Vinyl records have been making a huge comeback in the last decade especially in the last five years because people are buying vinyl records again like it’s 1988. As the owner of Unified, a company that originally exclusively makes CDs, my team and I were able to closely pay attention and experience first-hand the trends in physical media. At the start of the pandemic, we were quite surprised to get a lot of vinyl record pressing inquiries and orders. Now that we’re halfway through 2020, the majority of the projects we had are indeed mostly vinyl. However prepared we were for this shift, the spike of the demand for vinyl records was still something that we didn’t anticipate to happen so quickly.
But now that I think about it, this shouldn’t really be that much of a surprise if we paid close attention to last year’s statistics. According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), for the first time in decades, vinyl record sales surpassed CD sales and other physical media in 2019.
The revenue from shipments of physical products last year fell by 23 percent from 2017. Vinyl is the only thing that continues to increase in revenue with an 8 percent growth, amounting to $419 million, the highest since 1988. That means that by value, vinyl is now making up more than one-third of physical music revenue.
Of course, we should not try to look at this phenomenon independently. We know that the number for vinyl records is rising when the CD is doing a dramatic nosedive (CD revenue plummeted 41.5 percent in 2019!) and streaming takes the biggest piece of the pie when it comes to music revenue (80%+). This just means that the way people consume music is shifting really quickly and this digital shift has probably made consumers love vinyl once again.
We did some research and asked our clients and friends in the music industry why they think vinyl is not just making a strong comeback in 2020, but is showing all of us that it is here to stay:
BETTER SOUND QUALITY
Now I know some of you would roll your eyes because this is one popular debate when it comes to vinyl and many say it is a myth but hear us out. Many vinyl lovers say sound quality is definitely much more superior in vinyl while many others say this is utter BS. We got a little geeky and dug a bit about this and we found out that indeed, if we get technical, vinyl should sound better than CD if you have well-trained ears. Why is this so?
Vinyl has more peaks and valleys compared to the compressed digital form.
That is why many music aficionados say you can hear the difference in sound and that vinyl is better than CD or digital files. People have been listening to MP3s for more than a decade and when they listen to vinyl records for the first time, they can tell there’s something slightly different with the sound quality. Here’s one vinyl lover explaining why he likes the vinyl experience:
“Records have a more omni-dimensional sound that really fills the room a lot better. LPs sound warmer, and you are more likely to notice subtle sounds and instruments” according to Andrew Schaer, owner of Hear Again Music & Movies in Gainesville, Florida.
Vinyl pressed today sound better than those pressed in the 60s too. This is because the original recordings are now digital rather than lower quality tape masters. The recording equipment used today is far more advanced as well.
THE MUSIC LISTENING EXPERIENCE IS MORE SPECIAL
Streaming is so accessible and easy that it’s almost like eating junk food. It doesn’t involve any memorable and charming rituals like when you play cassette tapes wherein you had to manually press play and turn the tape over…or the CD with its thick booklets, and yes, the romantic cracking noise of vinyl. There is something about how we consume something that makes it special. For some people, listening to music should be treated like a 10-course meal. And that’s what the physical media, especially vinyl, is for.
Jack White, one of the most vocal advocates of vinyl, told Rolling Stone:
“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.”
If you want to impress guests, especially your in-laws, it’s safe to say that you will wow them more by putting a record on your turntable instead of clicking songs on your computer.
IT’S A SORT OF KEEPSAKE
We want to own something physical, especially the albums we really love. Vinyl is something we can touch, we can show off, we can keep forever and hand down to our children. And if it’s a limited edition vinyl record, we feel like we have something special in our hands. It is ours and ours alone and if we want to give it as a gift, it is definitely more precious than just digital files. It becomes a piece of artwork that we own. This is something streaming can never do. Vinyl is definitely more valuable and you can even sell them on Ebay 50 years from now.
While no one really expects vinyl to take over streaming, musicians and industry experts agree that the love for vinyl records is here to stay for much longer despite or especially because of the dominance of music streaming. Streaming is so available…so we crave for something more special than just easy clicks and skips… and that’s where vinyl comes in.
About the Author
James Hill is a veteran of the music industry. He first worked at Warner Reprise Records then later joined Interscope/ Geffen Records where he managed producers and songwriters and got his first platinum record for Keyshia Cole’s The Way It Is. He is now helping indie artists with branding and manufacturing through his company Unified Manufacturing, a CD/DVD/vinyl and merch company in LA.