.” The closing statement says, “Needles a must for vinyl, but for you one pill a day may provide symptom relief.” Here is a link to the ad, https://www.ispot.tv/ad/wjRh/xeljanz-xr-vinyl-collection# .
This is only one example of an ad such as this since it was not the first or last advertisement to use vinyl as a marketing prop since the resurgence began. Ads such as this began showing vinyl records again as early as 2015 to promote their products and the number has increased as the interest in vinyl has grown. This is particularly interesting since so many ads are actually geared to the main television target audience of the 18 to 49 age group. Several years ago, many people in this age group would not even know what the object being shown was as my firsthand example of my niece and nephew demonstrate. This article from Adweek gives a great rundown on not only the advertising phenomena of vinyl, but also several other elements how the vinyl resurgence has become more mainstream, such as the gifting of a turntable to President Obama.
The resurgence of vinyl records continued to grow during 2018 while other formats decreased in popularity. According to the Vinyl Factory, just in the first half of the year, there was a 19.2% increase in vinyl LPs over the same period of time in 2017. This resulted in record numbers amounting to 7.6 million albums sold. Close to 1 million of these sales were sold during the week of Record Store Day. Many of these were new releases so these figures do not represent just older vinyl material. Comparatively, CD albums decreased 41.5% during the same six months. Vinyl now compromises 18% of all physical albums sold which is up from 13% in 2017. More information on these figures along with the top selling vinyl LPs for the first half of the year can be found within the following article. Although my article focuses mainly on the United States, it is also interesting to check out the top selling vinyl albums and singles in the UK for 2018 for the year which can be seen here.
The vinyl resurgence is not just a phenomenon within the US. It is something that is happening in all countries. However, the figures indicating percentages sold are misleading though since they are only taking into account new vinyl sales. They do not take into account used vinyl sales which comprises a very large and significant share of the vinyl market. This means that the actual figures would be considerably greater than what is shown here. Used vinyl sales do not generate revenue for artists, record labels, or songwriters and are therefore not counted. In reality, a large majority of collectors and vinyl lovers purchase previously owned records from online places such as Discogs Marketplace, eBay, and several others as well as private individuals, garage sales, thrift stores or anywhere else they can find. In fact, many collectors are not interested in buying new vinyl as they are in search of original pressings as we discussed in the Record Store Day articles. A good discussion concerning sales of used vinyl can be found within this article from Forbes. Part of this trend also has to do with the fact that new vinyl is often quite expensive as described in this article from The Star.
Throughout the resurgence of the vinyl record, there has often been a stereotype that the growth is simply a fad which would fade. This has not been the case since with each passing year, sales have actually continued to grow in the double digits. There has also been a misconception that only older people take part in collecting and enjoying vinyl. According to Music Watch, 72 percent of those collecting vinyl are under the age of 35. The answer to which age groups as well as what genders are buying vinyl can be found here. During a time when many see younger people, as well as many older people, finding digital streaming the preferred way of listening to music, there are many who crave having a physical item they can hold along with the superior sound a vinyl record holds. Vinyl creates a more personal connection with the music for all ages which is simply not possible with the impersonal nature of streaming a digital song.
The love of vinyl is simply not a generational format anymore as millennials discover what their parents listened to and find something special. Often, they have discovered their parent’s vinyl collections hidden away in basements and the like. Once they start digging through what their parents sometimes consider historical artifacts, they find a love of the format and want to create their own vinyl collections. The impersonality of listening to something on Spotify, Pandora and like streaming services becomes more pronounced as they find a bond with something they can look at, hold, feel, see, own and share with friends. Music labels and new artists have noticed this trend and rediscovered fondness in one of their main target groups. Now, new and popular artists started releasing their new albums on vinyl and the sales have been surprising to many as CD sales continue to plunge in popularity.
