Statistics show that one in five of all albums purchased in the UK is now vinyl. So what's behind this old-fashioned medium making such a huge comeback?
According to statistics published by the BPI a couple of months ago, streaming now accounts for 80 per cent of the music consumption in the UK. Despite the incredible growth of online streaming platforms like Spotify, iTunes, Apple Music and Tidal over the past 15 years, a more traditional medium has also seen a resurgence in interest and sales in the music industry.
Sales of vinyl records saw a surge in 2020, and almost one in five of all albums purchased in the UK is now vinyl. LPs were largely left behind when cassette tapes, then CDs, then MP3 players, then digital streaming came on the scene, but last year, records were more profitable than CDs for the first time in 30 years. According to the BPI, people bought almost 5 million vinyl records in 2020, and LPs have once again become the most popular physical musical medium.
While vinyl records have for some time been associated with middle-aged people with a nostalgic affection for LPs, research shows that the main driving force behind this vinyl revival is actually millennial and Gen Z consumers. Around half of those buying vinyl these days are under 35, and young people are spearheading the modern rebirth of this traditional medium.
Given the technological advances in the music industry, vinyl should have been rendered extinct long ago. And yet, vinyl sales have been steadily increasing over the past 13 years. There’s an element of hipster fascination to the vinyl revival, but a passing trend doesn’t account for steady growth. With digital streaming so easy and convenient, why are so many people drawn to traditional records?
Though we have an almost endless supply of music at our fingertips through digital streaming, vinyl is a physical media for experiencing music, something tangible to hold and own. The nature of streaming is transient—we buy access to music, but we don’t actually own it. For many, having something tangible and interacting with it gives depth to the experience of music. Records are physical products that can be displayed, gifted, shared, traded and passed down through generations.
A personal experience
Streaming services can offer whatever you want, when you want it, but many feel that they can’t compete with the authentic musical experience records offer. In an age where most people spend hours on their phone and computer every day, records are detached from technology.
For a lot of people, putting on a record and listening to it from beginning to end is a deeper, more personal experience than flitting from artist to artist, from song to song on Spotify. In some ways, listening to an album is a journey, and experiencing it the way the artist intended can make us feel more connected to the music and the artist.
"For some people, the very imperfections traditional LPs often have bring the music to life in a different way"
Sound quality is a hot topic when it comes to vinyl records. A lot of music aficionados feel that the analogue sound vinyl offers is superior to modern digital audio, particularly with regards to the compressed formats streaming platforms use. There’s a common belief that old-school analogue audio has a warmer, fuller sound than digitised music.
For some people, the very imperfections traditional LPs often have, such as the familiar crackle when the record starts, bring the music to life in a different way. It makes the music seem more personal and real than the vast range of slick, flawless tracks available at the touch of a button can achieve. For many, digital files seem soulless in comparison to vinyl records.
There’s a ritualistic aspect to vinyl that a lot of people are drawn to, too. The act of putting a record on—carefully removing the record from the sleeve, placing it on the record player and gently dropping the needle on the right groove—is a more assiduous, mindful way of engaging with music. For vinyl lovers, records represent a different way to experience music.
When you’re listening to vinyl, you can’t tap a button and go about your day while the streaming service provides hours of music. You need to stay close to the record player to move the needle and flip the record over. With LPs, music becomes an activity that you take part in rather than just background noise. In our busy, hectic modern society, it could be that many of us need the element of slowing down that enjoying records represents.
It’s clear that the vinyl revival is well underway, and vinyl records are truly making a comeback. In an increasingly digital society, there’s something to be said for analogue experiences. Perhaps one of the great things about being alive in the 21st century is our ability to have the best of both worlds—the timeless appeal of tangible, physical records alongside the seamless, easy access to vast music libraries that streaming offers.
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