Out with the old and in with the new. The age-old saying has had particular relevance in the music industry, with new inventions being created yearly, making people ditch their previous listening device to keep up with the latest trends. Each year products get smaller, faster, and more convenient, and in doing so outdating the technology that came before it. Eventually music went digital and with that most people assumed that physical music would be a thing of the past.
However, there is one particular outlier that has seen a commercial resurgence in recent years unlike no other. Vinyl records popularity have been growing steadily since 2007, with 2021 being their largest recorded sale in the UK in 30 years. But it is only when you look across the Atlantic do you start the see how successful vinyl has become.
A report from the Record Industry Association of America reveals that revenues from vinyl grew 61% in 2021 accounting for $1 billion. The last time the format sold that amount was back in 1986, an era that saw the likes of Whitney Houston, Elton John and Stevie Wonder all topping the charts.
Today, the medium’s popularity can be seen through events such as Record Store Day. The international event was originally conceived in America in 2007 between 1400 independent record store employees to “celebrate and spread the word about the unique culture”.
The day is known for artists coming together with their community for meet and greets and performances inside their local record store, with the very first Record Store Day seeing the members of Metallica hanging out in Rasputin Music in San Francisco.
In Ireland, Record Store Day gives vinyl lovers a chance to grab those few niche records to add to their collect, with stores like Tower Records, Spindizzy and Freebird all taking part. Notable releases from the day just passed include: U2’s; “A Celebration”, with an additional 2 unreleased tracks and The Cranberries; “Remembering Dolores”, a collection of specially curated songs that was originally exclusive to streaming, now in vinyl format.
It’s definitely more than apparent that vinyl IS popular, but to find out why, there is a number of factors to look at that each play a role. The first being the sound (obviously), but more specifically the lack of sound lost in comparison to digital music.
Digital music suffers as our listening devices cannot read analogue soundwaves. They can however convert them into a digital signal, “a long chain of numbers, made up of ones and zeros”. Our devices then convert the signal back into analogue so we can listen to it, because dancing to morse code on a Saturday night can be quite difficult.
It is during this back-and-forth process where digital music can lose information and ultimately affect the final product. Vinyl and it’s grooves however are able to capture every aspect of the analogue soundwave “making it the only true lossless format”.
When speaking to Jessica Lynch of Golden Discs, she revealed another aspect of why people love vinyl so much:
“A lot of people I’ve talked to love the crackly / people love getting secondhand vinyl because the crackly in that is much more prominent than it would be in the newer ones”
The “crackly” that Jessica is referring to is due to the ultra-sensitive needle, or stylus, that is used to translate the song from the grooves in the vinyl through to the speakers of the record player. Over time dust can gather and imperfections can form within the grooves that the stylus will pick up on and convey it as a warm, crackling sound. This can add a certain uniqueness to own a record on vinyl.
Jessica also stated that peoples love for the past is another driver of the format’s popularity, “I think it’s the vintage aspect of it / a lot of people have gotten really into the 70s or the 80s, and obviously that’s when vinyl was big”.
The reemergence of old fashion styles isn’t exactly a new thing, but when walking around the streets of Dublin its clear to see from the bucket hats and fanny packs that the 80s are back with a bang.
One final reason why the vinyl resurgence has taken place is the need for tangibility in an otherwise digital world. “Vinyl can be shared, traded, gifted, autographed and tacked to the bedroom wall”. It is this physical presence and actually being able to hold the record in your hands that gives it another sense of value.
As quoted by thejournal.ie, Adrian Walshe of Spindizzy Records believes that:
“They need something tangible. They want superior sound quality. It’s in our nature to collect the things we love. Music is incredibly important to all of us. We simply want more than a download. Oceans of downloads on a hard drive are a bit soulless after all.”
In the same article Steve Taylor of South East Records states that:
“I think there is a bit of a fad regarding vinyl at the moment which will gradually fall away / But if a small fraction stay with it, then that’s your next generation of collectors / No matter what medium is out there, be it streaming or Spotify, there will always be people who have to have the physical thing.”
Despite the obvious commercial success vinyl has had in the last 10 plus years, there are some that argue that it never actually left.
When asked why he thinks is driving the resurgence of vinyl in recent years, Nevin Geo of All City Records answered:
Nevin drives home the point that events like Record Store Day allude to. Even though there has been a huge commercial drive in mainstream records sales, highlighted by Jess: “A lot of people would come in and buy Harry Styles or Olivia Rodrigo”, there has always been clusters of communities around the world that have sworn by the medium since its creation.
Some record shops have even gone as far as to create their own record label to keep the medium going. All City Records are one such store that have done so, touting an impressive 27 signed international artist from countries like Canada, Berlin, America, and Ireland.
This keeps up fight against the giant labels who dominate the music market such as Interscope, RCA, and Atlantic, which are owned by Universal Music Group, Sony Music and Warner Music Group respectively.
Ventures like these ensure that the beloved medium will be kept alive, even if it falls out of the mainstream market.