Unbroken record: the modern and unexpected resurgence of vinyl

Some things never go out of fashion.

There was once a little boy who was obsessed with records. Not the sort handed out after too many Guinnesses – rather the 7-12 inch PVC discs that reach speeds of up to 78rpm.

This boy would spend hours by the turntable listening to Lennon and McCartney, Simon and Garfunkel, and Cheech and Chong. One day he hoped to buy his own record player and build his own record collection, likely ‘sourced’ from his parents when their backs were turned.

Then, in the late eighties, records fell from favour. Cassettes were smaller and easier to play in the car. Then compact discs sounded better than tapes and you could skip tracks with a push of a button. Finally the digital age meant music could be downloaded – properly or otherwise. Many people, parents included, gave away or threw out their collections.

Act in haste, repent at leisure. In 2008, a year that saw overall music sales drop 14 percent, sales of LPs in the US almost doubled from 990,000 to 1.88 million. The momentum has only picked up from there as the below graph shows.

Vinyl sales 1993-2012

While it’s still a niche market, vinyl is making up an increasingly large share of total music sales.

So why is vinyl back, and who’s buying it?

Scratch beneath the surface and you’ll witness a growing backlash against the ‘instantaneous society’ we live in. People are increasingly opting for the slower-paced, authentic experience of restaurants/cinemas/vinyl over the rushed, hollow feeling one can get from fast food/YouTube/mp3s.

Record buyers are people who want to touch the music as much as listen to it. They want to be able to admire the album artwork in all its glory and not as a jpeg on a computer screen. They appreciate the crackle and pop – although not the dreaded snap – that comes from owning and playing a record. And they don’t care if they have to listen to an entire side of music then get up and turn the thing over. Quite the opposite.

Sales figures suggest many of these folk are into a delightful mix of retro and indie. The Beatles’ ‘Abbey Road’ topped the vinyl charts for the last three years and in 2012 lies in third place behind Jack White and The Black Keys. Meanwhile, the digital world is dominated by lyrical magicians such as One Direction and Carly Rae Jepsen.

My chat with Shane Taylor on acoustics the other week got somewhat sidetracked by our mutual love of vinyl.  Shane, who has owned the same copy of ‘Band on the Run’ by Wings for almost 40 years, says record listening is also a visual and physical experience.

“Vinyl’s more than music, vinyl is touchy feely,” he says. “You have to get up, you have to put it on and turn it on. I think that’s probably 50% of the connection, and even if it’s scratchy, you don’t care –you’ve already worked hard to listen to the bloody thing.”

Beatles Abbey Road album

Record fans join a long queue for the latest vinyl reissues.

Many love the warm sound that comes from an LP and want to experience classic albums the way their parents did. Simon Sweetman, newly published author and prolific music blogger, is one such person.

In an email to Open2view Simon wrote: “I grew up with LPs and I think, in some way, my record collection is an attempt to honour and continue my parents’ record collection. They were silly and gave away a lot (most) of their records. All dad’s Beatles LPs.

“I salvaged what was left, mostly the material from the 1980s that I grew up with and then from there I grew the collection.”

Once driven underground, LPs are well and truly re-emerging.

“For a while,” says Simon, “it seemed that record collections were the exclusive domain of DJs and collector/trainspotter types. Now I have loads of friends turning to vinyl, starting collections.

“It’s fun. Listening to music and collecting music was always meant to be fun I thought – and there’s something special about thumbing through someone’s record collection. I always look through albums and books in someone’s home. That’s how I feel like I’m getting to know them.”

Simon’s advice to those wanting to get into – or back into – vinyl? “Get a good record collection while you can. Buy up the good stuff as you see it, when you can afford it. And then build up a decent-enough stereo. You can always upgrade your playing equipment later.

“Better to have the best music – sound is key, sure. But you can always fix that later. I’ve noted a lot of hi-fi buffs with amazing stereos and they sit and listen to Enya. No thanks.”

Simon had much more to say on records, audio gear, writing and his brand new book. But that, as they say, is another story. Actually, it will all be in our next blog on Thursday.

As for that little boy? This year he finally bought himself a cheap turntable and is building his collection with music old and new.

And how about you – have you discovered (or rediscovered) records? Or do you prefer CDs/downloading? Flick us your feedback below or over at our Facebook page.

One thought on “Unbroken record: the modern and unexpected resurgence of vinyl

  1. Pingback: Simon Sweetman on his new book, blogging and why vinyl is number one | Open2view

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