Old-fashioned records are flying off the shelves again in a massive vinyl revival
The music industry is having a vinyl resurgence – and the numbers prove it.
For the first time since 1987, more vinyl records are being sold in the US than CDs.
A new report published by the Recording Industry Association of America revealed that US music lovers snapped up 41 million vinyl records in 2022, compared to 33 million CDs.
Revenue from vinyl records grew 17 per cent to $US1.2 billion, marking their sixth consecutive year of growth.
In Australia, vinyl is the fastest growing category in music sales, increasing by nearly 23 per cent in 2022, according to the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA).
It’s a stunning turn of the tables, with CDs having been more popular than vinyl records ever since they were introduced in the early 1980s.
Once CDs came onto the scene, vinyl was considered to be clunky and inconvenient while CDs were sleeker, easier to transport and could be used in a range of settings.
But as we descend deeper into the streaming age, CDs have lost their sheen – and millennials have begun to embrace owning physical copies of their favourite music.
The boom has prompted musicians to take drastic steps to keep up with the demand.
Hard rock band Metallica bought its own record-pressing company to keep up with orders for their back-catalogue vinyls.
Although the band hasn’t released an album since 2016’s Hardwired… to Self-Destruct, Metallica sold 387,000 vinyl records in 2022 – up from 337,000 in 2021, according to Billboard.
Physical music revenues in the US in 2022. Photo: RIAA
The band followed in the footsteps of Jack White, one half of The White Stripes.
The rocker purchased his own vinyl pressing plant in 2017, and last year urged major labels to do the same to keep up with demand.
White congratulated Metallica on their purchase in an Instagram post.
Metallica responded to White’s post, saying they were “grateful” to be owners “after all these years”.
“You have pioneered all of this, and we’re psyched to follow in your footsteps!”
View this post on Instagram
Unsurprisingly, Taylor Swift’s record-breaking album Midnights topped the vinyl sales in 2022.
While Midnights was almost guaranteed to succeed due to her popularity, Swift’s team also put a concerted effort into promoting her album’s vinyl copies.
Swift announced four special edition copies of her album. The four versions all served as a quarter of a clock face. When put together, they formed a complete clock, which even became functional when paired with a matching mechanical clock hand piece.
If diehard fans so desired, they could purchase all four versions – at $55.99 a pop – and hang them on their bedroom walls.
Blake Budak, president of the Australian Music Retailers Association, said it has become “uncommon” for artists to simply release standard versions of their albums.
“For an artist to just do a basic one is pretty uncommon these days,” Mr Budak said.
“With [Midnights] it was the same music on every record, but there were different covers and each record was a different colour as well. The super fans will buy all four. Other people will buy whichever.”
Mr Budak, who owns Canberra record store Landspeed Records, said vinyls have become much more about collectability.
“What I notice in the store is that people that buy vinyl, it’s all sorts of different people. We’ve got customers that [range] from 15 to 75 [years old],” he said.
“Young people in particular already know the records that they’re buying. It’s artists that they love, they’ve already streamed it. They really love [it] and they want to have a physical version of it.”
As well as the memorabilia factor, there are a number of advantages to owning vinyl.
Vinyl records are far more durable than CD copies, and also provide superior audio quality, Mr Budak said.
“Well, if you have one good setup and everything, [then] vinyl is gonna sound 10 times better than streaming it from, you know, Spotify, or Apple or whatever.”
Mr Budak said physical copies remain crucial for artists’ charting purposes, sayingh it was common for artists to tour record shops in their albums’ opening weeks in a bid to boost sales.
“When Spacey Jane put out their album last year, they did a week of in-store appearances around Australia. Every store they went to a hundred kids are shopping and they’ll buy a copy for them to sign, and that will help them get to number one that week. Which it did,” Mr Budak said.
The recent surge in vinyl popularity has led to a shortage in some countries.
As big-name artists like Adele and Taylor Swift geared up to release their highly-anticipated albums, vinyl supplies in the US began to dwindle.
Some independent artists complained about difficulties in getting their music to the press, with big-name artists being reportedly fast-tracked and prioritised.
Mr Budak said wait times for printing initially increased when vinyl began to grow popular again, as there was only one vinyl printing plant in all of Australia.
Wait times grew up to six months, but have since “eased” with the addition of two more vinyl production plants in Australia.
“You always hear stories that, you know, when Taylor Swift puts out a record that everyone else has to wait because she’s a priority. They’re pressing, you know, millions of copies,” he said.
“But it shouldn’t make too much of a difference in Australia. It shouldn’t be a case of ‘access denied’ to independent bands or anything. I think [the vinyl printers are] pretty much happy to press for whoever.”
A lump of polyvinyl chloride lies between the punches in a record press company. Photo: Getty
Mr Budak is currently preparing for Record Store Day on April 22, which he says is the biggest day for vinyl sales on the calendar – even surpassing sales made before Christmas.
Since 2008, record stores across the world have marked the occasion with countless special vinyl releases.
Australian acts including Confidence Man, Ocean Alley and Ball Park Music will have special edition vinyls, only available on World Record Day at record stores.
Aussie electronic act Peking Duck will be making their debut in a physical format, with their music previously only available on streaming platforms.
International acts including Taylor Swift, The 1975 and Fleetwood Mac will also have special re-releases to celebrate the occasion.
Record Store Day is all about celebrating and supporting independent record stores, Mr Budak said.
“It’s about people … supporting, spending some money and having a good time hanging out with some other people that like music as much as they do.”