Vinyl LP Sees Resurgence
The resurgence comes amidst digital downloading.
Over the last few years, the music industry has changed at a rapid pace. Digital downloads have grown in prominence and big box stores have shrunk floor space devoted to compact discs due to declining sales year after year.
While CD sales and the industry in general have taken a hit during this massive shift towards digital distribution, a time tested analog format is witnessing a huge resurgence alongside the digital revolution, the vinyl LP.
According to the recently released 2009 Nielsen Sound Scan report, vinyl sales increased 33 percent from 2008 to 2009. Sales for 2009 totaled 2.5 million units sold, up from 1.8 million in 2008. The 2.5 million mark is a record high since Nielsen began keeping records in 1991.
Digital album sales also had a big year, totaling a record setting 76.4 million units sold, up from 65.8 million in 2008. Digital sales now account for 40 percent of all U.S. album purchases.
Sales figures specifically for CDs were not included in the report.
Luke Lavin, owner of Bull’s Eye Records on Milwaukee’s east side has seen a recent increase in interest of vinyl records.
“Interest probably started picking up a few years ago, it has definitely picked up over the last year or so,” Lavin said. “There are a few reasons. One of them is people longing for more interaction with their music. Rather than just putting their computer on random or whatever. They want to place a record on the turn table, play it front to back.”
Interaction and tangibility are also important many recording artists. The Milwaukee area band, Bored Games, recently released their first album, on vinyl only.
“For a lack of a better word, vinyl is just cooler, the experience of listening is just so much more fun,” Said Logan Byrne, the group’s drummer. “When I listen to a CD, it could play for 65 minutes and I lose any kind of focus because I hadn’t had to interact with it.”
Like many music enthusiasts, Byrne sees a disadvantage to CDs.
“CDs are easy to lose, easy to damage, and large portions of the time just end up being transferred to ones computer anyways,” Said Byrne.
The record labels are beginning to acknowledge the trend in vinyl popularity while addressing the issue of portability, a feature that vinyl records lack.
“A lot of vinyl now is coming with downloads, so you’re almost getting a CD at that point for free,” Said Ken Crisien, a Bull’s Eye Record’s employee. “The labels are being smart about giving you either a CD with it [the album] or an Mp3 card or download, which could be driving vinyl sales too. Rather than buying it on iTunes, you have something physical.”
In the last year Wilco, Fleet Foxes and Grizzly Bear have released vinyl records accompanied by a CD or Mp3 download. They all have an album in the top ten best selling vinyl albums of 2009.
“I guess it goes hand in hand with digital downloads and that people want something tangible that shows they own the music,” Said Byrne.
Radiohead took the concept one-step further, initially releasing their 2007 album In Rainbows on their website, letting the customer name the price. Regardless, In Rainbows charted in the top ten vinyl records for 2009. Radiohead was also the top selling vinyl artist for the year, selling 47,000 albums according to the report.
Releasing music this way balances the ease and transferability of digital music, with the want for tangibility, something digital-only distribution lacks.
“I know whenever I bought something on iTunes, which is very rare, I feel like I’m getting ripped off. I’ve got nothing to show for it besides a file,” Said Crisien.
The future of the music industry is still unclear. New and innovative ways of releasing and distributing music emerge each year. Despite digital distribution rapid rise to prominence, Lavin is optimistic for the future of physical music.
The vinyl-download combination is an increasingly popular method of generating revenue as the once standard compact disc slowly goes the way of the 8-track and cassette tape.
“Digital distribution is going to be around forever,” Lavin said. “I don’t think the vinyl resurgence is temporary, I don’t think it will continue to grow at the rate of the last couple years, but I think it’s always going to have its niche as a physical format. It’s going to continue picking up CD sales that are falling away.”