In the age of streaming, vinyl continues to boom
For much of the past ten years, music listening for a majority of people has been directly tied to streaming services. Be it Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, or any other number of companies, music libraries largely reside on people’s computers or in the cloud. The ease of listening and convenience streaming provides makes it easier than ever to listen to your favorite artists anywhere, or to discover new music you wouldn’t have encountered otherwise. Physical formats have seemingly been rendered obsolete, with aux cords and Bluetooth speakers replacing CD players and hi-fi sound systems.
With advancements bringing us to where the industry stands now, why bother with the listening mediums we’ve moved on from? Regarding vinyl in particular, the discs are large, they require people to invest in additional equipment to even be able to play them, they need to be cleaned, they can easily scratch, and there is unavoidable surface noise that isn’t particularly musical. The technology itself hasn’t evolved significantly in over 50 years, and when many fans think of vinyl today, it’s often tied to the boxes of records collecting dust in their parent’s basement. Despite all of the odds stacked against it, vinyl stands as the only physical medium experiencing growth in the industry.
Don’t Call It a Comeback
Last fall, music publications were flooded with stories of how vinyl sales in 2019 were bound to overtake the sale of CDs for the first time since 1986. Vinyl had been rendered obsolete for close to twenty years, so it’s no surprise that this news came as a shock to many. Now, I hate to burst your bubble, but you can put down your “Vinyl is #1!” foam fingers. It didn’t happen. However, statistics suggest that this reality will fall upon us sooner rather than later.
Streaming is the undisputed king of music consumption today, well beyond CDs. According to the “Year-End 2019 RIAA Music Revenues Report,” total streaming and subscriptions services dominate the industry at over 79% of total revenue, leaping 19.9% in 2019 to a total of over $8.8 billion dollars. Conversely, the overall number of physical units shipped dropped a total of 4.5%, with CDs, music videos, and all other physicals following this same downhill trend. Vinyl, on the other hand, has done the opposite. LPs and EPs are the only mediums outside of digital subscriptions and streaming to demonstrate growth in the number of units shipped. Vinyl sales increased from $419.2 million to $497.6 million dollars, an 18.7% increase.
Somehow, the near century old vinyl platform continues to swell in popularity against the adoption of the current digital standard.
Believe it or not, the resurgence of vinyl isn’t entirely due to people like your hipster neighbor who won’t take off their flower crown and complains that they were “born in the wrong generation.” Sure, there joy in indulging in what many see as a relic of the past, but vinyl’s magic goes well beyond nostalgia. For the biggest music fans, there is something to having a physical presence of your favorite music in your home. In a world where album covers have been reduced to a compressed image on a phone screen, vinyl offers a completely fresh perspective. The artwork is far larger and printed in great detail, unlocking secrets to its presentation that simply aren’t possible through a streaming platform. Instead, the visuals can stand on their own, drawing inquisitive eyes into their world.
Furthermore, many artists list the credits of those who worked on the album, showing what instruments were played and who worked to craft the music you hear. It’s difficult to understand the level of detail that goes into a recording when your engagement with the music rarely extends beyond hitting “Play” on your browser. Thus, vinyl offers the music a far greater scope and sense of depth. Occasionally, liner notes and exclusive messages from the artist can also be found, giving fans yet another more tangible opportunity to better connect with the people behind the art itself.
The ritual of sliding the record out of its sleeve, cleaning it, and dropping the needle of your turntable onto it can’t be compared to anything else. You aren’t just throwing on a playlist on shuffle to have some background noise while you make your 4th bowl of ramen this week. Instead, you’re committing to sitting down and embarking on journey the artist has so carefully crafted for you. It asks for more out of the listener, though this process makes the music that much more rewarding. Like sharing cups of tea, record listening invites you into a more communal experience with music that you can share with those around you.
The warm sonic character of vinyl records only adds to this, as it lends the music a unique sound that isn’t found on any other medium. This distinction is due to the difficulty of replicating sounds with extremely high or low pitch on vinyl. Lower pitches take up more space in the extremely narrow space available for each groove, thereby potentially distorting the audio. The grooves cut for higher pitches, on the other hand, alternate more rapidly, making it difficult for the needle to accurately track them. As a result, audio engineers make these sonic ranges subtler, so as not to sacrifice the remaining audio in the song. This means that vinyl genuinely DOES sound different compared to its digital counterpart, as changes to a song’s sound need to be made to translate it to the disc. Whether or not it sounds better is entirely personal preference, but it does mean that vinyl enables people to enjoy their favorite music in a new auditory context.
Makin’ It Work
In recent years, artists have needed to be more creative than ever regarding the marketing of their music. Exclusive merch, social media campaigns, pop up shops, and more have all become the norm, and fans have come to expect this type of engagement for all of their favorite music. With vinyl sales continuing to grow, it’s no surprise that this platform has been a part of the charge as well.
With music streaming and subscription services standing at the helm of consumption, vinyl records can’t be marketed like they were in decades past. Artists need to prove why it is worth spending more money on a single album, instead of listening to all of the music in the world on the internet for free. Exclusivity has been pivotal in doing so. Selling colored vinyl pressings allow records to stand out in one’s collection, and they are often visually consistent with the theme of the music itself.
Additionally, including artwork with a record that can’t be obtained anywhere else also gives consumers a singular experience with an artist, beyond those who simply listen on streaming services. Releases in limited quantities only bolsters this concept further, increasing their value tenfold. Fans appreciate the opportunity to be a part of something that not many others can and possessing limited pressings of colored vinyl is a great way to do just that.
Direct Artist Support
With bundle deals through web stores becoming more popular each day, incorporating vinyl offers this strategy an entirely new dimension. By pairing a vinyl record with artist merch, fans get the best of both worlds at a price that can’t be beat. Often times, these record sales are paired with a direct digital download - a core offering from our team at Single. These are available immediately upon purchase, allowing the listener to enjoy the music in the highest fidelity possible, without having to wait for the record to ship. These downloads are also registered on the Billboard charts as soon as they’re bought. On top of the joy of expressing love for their favorite musicians through repping their merch and buying their music, fans also increase the artist’s visibility in the public eye on this universally recognized chart.
Artists like THE SCOTTS, Doja Cat, and Lil Keed are working to demonstrate that vinyl isn’t a purely dated platform for the music of yesteryear. Limited vinyl releases of their latest albums and singles continue to bring the magic of the platform to the latest sounds in music, making it more accessible for all musical styles than ever.
Without the ability to perform and promote their art as they normally would, these vinyl offerings not only keep them connected to fans, but it also allows them to garner the support they need to continue innovating and releasing new music.
While vinyl undoubtedly has qualities that can’t be found anywhere else, this isn’t to undermine the value of streaming music in any form or fashion. The catalogue of music available on streaming services is priceless in regard to the discovery of new music. Gone are the days of walking into a record store and gambling on a purchase of an album that you aren’t sure you will enjoy in the first place. Purchasing vinyl copies of favorites that you explored on a streaming platform is a great way to both support the musicians behind it, as well as enjoy the music in a new context.
The global isolation brought on by the pandemic crisis offers the opportunity to enjoy music in a unique way. The growth of vinyl won’t slow anytime soon so long as more and more artists continue to embrace both its sonic and visual aesthetic in refreshing ways. The medium provides the opportunity to slow down and escape the noise of the world around us and develop a more close-knit relationship with our favorite creators than ever. Considering that the productions of these individuals are carrying so many of us through these times, there is no better time to support them and indulge in the magic of vinyl than right now.