Adele and Taylor Swift were two of the earliest artists, who have great appeal with the millennial generation, that released their newest albums on vinyl. In fact, during 2015, the album “25” by Adele was the number 1 best-selling vinyl record followed by “1989” by Taylor Swift according to Billboard Magazine. Since then, most all artists who appeal to the millennials or any other age group for that matter are now releasing their albums on vinyl. Most artists that gain a large portion of their listeners from the younger generations are now releasing their albums on vinyl such as Cardi B, Ariana Grande, 21 Savage and the list goes on and on. If a younger listener wants vinyl, they will have no problem finding it. More information on the growth of vinyl within younger generations is contained in this article from Grammy and from The Buffalo News.
Record Store Day has boosted sales within stores that were once seen as on the verge of extinction. These days continue to become more popular within these younger ages groups as the artists now popular within their circles release more and more vinyl records. Many of these are now included in the lists of what special issues are released. The special editions include not only the physical album, but often several other goodies such as colored vinyl, 7” 45rpm singles, posters, autographs from the artists, books and the like. These are not things that one can find on with a digital download, a streaming service or even most other physical formats such as the CD. The younger generations, as well as the older generations, find many of these “goodies” as very attractive and add to the continuation of the vinyl resurgence.
The growing demand for vinyl continues to overwhelm the few vinyl records pressing plants that remained open. Large pressing plants, such as Sony, have had to reopen or build new plants to keep up with the demand. This article from the Guardian describes what has led to this resurrection. Brand new record pressing plants such as Furnace Records (have opened as well as described in this article from SoundExchange. For a journey through how a vinyl record is pressed, check out this interesting tour. New advances in pressing have also continued to emerge such as the 180-gram vinyl record and the recent HD vinyl records. The 180-gram record is thicker and heavier than the older weight of between 120 and 140 grams for vinyl records. This product is considered to be of a greater audiophile grade by many; however, some do not feel there really is that much difference. For more on this discussion see this in depth article. HD Vinyl records, unlike older ways of production, are pressed from the original stamper. In the past, production was typically done from a copy of a copy of a copy. Recording from the original stamper results in faster production as well as absolutely no loss of audio quality from multiple copying. For more information on HD Vinyl see this interesting article on the new concept.
Turntables to play vinyl continue to gain market share as well. Electronic and department stores that once discontinued vinyl equipment are now adding more and more to their inventories. These range from very high-end turntables such as several from Technics such as the Technics SL-1200G which will set the listener back a few thousand dollars to ones that are quite affordable such as Orbit and Crosley. For a more complete listing of turntables that list several possibilities at various prices see this informative article from Digital Trends. As has been seen in the pressing plants, advancements continue to be made in how many of these turntables are made. For many of these, the desire for the best audio quality possible is the target. Some turntables are made as all-in-all styles that do not connect to an audio system while others have once again become an integral part of a high scale sound system. There are even several USB turntables that listeners can connect to their computer such as the Audio-Technica LP120. To discover several USB turntables that cost less than $300, check out this article which list the best turntables in this category. Possibilities within the production of vinyl equipment have become an important priority.
2018 has proven to be the biggest year yet in the Vinyl resurgence and there are no signs of it slowing down. What was once seen as an ancient artifact has no doubt become mainstream once again. The resurgence which was once seen as a fad for mainly those that collected vinyl records during their heyday has now spread through all generations. Obviously, the recording industry anticipates vinyl to continue this strong growth with improvements to both how the records are pressed as well as the equipment to play them on. Music artists show no reluctance to the growing popularity of vinyl as they release more and more of their new and past material on vinyl. Records stores, as well as department stores, both brick and mortar and online varieties see and acknowledge the growth and interest in vinyl as their sales and numbers continue to grow. A great example of this growth can be seen in the recent announcement from Best Buy that the chain would discontinue selling CDs by July 1, 2018 while continuing to sell and increase the amount of Vinyl selections. Other retail stores have or are expected to follow suit. The growth of Vinyl continues to grow as well in the areas where it once became confined to such as thrift stores, garage sales, flea markets and the like.