At the turn of the millennium, it seemed as though the vinyl market was dead and buried. Sales of the format were just a fraction of what they had been before the advent of CDs. As digital downloads took over from compact discs in turn, records seemed consigned to history. Yet around 2008, something strange began to happen.
That year marked the first Record Store Day, as independent shops across the UK and US banded together to fight back against years of shrinking profits. They recognised that their situation was a long way from the heady days of the Seventies, when records sold by the tens of millions. Yet rather than fighting an uphill struggle to recapture some of those sales, they instead embraced their current situation. While vinyl had become a niche product, there was still a die-hard market of collectors out there. Numerous big-name artists rallied behind the cause, too, offering up exclusive releases and reissues of rare, out-of-print albums and singles in an effort to keep these independent shops alive. True to type, record enthusiasts turned out in force, some queuing up overnight to be certain they would get what they were after. In the decade since then, RSD has become an annual event- and helped to spark a full-on vinyl revival.
In 2016, vinyl sales overtook digital downloads to become the most popular method of purchasing music. The format keeps going from strength to strength, too- it’s predicted that record sales will exceed 10 million units worldwide this year. Clearly, these figures don’t just come from independent shops. HMV now sell an enormous amount of vinyl, and a large proportion of those sales are made up of new releases. Even supermarkets have started stocking records. But why are so many people turning back to their turntables?
It may be down to just how disposable music has become in the streaming era. With tens of millions of songs available instantly through Spotify, our listening experience is radically different to what it once was. For many, vinyl is a way of making music more immersive again. Rather than shuffling random songs, a record forces us to listen to an album the way the artist intended. By taking the time to lower the needle into the grooves, and flip the record over halfway through, we appreciate the simple act of listening to music a whole lot more.
The vinyl revival also brings with it a crucial method of self-identification: the record collection. Adding an album or track to our Spotify library doesn’t really say anything about who we are as a person. Buying a record, though, gives us more than just the music it contains. It’s also a physical representation of our tastes, and as our collections grow, they come to reflect our personalities. Do we stick to a handful of favourite artists, and collect everything in their discography? Or do we branch out, picking up new discoveries along the way? Even the way we organize our collections says something about who we are.
When record sales started to spike again, many industry analysts predicted it would just be a flash in the pan. Yet this hasn’t been the case. The market continues to grow year upon year, as the figures reach levels unseen since the 1980s. As a way of making music special, records have an irresistible allure- so the vinyl revival is well and truly here to stay.