Digital Music Created the Resurgence In Vinyl

What’s really causing the sudden rebound in vinyl?

The easy answer is that fans just want something tangible, a physical memento that isn’t iTunes or Spotify. But the more you dig into the vinyl resurgence, the harder it becomes to separate it from everything that’s happening in digital.  In fact, the incredible access and discovery that digital formats have enabled could be the very reason why vinyl is experiencing its little comeback.  “Digital music has created the resurgence in vinyl that we are seeing right now,” Jennifer Freund, head of DoradoPkg, confidently told a group of vinyl-heads at SXSW this weekend.  “Bands want to have that connection with fans, they want that physical connection.”

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This industry grovels daily about things like monetization and royalties.  But there’s just an entirely different level of appetite in music right now, one that naturally bleeds into LPs.  And oftentimes, the spark starts online with much larger audience scale. “It used to be the guy running a fanzine that turned people onto vinyl,” said Jay Millar of United Record Pressing.  “Now the guy who’s turning people onto vinyl is running a blog.”

But wait: it gets even more intertwined.  Because not only is vinyl an expansion beyond digital, but it often includes digital – in the form of inserts with download redemption codes.  “It’s almost the deluxe version of digital,” Millar continued.  “It’s something the band can sign.”

But let’s not get carried away – yet.  Freund reminded everyone that vinyl is still a “tiny industry,” and on the production side, this is still a very scrappy game.  This panel of vinyl manufacturers was quite candid, and noted that almost all of their equipment is from the 1970s or earlier.  There’s just not enough demand to merit the kind of wholesale investment in new equipment, and who knows if that will ever happen.  “There are no parts for these machines,” Pete Lyman, owner of Infrasonic Sound Recording Co., candidly admitted.  “It’s a challenge anytime we have an issue.”

15 Responses

  1. JW

    When Napster became mainstream, & when blogs later became mainstream, there wasn’t a spike in cds. These things actually contributed to their plummit. I don’t think it’s just that fans want something physical… I think fans, especially younger fans, see CDs as “mp3s on plastic.” The idea of a record is that it’s not digital, it’s not easily copied & reproduced, & therefore it has some value, where cds are perceived to have no value. And the industry has not, in close to 15 years, been able to combat this idea. (This idea probably began to take root when cd players in automobiles became popular & people started ditching their jewel cases to put their cds in books. Multi-disc cd players probably also had to do with it, removing the interaction with anything physical.) There is also a perceived longevity to vinyl, that it’s outlasted 8-tracks & tapes & cds & mp3s when they’re inevitably replaced by flac or whatever lossless format takes hold, & therefore the perception is that vinyl is the superior format. I think this idea is cemented & there is enough great music easily acquirable on vinyl that it will never go away.

    I think that used vinyl also plays a big part… music fans are used to exploring now. And the same way that it’s cheap & easy to pour over words on blogs to find new things to listen to, it’s cheap & easy to pour over album covers at a used vinyl shop. I don’t really know anyone who has a sizeable amount of new vinyl that doesn’t have more vintage vinyl. I may not have heard a particular Ry Cooder album, & even though his catalog is all over the place, it might be worth $6 to pick it up. Especially since I know I can always resell it. The people that I know who are into vinyl are explorers & chance takers, both in record stores & online.

  2. Visitor

    CDs are both tangible and digital, so shouldn’t they represent the best of both worlds? Yet CD sales continue declining, and vinyl sales increase. So tangibility alone does not explain vinyl sales.

    The charm of vinyl is not obvious or easy to explain, and I say this as a vinyl collector. Yet there is a charm, pleasure, and even affection for a vinyl record that CDs and soft/download versions of music simply lack.

