THE REBIRTH OF VINYL RECORDS: A MODERN SPIN ON THE TRADITIONAL MUSIC PLATFORM

Eagerly walking down to The Music Shack in Albany, NY, 14 year old Diane rushes out of her home on a bitter winter day to obtain a copy of “Frampton Comes Alive”, soon to be the greatest selling album of 1976. Similarly, Kierstyn peers out her bedroom window at age 17, anxiously waiting for the mail truck to deliver her copy of hip-hop artist Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 release To Pimp a Butterfly, pre ordered through Amazon Prime.

While some may view vinyl records as a relic of the past, they have become increasingly prevalent in society over the last few years, now sold in a more innovative manner. The number of vinyl records sold has risen by ten million in the United States from 2013 to 2018, according to Nielsen Media. Just in the past two years, Forbes reports that sales have increased by 12% with 8.6 million units sold in 2017 and 9.7 million in 2018, the highest peak since 1988. This measurement does not even include used vinyl sales. So, what exactly is prompting this vinyl obsession that is causing sales to rocket once again?

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from Nielsen Media on Statista.com

WHAT’S HAPPENING?

Despite being a traditional form of media, the current vinyl climate has taken on a contemporary stance. With new means for selling and buying new and used vinyls, individuals can now start a collection without having to leave their home. For example, subscription service Vinyl Me Please is an online record club that provides subscribers with three vinyls shipped to their door monthly, starting at $25 per month, as advertised on the company’s website. While this may seem like a fresh and exciting business strategy, this is actually a case of history repeating itself.

This service compares eminently to CD clubs in the 80’s and 90’s such as Columbia House who operated by mail. However, Columbia House struggled with sales, seeing exponential downfalls over the years and eventually claiming bankruptcy in 2015, as explained by NPR. With an 18.5% decrease from 2017 to 2018, CD sales are falling tremendously, reported by Forbes. Throughout this, vinyls remain timeless due to the new approach of sellers and the heightened interest of consumers. Vinyl Me Please operates as a blog-like community, dual functioning as an online magazine. The website contains original music and vinyl related articles such as their “50 Best Record Stores in America” column, crowning an applauded store in each state. The website also includes album reviews, words of advice for vinyl collectors, and curated playlists for music lovers. This encourages consumer interaction and emersion into the world of vinyls, transcending the form of media beyond just its physical components.

The digital presence of vinyl records remains prevalent as collectors have a plethora of outlets available to stay updated and active in the world of vinyls. With the existence of online blogs such as Dust & Grooves, music enthusiasts can read interviews with large-scale collectors, learn about vinyl-related events in their area, and share stories about their journey as music fans, as illustrated on the website. Notable music and culture magazines such as NME have began exclusively vinyl-related installations, suggesting a rise in consumer demand for that subject matter. In January 2019, NME posted an entry titled “Vinyl Fetish”, listing desirable vinyl releases of that week. In March 2019, the magazine announced on their website that the vinyl release articles will be posted weekly, allowing readers to be knowledgeable about the current market for records.

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from Vinyl Me Please website

WHY ARE PEOPLE BUYING VINYLS?

In a smartphone-obsessed era, it may seem obscure that an increasing number of people are purchasing vinyl records, a virtually outdated form of media. The people who are now buying vinyls are the ones that grew up listening to music on more convenient formats such as CDs or digital streaming. Despite having an endless library of music available at our fingertips for $10 or less per month, the American youth has become fascinated with buying new records that can cost roughly $20-$50 a piece. From elaborate packaging to the muffled quality of sound, present-day consumers have assorted rationalities for purchasing vinyls

It appears that many share the desire for vinyls as a concrete, collectable item that provides an experience unattainable by digital streaming. Sony, who ceased from making vinyl records for over 30 years, began producing them again in 2017. Featured on the company’s website, Sony sound engineer Kazuo Nada explains the fascination by stating “There’s something magical about having to hunt down a tangible record. Whether you’re looking for a new release or a used record, if you find it in a store and don’t buy it right then and there, you never know if you’ll come across it again. It’s a world of once-in-a-lifetime encounters. Vinyl records offer a deeper, tactile connection to music that you can’t get with digital music.”

Perhaps the modern consumers are additionally seeking an authentic representation of the music they adore’s time period, as the highest selling albums of the past years mostly remain classics. According to Billboard, the albums with the greatest number of vinyl sales of 2018 in the United States were Michael Jackson-Thriller (1982), Fleetwood Mac- Rumours (1977), and The Beatles- Abbey Road (1969). By having an artifact of the time period, listeners feel closer to the origin of the sound.

