The resurgence of vinyl has been an unexpected success story. Audio Collaborative 2023 saw an entire panel dedicated to the revival, with experts discussing how heritage is playing a key role in the format’s popularity. While new album releases by contemporary artists like Taylor Swift and Lana Del Rey have pushed vinyl sales, decades-old albums like Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours and Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon are still shifting enough copies to make the vinyl charts. The format has staying power, with Futuresource’s latest report showing vinyl has maintained double-digit volume sales growth for over half a decade. But considering the ease and accessibility of streaming, what’s driving the revival?
As a heritage format, nostalgia is undoubtedly a pull for some buyers. Holding a piece of music in your hands is an unexpected sensory delight; collecting vinyl albums, proudly displaying them, and preserving a collection with thought and care demonstrate a different kind of appreciation for music. During the Vinyl Revival panel at Audio Collaborative, the guest panellists, who are involved in creating pressings of iconic performances from across the Montreux Festival's 55-year history, discussed the enduring appeal of the ‘old'.
“The quality of the recordings is variable. I try to eradicate some of the gremlins, but not to the extent of making it sound pristinely perfect, because that was the performance,” said Tony Cousins, Mastering Engineer, Metropolis Studio London. Capturing the original essence of the audio is a key part of their work for the Montreux Festival – that is, preserving its heritage, and inevitably tapping into that all-important nostalgia. But with Taylor Swift and Harry Styles pushing impressive numbers of vinyl records, it’s clear this isn’t the only piece of the puzzle.
Within the last two years, the emergence of new pressing lines has helped bolster the resurgence. With these lines in place, vinyl has become more readily available and has expanded its scope to reach more audiences. Many new plants are focusing on supporting indie artists and small labels – Mobineko, for example, offers an express service for an initial order book of 25-100 copies, with an approximate delivery time of four weeks. For artists without the resources to bulk order, services like these are helping level the playing field.
‘Direct to consumer’ distribution is also increasing. More and more established artists are operating their own websites, selling not just albums but also a wider portfolio of merchandise. For artists, shifting toward vinyl carries lower financial risks and reduces dependencies on the royalties offered by streaming platforms.
Plus, this method allows artists to connect directly with their fanbase. For younger generations that prioritise authenticity, this is incredibly valuable. Indeed, at Audio Collaborative, James Duvall, Principal Analyst at Futuresource Consulting, made an effort to emphasise just how engaged Gen Z are with vinyl. “Younger audiences have truly bought into the vinyl format,” said Duvall; while in the US and the UK, Millennials are the largest group of vinyl buyers, Gen Z is fast growing its share.
Sustainability cannot be overlooked, and vinyl certainly bears an environmental burden. As a physical format made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), recycling vinyl records can be a challenge, and the manufacturing process is even more complex. But strong efforts are being made to strengthen the green credentials of vinyl across its life cycle.
Most large music labels are aggressively shifting their vinyl production from 180g to 140g, boasting a cost advantage and improved sustainability positioning. In 2022, Warner Music Group pressed almost three-fifths of their vinyl on 140g, lowering raw plastic output by 470 tonnes. Moreover, production off-cuts are now predominantly recycled, rather than dumped in landfills.
Plus, streaming is not exactly an eco-friendly alternative to vinyl. At last year’s Audio Collaborative, Dom Robinson attributed 1-2% of the world’s energy usage to streaming alone – about as much as the aviation industry.
Vinyl owners can effectively enjoy unlimited spins of their vinyl, needing energy only to power the turntable. In comparison, streaming an album multiple times requires the continuous efforts of server farms. These involve vast collections of computer servers, which require eye-watering amounts of energy to both run and keep cool.
Vinyl has more than earned its stripes as a forever format, with an appeal that transcends generations. Despite the rise of digital, consumers still have a strong appetite for vinyl, with global consumer spending expected to reach 3.2 billion dollars in 2023. Heritage will always be intrinsic to the format, but it’s clear the industry is continuing to look to the future to make vinyl last.
For more information about Futuresource’s research across the vinyl sector, reach out to Leon at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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