Vinyl is rising from its groove ridden ashes with a new generation discovering the crackling sensation of analogue sound. An estimated 780 000 LPs were sold in the UK last year, more than double that of 2012. That trend is continuing into 2014 as the musical world decides to take a step back.
2013 marked a 15 year high for vinyl sales, a year when bands such as Queens of the Stone Age, Daft Punk and David Bowie got big LP sales numbers. It was, however, Arctic Monkeys who eventually topped the vinyl chart with their multi-award winning AM.
The reason behind the sudden rise in record popularity is still shrouded in mystery and it is possible that everyone has their own reason for defecting back to vinyl. Many reasons have been suggested, one of the most common being that LP’s are new to young people who have grown up in the digital age. Something fashionable, vintage and completely different to that of the non-physical product music currently occupies. In comparison 6, 10 and 12 inch vinyl is big, colourful and collectible.
Mandy Kemp, owner of Jam Record store and coffee shop said that she sells to a younger audience. “I’ve definitely seen a rise but I think it’s across the board, there is definitely more students but it’s among all age groups … There’s a clear difference between ripping music off the internet and playing records, it’s that experience. I think it’s the generation who have grown up with music online and they’re looking for the different music experience.”
Art Student Joe Fenwick-Wilson is a 19 year old who has started his record collection young: “I think all of a sudden it’s hit one genre of people that wants the thing that’s going out of date, I think there’s that cool factor about vinyl that people are really latching on to. The sound is a lot better I think, it’s got a real nice vibe to it … I think it’s young people getting into it and them reminding their parents what’s it’s all about and it’s a great thing.”
Another reason given is that the unphysical, downloadable files that congregate to create the modern music library do not display or show off someone’s love for music. The record is often used as a signifier of musical passion, and more and more people are willing to spend the extra few pounds to buy the record instead of the CD or the iTunes file.
There is a retro fashion to vinyl, a stylish popularity; they say something about their owner, a respectability on a musical level and a symbol of a unique personality. Vinyl is cool. This is epitomised by the shops in which they are now sold: alongside in-fashion clothing and skateboards, in bourgeois coffee shops and small, independent music shops.
The only thing slowing the Vinyl revival is the lack of vinyl presses; with no one making the machines needed to press LPs and those of the past having been destroyed or beyond repair, the music machines are hard to come by.
The current record output is so low that some smaller record shops say that Record Store Day, an event that attracts flocks of music lovers to record shops in London, is actually having a negative impact. They say that record press plants prioritise Record Store Day and these smaller shops, especially those outside of London, miss out.
The remaining machines are being dusted down and put to use worldwide, Americas Rainbo Records claimed that the US turned out 7.2 million records last year and other American press plants are at full capacity. Australia saw a 70 percent rise in vinyl album sales and a further 50 percent rise in singles.
Despite this swift and surprising rise, Vinyl sales still only account for less than 5 percent of that of the overall music market. If, however, this worldwide rise continues that percentage will grow into double figures in the not so distant future.
When asked if they think the record revival will continue, Mandy said “I think it will continue because once you’ve committed you’re in for the long run. Once you’ve brought an amp and you’ve brought a deck and you’ve started your collection you’re not just going to stop”.
Joe also thinks that record sales will continue to soar. “I don’t think it’s going to continue doubling (year on year sales) I think it’s going to continue growing, I don’t think it’s at its peak yet. But then again you have DJ’s and producers releasing cassettes again and I think it’s just putting cool into the uncool and everyone’s loving it.”
The old favourite is awakening from a long slumber and preparing to climb the high and crowded musical ladder. Despite the closing of many HMVs and the lack of other shops selling CD’s, the digital disc format is still the most popular for albums. However, CD sales are on the decline and their resilient fight to be more popular than non-physical formats appears to be fought in vain. 2013 saw digital download sales stagger, while services such as Spotify and Soundcloud witnessed rapid growth as the UK streamed over 7 billion songs.