You’ve probably heard talk of the rise of vinyl. Everyone is doing it. Hell, if you’re reading this, you’re probably a part of it yourself. Vinyl is dominating sales in the music industry, and many artists are having a hard time stocking enough records at their merch table.
At first, it appears that the music industry is taking a giant step backward. Like skinny jeans and dudes with big hair, vinyl has reemerged as the trendy platform for selling recorded music at live shows and record stores. If you live in North America or Europe, the hipster bar and nightclub strip in your town is likely ripe with vinyl. Go to a club or show this weekend and see if you can prove me wrong.
But why is this happening? What is behind this vinyl resurrection? Here are some thoughts on the matter. I’d like to get out of the way immediately that personally, I think the growth of vinyl is great. It means people are paying for music. Plus, the music sounds so damn good. I doubt there will ever be a digital music format that comes close to matching the perfection that is Dark Side Of The Moon on vinyl.
The only thing that sucks is that this trend is not going to last.
Vinyl is a fad
Yes, it is. I don’t want to hear your “No way bro, I’ve been hording records since I was 12!” line. Maybe you have. If so, you’re in the minority. Vinyl is the recorded music version of N’SYNC. Right now, music fans love it. They’re buying their significant others Bluetooth-enabled record players for birthdays and ransacking the dairy department at the local grocery store for empty milk crates to store their special edition limited release green-printed Drake album.
Fourteen-year-old kids whose parents have never even operated a turntable are pre-ordering the deluxe package from their favorite artist and getting colored vinyl, a t-shirt, and a digital download card.
But in four years, they’re going to pack up for a move to college and will need to eliminate unneeded stuff. Guess what’s going to the thrift store?
For now, though, artists should take full advantage of the trend. After all, they’re capitalists too. For them the uptick in vinyl sales offers one serious perk – people are actually buying their music. It’s crazy, but true – vinyl sales rose 26% in 2016 and show no sign of slowing down anytime this year.
People aren’t listening to the records
What’s even more crazy (and to me is what confirms that this whole thing is a trend) is that so many of these people buying records are never actually going to listen to them. The Telegraph noted last year that 48% of people who bought a record had yet to play it one month later. Contradict that to Spotify, where fans search for a song and then play it immediately. And to CDs, which (when people were buying them) were immediately torn into and popped into the car CD player.
The article goes on to report that 7% of those fans don’t even own a turntable, which surprises me because I’d think that number would be much higher. Perhaps the most accurate depiction of the vinyl revolution was published by The Hard Times, who in their standard fashion, poked fun at the trend of record buying by people who don’t own a record player.
Until recently, I was guilty of this. I’m certainly no diehard collector, but I must admit that over the years I’ve amassed about 1/3 of a milk crate worth of records, typically purchased when I’m several drinks deep at a show and succumb to the impulse. I had no record player until Christmas of last year when my wife bought me one after four years of listening to me talk about how I was about to buy one.
I buy records for the nostalgia (and the alcohol), not the purpose. Lame, I know. But it only goes to further my belief in the whim-ful trendiness of this whole situation.
The beauty of it all
Honestly, even though this trend is going to go the way of the buffalo, vinyl will always be great. The music sounds better because it’s recorded as actual sound. It’s also cool that artists are putting the effort into pressing albums that are unique and can provide a real source of pride to themselves and their diehard fans.
When it’s all said and done and the Chad’s and Brittany’s of the world move on to the next fad, I sincerely hope that artists will be able to replace the money they’ve made off selling vinyl with something else.
Maybe SMART TECHNOLOGY will come to life and allow for quicker, more accurate royalty tracking and payments.
No matter what happens, the vinyl resurrection will be considered fun while it lasted. If nothing else productive happened save for a few bucks being generated, it gave contemporary bands and artists the chance to learn more about how their heroes recorded and released music. It taught them to slow down and plot out their merchandise and business plan to incorporate things that don’t move at the speed of the internet. There’s a certain beauty in being willing to wait long enough to release an album that there might actually be cause for the celebratory (and once incredibly common) Album Release Party.
Much to the chagrin of those who just throw their music on Sound Cloud and call it good.
A couple notes to consider for any artists out there considering pressing your music to vinyl:
It takes a while. In case I didn’t make that clear enough. The vinyl process consists of the artist submitting masters, waiting up to two months for a test pressing, then another two months for the actual order to be pressed. Because so many artists are pressing vinyl these days and the amount of businesses handling the orders is small, the process might actually take longer than that. The moral of the story is that if you’re the guy that’s always rushing around at the last minute getting everything ready for an already announced release date, vinyl will either be the thing that breaks you or the thing that makes you change your ways and get organized.
It’s not digital, and thus not very versatile. Vinyl is not the way to go for the DJ who puts together those epically long remixes that never seem to end. Everything about the actual record itself is very structured and predetermined, depending on RPM and format. Do some research before making a decision to press vinyl to see if your music will even work within the structure.
It’s expensive. Plan to spend around $1500 for 100 full-length, 12-inch, 33 RPM albums. More if you want special pressings that include differing colors or artwork.