Georgia Beith discusses the recent rise in the sale of vinyl records and how it’s all part of the changing shape of our music industry.
In our ultra modern society, a surge in the sales of vinyl records might be one of the last things we would expect to read about. But the latest twenty first century trend in the music industry is a little more old fashioned. So why is it that people are passing over CDs and digital downloads in favour of dusting off their record players? And what does it tell us about how the way we listen to music is changing?
According to the British Phonographic Institute, in 2016 sales of vinyls were up 55 per cent compared to 2015, and numbers reached a twenty-five year high – the last year sales were that high was 1991, when ‘Stars’ by Simply Red was the highest selling album. Around 3.2 million vinyl records were sold over the course of the year but, most interestingly of all, 2016 marks the ninth year of growth in the sale of what was, until recently, only seen as an old school collector’s item.
It is undeniable that the sad passing of many major music stars provided a boost to sales in the past year, with David Bowie’s ‘Black Star’ the biggest selling LP of 2016, and Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’ also charting highly. But that doesn’t account for the continuous growth in the sale of records over the past decade. Maybe vinyl possesses a certain aesthetic appeal that is starting to attract more people? Or perhaps it’s just the latest trend in the cycle of mediums through which we consume music? From vinyl records, to tapes, to CDs, to digital downloads, and back to vinyl again. A kind of musical devolution. There is always the argument that the sound of records is simply better, and that’s why people choose them ahead of downloads or CDs. Many will talk of a certain ‘warmth’ and ‘depth’ that records possess which cannot be replicated.
However, vinyl records still only make up 5 per cent of overall music sales, and while that is a number which has steadily risen, it is still a very small percentage. This small shake up of the music industry is all part of a wider diversifying of the way we listen to music.
With streaming storming ahead as the leading way in which we consume music, it shouldn’t be surprising that it’s accompanied by a drop in the sale of CDs and digital downloads. Streaming is also becoming more valuable for the chart success of artists. While sales suffer a massive decline after the first week of an album or a single’s release, streaming can continue to rake in the numbers for months. With people turning away from buying CDs or paying to download songs, vinyl records could be the new preferred way of owning a physical copy of your favourite album. Their antiquated charm certainly makes them a far better keepsake or gift than a cheap plastic CD or an iTunes voucher.
Photography credit: Georgia Beith