Spinning The Black Circle: The Resurgence Of Vinyl Records

I am lucky enough to know and experience the three most popular musical audio forms today: vinyl, compact discs and mp3. I can say that I am an audiophile in a sense because music has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. I remember when I was young, my grandparents would take out their LPs of classical music and marches, play the records in their Grundig stereo system while doing errands. Hearing and listening to those records was my first musical education. My dad also has his own collection of vinyl records, mostly music of his time. Elvis Presley, Harry Belafonte, Frank Sinatra, Pat Boone, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Platters are just some of the records that are regularly playing in our house. Of all the records that my dad played back then, it was The Beatles’ “A Hard Days Night”  that had a large impact in my musical life. I was 11 when I bought my first two Beatles records – The compilation double LP 1964-67 and 1967-70; and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. For a short period I was into cassettes and owning a Sony Walkman was cool.

The 2010 no.1 LP is The Betale's "Abbey Road". Image courtesy of beatlesalbumcovers.net
The 2010 no.1 LP is The Beatle’s “Abbey Road”. Image courtesy of beatlesalbumcovers.net

The sales of vinyls went down when CDs became the preferred format. This is the time that I seriously collected CDs with my hard earned money. Most of the CDs are imported from the States, Japan and England since most of titles are not available in this part of the world. Punk, Jamaican ska, British ska, rock-steady, reggae, soul, mod, a bit of pop and good ‘ole rock n’ roll comprised my CD collection, about 400 in total.

And then mp3 came along. I was not really sold on this format because I had never purchased a single song in iTunes or any digital store. I downloaded them over the internet or ripped my CD collections instead of buying a disposable mp3. One good thing with mp3 though, is that it’s really portable. You can carry your whole collection stored on one device. You can literally bring your music everywhere.

Then by 2006, I started noticing that bands and other artists were starting to promote their new releases on vinyl LPs as well as CDs. Many record stores slowly re-stocked their inventories with vinyl releases. Used and brand new turntables are sold left and right; tube amps, receivers and stereo speakers are again being introduced in the market. And now, there are so many people biting the vinyl resurgence. The old format is back in style again, even the hipsters are biting into the vinyl comeback.

The Thrill of finding a vinyl gem in crate digging. Image courtesy of b-sides.tv
The thrill of finding a vinyl gem in crate digging. Image courtesy of b-sides.tv

The Vinyl Resurgence Is A Myth…

Through the years, there has been so much talk about the comeback or the resurgence of vinyl records with every year seeing the LP format gain more market share and momentum despite the popularity of audio streaming and digital downloads. But according to the United Record Pressing marketing director Jay Millar, vinyl never died. It just went underground for a while. When record labels started preferring CDs at the time, independent artists, record labels, true DJs and record collectors kept the retro format alive.  Millar said that they make about 30-40,000 records per day with 22 presses. Miller also contradicted the notion that digital music has replaced physical media. He stated that digital media actually bolstered the growth and sales of vinyl. It was just a shift in the public’s interest, perception and the major label’s marketing arsenal. Piracy of digital content has also bolstered the return of vinyl, although big music labels stated that, business wise, the vinyl share is a niche market. But according to CEA senior analyst manager Sean Murphy, the glory days of the LP and the CD are gone and will never return. Many audiophiles and traditionalists will not agree.

People want to have a connection to their music that can be provided by an LP or CD as compared to the disposable nature of a digital file. Millar also added that people want to have the deluxe experience that resulted in the rise of vinyl in this age. Most record collectors, and vinyl record shops credit Record Store Day as the torch bearer in the return of vinyl in the United States, although in Jamaica and England, 45s are still king in the dance halls.

With the so called resurgence of vinyl, there are many documentaries about the scene, bands, recording in analog equipment and releasing their music by way of vinyl. One such example is Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings. Independent record label Daptone records are analog followers with many of their artists being laid down using vintage mixers and recording equipments. In Jamaica and England, 45s are still the weapon of choice  among dance hall DJs. From ska, rock-steady, reggae, dub and ragamuffin, 45 singles are the dynamite that causes an explosion in the dance floor. Same thing with Northern Soul DJs, its 45s or nothing at all. Crate digging and going to record stores and fliping through their inventories and shelves is an adventure in itself that an mp3 file cannot replicate.

Why Vinyl Is Making A Comeback?

The no. 1 LP of 2010 is “Abbey Road” by The Beatles in the UK and the US. The entire album releases of The Beatles are being remastered in original analog format and will be released as an LP box set. 2013 best LP was daft Punk’s “Random Access memory” which proves that the LP format is not dead. Although the sales of LPs have risen through the years, overall it is just 2% of the whole market in the US which consists of 6.1 million sales. Some say that it is a lost cause, but vinyl records or even CDs are different from digital downloads. Yes, its bulky, it takes a lot of space, it can scratch easily, has surface noise and needs bulky equipment to be played. However, according to Alfons Luna of AFP, vinyl offers a warmer and richer sound as compared to downloaded music. Another reason is the aspect of buying and owning a superbly packaged artifact that you can physically see, touch and smell. There are also the bragging rights of owning the actual record that you can keep for a very long time. Sleeve notes that you can read, appreciating the album art and appreciating the record as a whole is what makes it unique. It is a love affair. If you have seen Nick Hornsby’s movie adaptation of “High Fidelity”, you know what I mean.

Vinyl sales are up. Image courtesy ofhttp://www.statista.com
Vinyl sales are up. Image courtesy of http://www.statista.com/chart/1465/vinyl-lp-sales-in-the-us/


In an era where  most DJs play their content using laptops, vinyl is something really special. People should at least know what was before them. Many people have realized that something tangible feels (and sounds) a lot better than a compressed, disposable file. According to Paul Nickerson of Dope Jams, a Brooklyn-based record store. Although there is a rise in the market, the irony of it all is that vinyl is very expensive. This can alienate the people that truly appreciate the format in the first place. Today LP prices can range between $30-$40 for a re-issue. The working class, the struggling guy that the music speaks to cannot afford to buy it. Vinyl records have become a luxury. It has become a sign of high fidelity to the LP you are buying and to the artist that recorded it.

New technology usually pushes old technology out of the way, but despite the invention of CDs and mp3s, vinyl records still have a loyal fan base. It is quite strange that it has found its market again and it may not last but right now, it is one of the greatest comebacks. It’s good news for music makers and music lovers alike.


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