Welcome to the vinyl revolution.
The year is 2013, and our insatiable appetite for music continues to grow. Multiple platforms now offer the ability not only to store insanely large amounts of music, but also to play them through spanking great media systems. We are completely spoilt for choice: it’s music for the expectant generation.
So with so much available to maximise our listening pleasure, why have we entered a vinyl revolution? Sales figures released in April this year showed the increase in the first quarter sales of records for 2013, and the figures were startling: sales had risen 80% compared to the same period in 2012. This is an astonishing turnaround for a musical medium that has long since been seen as the hobby of bearded, car-boot-going blokes with a penchant for brown leather. Well, not anymore.
In 2012, the number of record shops fell from 293 to 274, a fall of 6%, mostly down to the continuing popularity of downloads. However, independent record shops, often touted in the media as failing miserably, seem to have found their niche. Although numbers have fallen from over a thousand 12 years ago, record shops have become resilient in the process. They have learnt about their market and have consolidated in the process.
Pie and Vinyl, a record-cum-pie and mash shop based in Southsea, Portsmouth, is a record shop that is like no other. Although only open since April 2012, they offer something that is truly unique: selling new records with a delicious accompaniment of locally sourced pie and mash. This novelty features has made the process of buying a vinyl a much more personal experience, and co-founder Rob Litchfield is proud of the results.
“We have customers aged from 15 to 80, it is fantastic to see. We haven’t really seen an increase in sales, as vinyl has sold right from the beginning. Our older customers love the decor and the tea”.
For Rob at least, the love of vinyl was always prevalent. ”I don’t really think that vinyl went away, I see it more as a resurgence rather than a revolution. Nowadays anyone credible will release on vinyl which means that record companies have had to become wise. With the growing demand for downloads, record companies now offer download codes attached to records so customers have something tangible, it solves all issues”.
Shoebox-small the shop has managed to do what successful businesses do well: finding their niche quickly in an area, and within a year of opening, Pie and Vinyl has already bagged Audio-Technica’s, Best Independent Record Shop of 2013.
It is places like this that highlight the resurgence of a new record buying public. Those who are musically educated and appreciate all different kind of genres but, more importantly, they be young. Recent research undertaken by ICM suggests that 18-24 year olds now buy more records than any other age range. This is a remarkable statistic for a generation who have become accustomed to and epitomised by digital downloads. Something which former record store worker, Kirsty Ragett, attests to.
“There is definitely a vinyl uprising happening. It’s incredible to watch as it progresses. I remember when I was at school, the only reason I knew about vinyl was because of my uncle’s dusty old record collection. But now, in my early 20s, my 14-year-old brother is collecting vinyl and I have a decent collection”.
Spencer Hickman, one of the organisers of Record Store Day in the UK, suggests it may be the influence of well-known artists themselves that has been one of the factors in this change. ”It’s like so many kids now coming into record stores, when you have Arctic Monkeys saying, ‘We go to record shops, we buy vinyl’, you can’t ask for anything more than that.”
It is no longer just the purchase, but the experience that goes with it which matters. Whether it be flicking through physical copies of music, or the personal service when record shop assistants recommend things for you to buy or, as with Pie and Vinyl, offering consumers an experience that transcends simply buying records.
In the film adaptation of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, John Cusack owns a record shop and Jack Black plays his customer-service-lacking employee. It’s a brilliant movie and a beautiful take on one man’s love affair with music. Yes, it’s also a proper love story between humans, but its the records, the deep, unbridled love affair with black, spherical plastic which helps you realise that our musical connection with having something you can actually touch, will never disappear.
The big difference now is that records offer so much more than the sum of their parts. Sold a lot of the time with either download codes or even alongside CDs, record companies have manufactured ways to incorporate both the physicality of records and the deep respect they command, with the ease of an instant download.
There is a nostalgia attached to records that downloads and CDs just cannot replicate
However, there is still that nostalgia attached to records that downloads and CDs just cannot replicate. You feel that because the artist has (hopefully) spent time pouring out their soul to create this for you, the least you can do is give it time and patience. Records align themselves with the idea that music is an art form which deserves deep appreciation, it is more than mass produced entertainment, or at least it should be.
Kirsty agrees with this sentiment, “I found myself drawn to vinyl as a piece of art both visually and musically. I have a growing collection both old, remastered and new. I like holding onto it, but I mostly like how fragile it can be”.
In the end we don’t need Dr Dre or Will.I.Am (errrr, an idiot) to tell us that music sounds crisper or of better quality through expensive headphones, we know that. Technology will continue to move on exponentially until we have popcorn size speakers inserted into our cheeks or bass enhancing subwoofers attached to our bollocks. Our attention will always be grabbed by things we can actually feel and touch, a sensory experience, rather than something we’ve nonchalantly downloaded from a screen.
It is this relationship which will never disappear. The increasing record sales, especially amongst the younger age bracket, may be a flash in the pan, a trend attributed to celebrity endorsement, but the legacy will live on. Trust me I’ve been there and I’ve got the Pie and Vinyl T-shirt.
So the vinyl industry isn’t dying, but some of its fans are dying to get involved: Melt Your Ashes Onto Vinyl: Records to Records, Dust to Dust
Image: Thomas Weidenhaupt, inset images: Pie and Vinyl, o.denise via Flickr