    In some cases, the music sounds better on vinyl. Beyond this, I find I listen more attentively to the same music on vinyl than in a digital format. Why? Some have theorized that digitizing music (or at least the process of mastering for digital) renders the sound fatiguing. However, I believe there are additional factors: Just the physical act/ritual of playing a record, the awareness that a side has ended and one has to take the needle from the out-groove and flip the disc, makes one more aware that music is playing. To be more philosophical, perhaps it is the awareness that a record deteriorates with each play that makes it more organic, real, “human”, just as some thinkers believe that we value life as more precious because we know we are mortal and that our time is limited.

    One more factor: the “less is more” approach, at least in my case (although not in the case of those who have entire rooms full of vinyl records). I have too much music in digital formats, and it becomes a challenge just to sort through it to find the gems. I find myself deleting so much music now, and giving away CDs that just take up space and which I no longer listen to. Meanwhile, I only keep a small vinyl collection of music which I truly love (sometimes multiple copies and pressings of the same album, each with a different sonic signature), and I know each one through and through from repeated listenings. That sort of emotional bond to a record is hard to develop with a virtually infinite playlist on shuffle.

    Regards,

    – Versus

    • davduf

      Great comment.

      For me, the “ritual” that comes with vinyl is a perfect balance to the rest of my music listening; playlists, shuffling, random, single youtube plays, etc.

      And I agree that your vinyl stash is comforting, when compared to the thousands of songs you can now hold in your pocket, or the millions you can access in a few clicks.

      D.

      • Versus

        “Comforting” is a good word. Yes, there is that aspect. I find few activities as relaxing and comforting as surrounding myself with a few favorite vinyl records, sitting or lying on the floor, and listening on speakers or late at night on headphones.

        There is also the aspect of history which cannot be replicated with new and “improved” technologies. It’s nostalgia, but also a sense of a tradition passed on.

        Related to that is the question of preference: vintage vinyl or reissue? New old stock vintage vinyl is pristine; used vintage vinyl has the additional history of its previous owners and listeners, and repeated plays of course affect the sound, sometimes pleasantly mellowing the high end, with little negative wear, if the record was well-taken care of.

        Finally, there is the entire analog vs digital argument. One common refrain is that it is best to listen on music on the medium for which it was produced, so vinyl-era music is best heard on vinyl. However, I think even contemporary music can sound better on vinyl, depending on the mastering and quality of pressing.

        Cheers,

        Versus

  3. Erik P

    The “deluxe version of digital”? I don’t think so. Although I would agree that vinyl & digital together is a deluxe music bundle. I mean, people don’t purchase vinyl for the digital tracks; that’s just an additional bonus.

    How I see it is that it’s the tangibility, sound and aesthetics combined that attracts certain people to vinyl. No oher music format offers all that…yet. Most people are going to go for digital because it’s easy & convenient, but vinyl has so much more to offer, especially when it comes coupled with the digital tracks.

  4. Nate

    If we try really hard, maybe we can give credit for the Berlin Wall falling to digital.

  5. Thomas McAlevey

    Your arguments are interesting, but searching for the logic here is a fool’s game. Vinyl is about nostalgia and being cool. The bikini-clad rollerblader on Venice Beach sums up Hank Moody as ‘an analogue guy in a digital world’.

    And nobody gets more pussy than Hank Moody in Californication.

    I’m considering a return to a vinyl, a powerful amp, and a simple pair of high-end speakers myself…

    Think I can pull it off?

    From the Hot Seat/Tom McAlevey
    CEO, Radical.FM Inc.

  6. Arnie

    Just waiting for the return of cassette walkmans and cassette decks!

  7. wallow-T

    Me, I want to know where all these young vinyl fans are getting their cartridges aligned properly. 🙂 I haven’t noticed lots of cartridge protractors and tracking force gauges for sale, and I only know of two shops in my state which still provide this service.

    (Old vinyl head who is just as happy to let the past lie… LPs sound great but you can’t play them in the car and you can’t loan them to friends…)

  8. Erik P

    Don’t be threatened by change digital-philes….

    My favorite quote I heard the other day, “Listening to digital music is like eating fast food, vinyl is like biting into a stea”.