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Rough Trade record store, from NYCgo.com

Others simply are enthralled by the appearance of vinyl records, appreciative of the work that is put into the design. 20 year old Amanda McCullough received a record player as a gift in 2016, and now purchases vinyl records herself, almost always buying them new. “The packaging is a big factor for me. I love seeing the album artwork in person and also like how some of the vinyls are different colors. It makes me feel like true thought was put into it, and like the artist wants you to feel a certain way while listening to the vinyl.” 21 year old Kierstyn Higgins agrees, sharing “I’m a very visual person. When I can see an album in front of me, it makes me think deeper about what I’m listening to.” Diane Mackey, now 57, shares similar thoughts. “I feel more attached to vinyl records than any other form of music. It was always so cool opening up a new album, especially if it had a unique layout. I remember the excitement of certain albums coming with posters, and the unpredictability of what exactly will be inside.” While reminiscing on her adolescent years of buying vinyl records, Diane also discusses her fondness of the imperfect quality of sound. “When you’d play an album over and over it would start to get scratches and dust, causing sound issues and skipping. But that’s how you knew it was a good record, it shows you listened to it so many times that you wore it out. It makes it more personal,” she shares.

Artists play a major role in the sale of vinyl records as well. Certain musicians will utilize marketing techniques to encourage album purchases while also showing appreciation for their vinyl-loving fans. These exist in promotions with the purchase of their vinyl, giving fans a greater incentive to make the purchase. This past month, Indie-rock musician Hozier held a free signing at Rough Trade Records in New York City for fans that purchased his new album on vinyl. This built a artist-fan relationship, while simultaneously prompting record sales. In 2016, Amoeba Music record store and Urban Outfitters teamed up to promote the release of indie-pop duo Tegan and Sara’s album in a similar manner. Urban Outfitters advertised on their website “Head to UO’s Space 15 in Los Angeles for a live performance by Tegan + Sara. To get in, purchase Love You To Death at Amoeba Music in Hollywood to receive tickets!” Here, fans were rewarded an intimate performance in exchange for purchasing the album in vinyl format.

WHAT TO BUY, WHERE TO BUY THEM

From second-hand shops to clothing stores, vinyls are everywhere. Seeking out a store that carries a new record is no longer a daunting task in most cases. Some stores such as Rough Trade Records maintain the notions of conventional record buying. Taking pride in their status as a large-scale independent record company, founder Geoff Travis states on the website “Our stores provide creative, independent minds a shared place of discovery and congregation,” demonstrating dedication to the cultivated love of sharing music. On the other hand, vinyl records are also readily available at stores such as Urban Outfitters, Target, and Best Buy.

Despite its origins as a clothing store, Urban Outfitters is especially notable for exclusive vinyl releases with alternative covers, vinyl colors, or packaging. As shown on the stores website, shoppers can select the subcategory “UO Exclusives” while browsing the vinyl collection. In addition to the specialized versions of preexisting records, the selection includes albums from 2000’s teen stars Hilary Duff and Hannah Montana which were never released on vinyl at the time of the albums’ popularity and CD/ digital release. Here, stores such as Urban Outfitters are connecting to the new vinyl-obsessed generation with an extra layer of sentimentality and nostalgia, tailoring to the consumers’ childhood memories.

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from Urban Outfitters’ online catalogue

Barnes and Noble bookstore has also catered to consumers by selling vinyl records in store and online. Alike Urban Outfitters, they also have “Barnes and Noble Exclusives”, as displayed on their website. These primarily are movie soundtracks, fusing popular media forms together. Popular titles include The Greatest Showman, Mary Poppins, and Mamma Mia.

Online exists an endless market of vinyl records, new and used. Discogs, the runner up in used vinyl sales to Ebay, currently has over 33 million products in stock, apparent on the Discogs website. Discogs began as an online database in 2000 for information about vinyls, but expanded to a digital marketplace in 2007 as a result of heightened interest and traction. BBC reports that over 10 million sales were made Discogs in 2017 alone. BBC discusses the sale of a rare Beatles vinyl on Discogs for $10,502 that was one of 250 existent in the world. Due to these online databases, devoted collectors can find uncommon, valuable albums by narrowing in on their searches.

Promotional events in the vinyl community encourage sales while building a sense of camaraderie between music fans. Record Store Day is an annual event occurring April 13th held to “celebrate the culture of the independently owned record store,” according to the event’s website. Here, a bountiful list of participating record stores across the United States are listed that will be offering deals, holding exclusive releases, or hosting artist appearances. Moreover, the spirit of sharing music and treating vinyl records as an immersive experience is still prominent in modern day.

It is expected that sales will continue to grow, as they rapidly have for the past decade, Neilsen Media discloses. Jack White, frontman of The White Stripes and vinyl advocate predicts “I definitely believe the next decade is going to be streaming plus vinyl – streaming in the car and kitchen, vinyl in the living room and the den. Those will be the two formats. And I feel really good about that,” as he told Rolling Stone.
 As a timeless form of media that holds a unique place in the lives of each collector, vinyl records will not go out of style.  

THE REVIVAL OF VINTAGE

Over the past few years, vintage trends have been reinstituted into a multitude of aspects of daily life. Dramatic comebacks in “outdated” technological products exist with drastic rises from 2017 to 2018, including Cassette tapes with a 18.9% increase from the previous year and Fujifilm instant cameras with a 15.6% growth. Fashion trends from decades ago are re-emerging as well. Colored sunglasses, chokers, and scrunchies are restoring the vibrance of 90’s fashion. Patchwork denim, velvet, and bomber jackets reflect the boldness of the 80’s. Overalls, bell bottoms, and over the knee boots express freedom of the 70’s and 60’s. 
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