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The Revival of Vinyl: Shaking Up the Industry

There are seven factors that contribute to the renaissance of the warm vinyl sounds.

Photo by Zane Persaud / Unsplash

Over the past decade, we have seen the revival of vinyl record sales across the entire globe, with the vinyl market in 2023 experiencing much stronger growth, with an 11.7% year-on-year rise to 5.9 million units. Streaming services such as Apple Music and Spotify may be leading the way in terms of recorded music consumption, but demand for vinyl records continues to surge, with the market at its highest annual level since 1990. For artists and record companies alike, this is a time for celebration and to rejoice. However, for consumers, the question still lies of why exactly the demand for vinyl records has increased.

To identify exactly why the rise in vinyl sales has occurred, it is essential to break this down into seven points. These include sound quality, collectability, design, nostalgia, support for artists, discovery and social aspect. A lot of these points overlap but each is key in understanding where the revival of vinyl has come from.

It is important to state that internationally within vinyl sales the genre purchased reflects the chart rankings and popular music. In the US, singer-songwriter Taylor Swift has been at the top of the vinyl charts for the past two years with her albums ‘Midnights’ and ‘1989 (Taylor’s Version)’. Over the past decade, the US has seen many pop acts such as Harry Styles and Daft Punk storm the chart sales. Some of this also crosses over the pond into the UK market but it is key to highlight within the UK vinyl charts many rock-based acts like Liam Gallagher, Fleetwood Mac and The Beatles have also found success in vinyl sales.

This leads on to the idea of nostalgia as a ripple effect on vinyl sales, arguably the most influential factor on this list. It is a very simple factor, people love to reminisce about how they felt, where they were, or even who they were with when they hear a specific song, or even an album. Listening to a vinyl record is a much more special and romantic experience than merely listening to something digitally or on a CD. This may suggest why the UK has seen a rise in rock albums purchased on vinyl despite being made decades ago.

Similarly, it is key to identify how nostalgia plays a huge role in the choices we make in today’s society, and being able to buy a piece of music that looks like it’s from a time when things were simpler, and when more care and attention to detail was put into its manufacture can be incredibly powerful for music lovers and listeners. Leading on to the social aspect, people love listening to music together regardless of what format it’s in, but the art of sharing physical music with other people is only getting stronger. Many users display and showcase their collections in order to share them with others, and this in itself can spark up a conversation and lead to the idea of a new musical discovery.

This also links into the idea of collectability, for example, if a listener has a copy of the standard release, or a multi-coloured rare special release. Both of these reflect the record's collectability. Similarly, this links into the idea of design as finding a beloved record can be a powerful experience and the artwork plays a vital role when setting off these emotions. Equally, how old a record is also defining collectability and could suggest why older records are being purchased more on vinyl.

Sound quality is one of the most interesting factors when it comes to the rise in vinyl sales as generally streaming a track in digital form will make the quality much better. Vinyl has a dynamic range of 55-70dB depending on the length of the side. Digital music, on the other hand, can go up to 90-96dB. Likewise, digital audio can also reproduce very low-level sound due to its lack of underlying distortion. However, this does not seem to defer consumers when purchasing vinyls.

It has been suggested that listening to a record on vinyl is playing it the way the artists intended and that those little imperfections within the audio add to the experience, rather than listening to a digital version which is polished and pristine. Many music fans take the stance that warm tones of a vinyl record are superior to an electronically, remastered digital equivalent, particularly for music released prior to the millennium.

It is key to highlight the most positive part of the vinyl revival is the support for artists. Research shows that according to traditional recording agreements artists can earn anywhere between an average of 10%-25% on retail price on individual vinyl sales. Comparing this with digital formats, artists are paid an average of between $0.003 and $0.005 per stream – so it would require listeners in their millions for it to actually become a viable source of income for them. It is commonly known that the streaming rate for artists around the world is so low, which may suggest why the sales for vinyls have increased as fans want to show their support.

Despite these points, the revival of the vinyl industry has its downsides. As the profitability of vinyl rises, associated pollution risks also spike. A vinyl record’s main component is the plastic polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, derived from petrochemicals like natural gas, which emit large amounts of greenhouse gases. However, producers are experimenting to find a way of producing vinyls that are much less carbon intensive.

Artists may also see more support and profit when vinyl purchasing increases; however, it can be up to a year turnaround for the copies rather than uploading to a streaming site therefore, this can delay release dates. This creates a two-tier divide, with the biggest artists able to produce thousands of copies while upcoming artists may struggle with these delays, or unable to fund producing on vinyl altogether.

Whatever way you consume music, it is impossible to hide from the revival of vinyl that has been highlighted in the industry. It is clear there are still issues that need to be tackled before we can fully celebrate the return of vinyls, but with producers looking to create more environmentally safe records: the celebration of vinyl is on the horizon.