For the record, vinyl sales never fully disappeared, despite the efforts of the shiny, streamlined compact disc to smash them. But, with music industry giants such as Spotify and iTunes rendering the CD obsolete, we are now seeing the analogue countertrend. The record is becoming an antidote to our soulless streaming culture – not just for the die-hard audiophiles and nostalgic collectors, but for a younger generation too.
Last year – for the first time since 1995 – over 1.3m LPs were sold in the UK, with Pink Floyd, Arctic Monkeys, and Jack White driving this surge. A similar trend can be seen across the Atlantic, where 9.2 million vinyls were sold – the highest since Nielsen began tracking the data. Vinyl sales were in fact the silver lining of a cloudy and miserable picture of overall album sales, which fell again last year.
Carl Smithson, manager of Cowley’s analog-championing independent record shop, Truck Store, has also borne witness to this trend in the store, where there’s been a marked upsurge in vinyl sales over the last two years. “For me, the most interesting aspect is the sheer diversity of people getting into, or back into, vinyl,” Carl says. “There’s the traditional audiophiles and collectors of course, but there’s also been a big surge in younge buyers making a conscious effort to buy something tangible they can really treasure, often buying an album they’ve owned on CD or streamed, but which they want in a format with more longevity and romance.”
“The other great thing with vinyl,” Carl enthuses, “particularly in this world of playlists and iPod shuffles, is that people are truly re-connecting with the concept of an album as a complete work. People are making a point to listen to these albums in their entirety and are choosing the format which adds most value to that experience.”
For all the inadvertent effects that online music services have had on vinyl sales, there have also been some smart moves made by the music industry, accounting for the timing of this resurgence. Including a download code with vinyl records has allowed object fetishists and collectors to listen to music without depreciating the value of the vinyl, while events such as Record Store Day have brought about huge media attention. These trends are also being
reflected in the changing nature of record stores. “The High Fidelity style snobbery is simply not viable anymore and it’s being replaced with a much more welcoming shopping environment,” Carl tells me. Despite this seemingly
increased access to the vinyl format, the entire industry is still only a drop in the ocean of overall music sales (two per cent). One of the perpetual problems faced by the industry is insufficient infrastructure in manufacturing the large wax discs. The resurgent wave of vinyl popularity is putting even more pressure on the already tiny number of record pressing plants and driving prices up further, making a vision of vinyl as more than a niche product a distant reality. Until now, that is.
Not only has America’s largest record pressing plant, United Record Pressing, promised to open a second plant, eventually tripling its capacity, but the DVC (Desktop Vinyl Cutter) – a project started by Australian engineer Paul Butler Tayar and tech team Machina.Pro – is now under development after a crowdfunding campaign. Tayar hopes to democratize the vinyl industry with his “turn-key” stereo cutting system, which lets you plug in your audio
and cut straight to vinyl – the final frontier to absolute music self-sufficiency.
Carl, too, is optimistic about another fruitful year for record sales. And these latest developments in vinyl manufacturing could just be the cherry on top.