Just like the weather, music is unpredictable by nature. If it were to abide by a set of rules then many of the greatest artists the world has ever known wouldn’t be around as every song would be a bland rehash of another. The same can be said in the way that music is produced. During most of the 20th century Vinyl was the default format and it seemed like nothing could stop it but that wasn’t the case.
Music veteran and record store-owner Sandy McLean explained this. “The creation of the CD definitely chipped away at vinyl’s success over time, becoming the new go to format while vinyl became second best. Arguably the final nail in the coffin for us was iTunes. At first it seemed over ambitious to think you could get an album without leaving the house but when it became reality, well that was when we got hit hard”.
The death of the record looked inevitable, sinking to as low as 0.5 million copies annually (Nielsen Soundscan). Recently though, the vinyl has experienced a resurrection that has surprised many. McLean explained that it comes down to various factors. “Vinyl is in the right place at the right time. People have become dissatisfied with digital downloads because even though they are portable, it doesn’t have the same satisfaction as going out, buying a physical copy and starting a collection.” Charlie Ward, 18, from Cambridge said “Records can transport you back to different eras as you’re hearing 100% of the original recording, nothing can beat the crackle of a vinyl, something that digital downloads can’t compare to”. In addition to this, 21 year-old Brendan Yorke stated that he prefers vinyl due to how unreliable downloads are.
Unsurprisingly record stores have benefitted greatly from this revival. From 2009 to 2013 there has been a 9% increase in the amount of record stores in Britain which has allowed for events like Record Store Day blossom into a special yearly event for music lovers. McLean spoke fondly about the event, emphasising that “RSD was a major success this year and it’s no surprise to see why people love it. Not only do you get special releases but you also get to communicate with other people who are passionate about vinyl and music, making the whole process of buying a record that bit more social-able and fun.” Marc Gouk, 19 from Glasgow, criticised the event though, stating that the event was ruined by touts reselling vinyl that were in limited stock for nearly 4 times their original price. McLean addressed the problem though, saying that “the trade association that we work with Entertainment Retailers Association found that only 5% of the items bought on RSD were then resold on auction sites so it was a very small percentage.” He went on to say that “it’s a part of human nature, as long as there are tickets for gigs and vinyl then there will be touts trying to make a profit”.
It’s not been all rosy for vinyl though. Regardless of the fact that 844,122 records have been sold in 2014 alone, critics like 24 year old Brodie McCulloch of Ayr say that this revival will be shortlived as “it is a fad just like pet rocks were back in the 70’s”. As well as this, others like Effy Brown of Glasgow say that it is unfair that “genres like indie rock are benefiting from this revival more than others”. McLean was quick to defend vinyl and address these problems. “In regards to people that say this revival is a fad, I think it’s incredibly naïve to assume that. Vinyl has been around for more than 70 years now and even though the popularity has dipped especially in the 90s, people are now beginning to show their dissatisfaction with other formats and have realised the benefits of records”. Talking about certain genres benefiting more than others, he pointed out that indie rock dominates the sales with artists like Arctic Monkeys and The Smiths but that isn’t such a bad thing. “It draws people into what is for most young people an unfamiliar phenomenon and having artists they recognise like the big rock bands of today and yesteryear means they can slowly ease their way into it all. Lots of genres and sub-genres have enjoyed success in this revival and it’ll only continue as the years go by”.
It doesn’t matter what way you look at it, the popularity of vinyl at the moment is undeniable. By the end of this year sales are expected to surpass 1 million and big stores like Urban Outfitters and HMV are hopping onto the record scene. In what is predominantly an unpredictable sector of entertainment, music will now have to welcome back an old favourite. It may not have learned any new tricks but the sound still packs a bite.