Ian Ringstead looks at the resurgence of the big black disc.
I cut my hifi teeth on vinyl in the 70’s and it wasn’t until the mid to late 80’s that records started to wane in sales as CD the saviour of the universe took over. I was very reluctant at first to take on CD and it was the 90’s before I succumbed to the silver discs seductions. Then about ten years ago I saw the light and got into vinyl again. In the interim period I sold or gave away quite a bit of my record collection and just stored about a hundred of my most cherished albums. Having a young child in the late 80’s meant it wasn’t practical to have a turntable and CD’s were so convenient that I even sold my turntable, shock horror!
Every year since the late 90’s there has been rumours that vinyl is making a comeback. Recently Sainsbury’s started stocking vinyl again and I am overjoyed to see this, but they only stock about twenty different popular titles currently. That may increase if sales take off, but I won’t hold my breath. Now I’m not trying to be a party pooper here, but I honestly can’t see records selling in their millions again as in the 70’s. I avidly go to charity shops now whenever my wife and I visit other places or scour the second hand record stalls at shows.
Today audiophiles are in several camps whether it is the latest digital streaming and storage devices with very high sampling rates and capabilities, DSD, FLAC etc. or like me hanging onto my analogue roots with vinyl. There are even rumours that the humble audio cassette is becoming a niche product to own again and of course reel to reel has always had a hardcore of fans and even they are being catered for again, albeit at a high price.
As we have seen, CD sales have plummeted and high street stores like HMV seem to sell mainly DVD and computer games these days with CD and vinyl taking up less space than ever. I have to revert to eBay or Amazon to buy my music as high street stores have diminished considerably.
Vinyl revival is a term being used by the media and listeners of music to describe the renewed interest and increased sales of vinyl records, or gramophone records, that has been taking place in the Western world since the year 2007 .The analogue format made of PVC had been the main vehicle for the commercial distribution of pop music from the 1950s until the 1980s and 1990s when they were largely replaced by the compact disc. Since the turn of the millennium, CDs have been partially replaced by digital downloads. However, in 2007, vinyl sales made a sudden small increase, starting its comeback, and by the early 2010s it was growing at a very fast rate. In some territories, vinyl is now more popular than it has been since the late 1980s, though vinyl records still make up only a marginal percentage (<6%) of overall music sales. Along with steadily increasing vinyl sales, the vinyl revival is also evident in the renewed interest in the record shop (as seen by the creation of the annual worldwide Record Store Day ), the implementation of music charts dedicated solely to vinyl, and an increased output of films (largely independent) dedicated to the vinyl record and culture.
Though many sales in vinyl are of modern artists with modern styles or genres of music, the revival has sometimes been considered to be a part of the greater revival of retro style, since many vinyl buyers are too young to remember vinyl being a primary music format.
In November 2014, it was reported that over one million vinyl records had been sold in the UK since the beginning of the year. Sales had not reached this level since 1996. The British Phonographic Industry (BPI) predicted that Christmas sales would bring the total for the year to around 1.2 million. However, vinyl sales were still a very small proportion of total music sales. Pink Floyd’s The Endless River became the fastest-selling UK vinyl release of 2014 – and the fastest-selling since 1997 – despite selling only 6,000 copies.
Record Store Day is an internationally celebrated day observed the third Saturday of April each year. Its purpose, as conceived by independent record store employee Chris Brown, is to celebrate the art of music. The day brings together fans, artists, and thousands of independent record stores across the world.
Record Store Day was officially founded in 2007 and is celebrated globally with hundreds of recording and other artists participating in the day by making special appearances, performances, meet and greets with their fans, the holding of art exhibits, and the issuing of special vinyl and CD releases along with other promotional products to mark the occasion.
In 2013, for the week of Record Store Day in the United Kingdom, 68,936 records were sold (an 86.5% rise from 36,957 in 2012). This can be broken down into 1,249 7″ albums, 25,100 12″ albums, 27,042 7″ singles and 15,545 12″ singles.
The visibility of records on the new chart will hopefully alter this. With fiction, the hardback and paperback charts have existed separately for years. Like hardbacks, vinyl is now seen as more prestigious; hardened collectors may buy only a dozen new albums a year, but they’ll be the ones that will matter most to them. These days records are more than mere product – when music is free to listen to digitally you have to fear for the future of the compact disc in a jewel case, but a vinyl record has the cultural weight of a hardback. Besides, it’s a more enveloping experience than hearing Spotify through your laptop; once you’ve put a record on it dares you to walk away, or even to skip a track. There are added layers of enjoyment.
Record Store Day started in 2007, with well- thought-out, limited edition vinyl records to lure in buyers and remind them that if they didn’t shop there, the shops would all soon disappear. The tangible negativity around the event this year – the notion that fan and labels are being milked by record companies and not just the major labels – is healthy. It suggests that Record Store Day isn’t necessary any more; the vinyl boom has outgrown it. In the West Riding of Yorkshire alone there are now independent shops in Leeds, Halifax, Huddersfield, Skipton, Shipley and Holmfirth. Best of the new crop is the Record Cafe in Bradford, a former bookies which sells vinyl by day and real ale by night.
Elsewhere, Urban Outfitters is selling records to young people whose older siblings had probably never seen a record player – across the globe it is now one of the biggest stockists of vinyl. Old heads might be critical about the limited selection, but if you’re 14 years old and you pick up a Modern Lovers LP while buying a new pair of jeans, that has got to be healthy for the future of vinyl.
So as I see it, vinyl may never be the force it once was, but it has never gone away, nestling in the background ready to remerge. During my dormant period with my record collection they sat in the storage unit gathering dust but I never gave up on them; I’d invested far too much money, time and memories in them to get rid of them. I’m glad I persisted because when I listen to them now on my system they sound sublime, and at times amaze me how a tiny diamond tracking a wiggly groove of plastic can produce such a fantastic sound. With modern technology like the mobile phone and computer the record looks positively primitive, but boy can it still show us a thing or two.
Happy listening and spread the word, vinyl is alive and kicking.