Vinyl is not dead
February 21, 2014
Vinyl records seemed to drop off the earth with the advent of more compact CDs and MP3s that were to take their place as the ultimate music medium, but after CDs were introduced in the '80s and popularized in the '90s and MP3s coming fairly close to making music au gratis of record companies, vinyl records are rising from the grave.
According to Nielsen SoundScan, which has been collecting data on music sales since 1991, record sales were lower than a half million copies in the United States in 1991. In 2013, it was around 6 million. Last year's top-selling vinyl album was Daft Punk's "Random Access Memories."
Though vinyl records only take up 2 percent of the total sales in music, the upward curve of vinyl sales has shown no signs of slowing since 2007.
Many are realizing what was left behind during the rise of today's most popular mediums, CDs and MP3s.
Rick Linie, the manager of KNMC 90.1 F.M. and a common face working at Creative Leisure, said he has never stopped collecting and listening to vinyl records.
Linie said something new records often include that may attract younger collectors is a code to download an MP3 version of the album, so buyers can have the music in multiple formats.
"Another thing they're realizing is having something physical is better ... ," Linie said, adding this is restoring his faith in people. "I think people like vinyl because it has a warmth that MP3s do not."
Linie said the resurgence of albums in popular culture is also good for the artists who want to put out whole albums instead of the widespread single-driven tactics many new artists are using to gain success. Artists used to conceive a grouping of songs to make a whole album, a work of art instead of being a vehicle for one number-one hit.
Linie said records and CDs never really died because of MP3 downloads. Around 90 percent of albums coming out today are being pressed into records and CDs still amount to 60 percent of sales for record companies, Linie said.
"Vinyl sales have been raising 30 percent every year for the last five years," Linie said. "A lot of high school kids are starting to buy records. Most high school kids that I've talked to have found them through their parents' collections and figured out it's pretty cool."
Linie said he believes there has always been a place for vinyl records and they never would have slowed so drastically in sales if record companies had never given up on them. In addition to the new collectors inducted into the world of vinyl every day, veteran collectors still want their physical copies.
"Anyone who has grown up with a physical product still wants a physical product," Linie said. "The labels have been way too quick in getting rid of them."
The future of record stores is still hopeful, Linie said. One of the reasons physical album sales, whether it be CDs or vinyl, have dropped is because there are fewer places to buy them, but with the rise of records, the stores may be brought back as record companies realize there is more demand for them.
Most albums these days are being pressed into 180-gram records, which are thicker and heavier than the majority of presses in the 20th century. This prolongs the record's life and gives the record a higher sound quality than its lighter counterpart.
Linie said his favorite record in his collection is his copy of the Rolling Stones' "Exile on Main Street," which he got the day it came out in 1972.
Ashley Weinheimer, 27, a Chinook native and Havre resident, said she began her record collection with records left over from her parents'.
"A lot of records I stole from my mom or got at yard sales," Weinheimer said.
She and her brother have been collecting records for years, but Weinheimer's collection is carefully chosen. She said she has a collection of about 30 albums, picked up from various places.
When asked what her favorite album in her collection is, she struggled to decide, but ended up choosing her copy of Daft Punk's new album, "Random Access Memories." Either that or Phil Collins' "No Jacket Required."
Weinheimer said there is something more attractive in owning something she can pick up and play, rather than buying the idea of something in an MP3 format.
"There's something about physically touching it that's better," Weinheimer said. "It's also better for bands who put out whole albums instead of one-hit wonders - bands you want to listen to the whole way through."
Weinheimer said she thinks that bands may not be so single-driven if MP3s were gone.
As for the future of record stores, Weinheimer thinks there will always be a place for them.
"There's always going to be people who want something physical for their money," Weinheimer said.
Daniela Jeffrey, 17, attends Havre High School and is an employee at Creative Leisure. She said she began her collection at the age of 13.
She said the history behind vinyl records is one of the aspects of the medium that attracted her initially.
"It's the vintage and antique feel of it," Jeffrey said. "And being able to keep the music you love instead of having it stuck in a computer."
Jeffrey said she believes vinyl records are making a resurgence, considering all the new artists coming out with vinyl pressings of their albums these days. Also, the "antique fad" that has young people in thrift shops and focused on the vintage rather than contemporary is feeding into vinyl coming back into popular culture.
Though MP3s are acceptable for the occasional workout, Jeffrey said, CDs and records just sound better.
"Music should mean something," Jeffrey said, rather than amass in the thousands in digital form in a computer, never to be properly enjoyed.
Jeffrey said if she had to guess, her collection is well over 100 records. Though it pained her to choose one favorite, when pressed to do so, she picked The Beatles' "White Album."
Currently, Creative Leisure is the only place in town to buy vinyl records, besides the odd used selections at various second-hand, antique and pawn shops. The store's biggest day of the year is "Record Store Day," which will be April 19 this year. Many artists have special releases that come out just for this day every year and Creative Leisure saw over a 1,000 records go through its doors last year.
Whether people want to get back in touch with their favorite albums or listen to music in a fuller, deeper sound MP3s do not offer, vinyl records are here to stay and offer solace to those who want a more personal connection to their music.