For the first time since 1986, vinyl records are more profitable than CDs, but what about this retro medium is so appealing?
According to Loudwire Magazine, this trend has slowly built and 2019s mid-year Recording Industry Association of America music revenues report showed a closer gap than any year before. The report showed that by July, vinyl records generated $224.1 million selling 8.6 million units, opposed to CD’s which had made $247.9 million on 18.6 million units.
Throughout its lifespan, vinyl has faced numerous challengers for the top spot for auditory medium, from cassettes to digital. So, what is bringing them back to the forefront of people’s speakers?
According to the owner of Heavy Heads Record Store, Chris Grant, one of the key driving forces behind the resurgence is social media.
“Back in the day, you could show your friends your record collection,” Grant said. “Now you can show the whole world.”
Listeners of all genres have been afforded these global spaces to connect and share their interest without being limited by proximity, according to Grant.
Some are moving to vinyl LPs, or vinyl long plays — another term for records — because of the attraction to physical ownership of the music they listen to.
“I’ve grown up my whole life with Spotify, iTunes, buying a song for 99 cents,” Thomas Louzader, a Heavy Heads regular said while skimming Kendrick Lamar records. “I was going through my grandparents’ basement and saw an old Victrola record player and since then I’ve been enamored with this idea of physical media.”
This sense of longing for physical media is not uncommon among younger generations, according to KSMU host and producer Randy Stewart.
“A lot of younger people think there’s something really cool, and there is something really cool about a 12 inch LP for no other reason than you’ve got something large and tangible in your hand,” Stewart said.
“(We’re) seeing the first generation of people whose parents didn’t have records, CDs, or anything,” Erik Milan, owner of local record shop Stick It In Your Ear, said. “Now it’s a very personal thing for the younger generation, like ‘this is my thing, not your thing.’”
One key factor when comparing vinyl to CDs and digital media is the concept of analog sound, a staple of older audio media. It allows for an unlimited bandwidth of sound when mixing without compromising sound quality.
“I look at it as a brick wall, and vinyl is the whole wall,” Milan said. “MP3, streaming or anything like that is missing bricks, it’s compressed, it’s not the full spectrum.”
In addition to an increase of interest among consumers, there is also interest for music makers to return to more physical production of music.
“Artists are seeing that they can actually make money again selling a tangible piece of music,” Milan said. “Vinyl is how people are consuming it.”
Then what is the future of vinyl in the music industry? Will it continue to skyrocket in popularity, or is this just a phase?
According to Stewart, the vinyl record will never dominate again like it once did.
“LPs accounted for no more than about 6% of the total revenue for recorded music in this past year,” Stewart said. “Resurgence? Yes, but I think it may be a little overblown.”
Stewart attributes the LPs financial success primarily to being twice as expensive as their CD counterparts.
“Thirty years ago it was just the exact opposite when CDs came on the market,” Stewart said.“LP is an old medium, in the 1990s all the record labels got rid of their record pressing equipment.”
According to Stewart, the process of getting LP manufacturing back to what it used to be has been a very slow process.
Others believe that while vinyl will never be the apex medium, it will always remain around and at the forefront of culture.
“I don’t think it’s a trend," Grant said, "I think vinyl’s always been around, there have always been collectors even when the CD severely threatened vinyl business.”
“Vinyl never really died,” Milan said.