Something very peculiar is currently happening in the music industry. It’s a something that no one expected, and is all the more surprising as it is happening in an industry that seems to thrive on change. That’s right, mum and dad – vinyl records and even good old cassette tapes are slowly making a comeback.
These formats, long considered dead and gone, are being resurrected in all their physical, tangible glory. In a world where music now primarily exists as bundles of 1s and 0s, infinitely accessible and endlessly storable, physical formats look about as convenient as horse and carriage, but they are showing their faces more and more often against the odds. That’s not to say that there’s been a sudden, miraculous sea change; physical formats are still are comparatively niche market. However, with vinyl sales now at 0.8% of all album sales in the UK (BPI), up from 0.1% in 2007, there’s definitely something going on. Vinyl is undoubtedly leading this charge with cassette sales still minimal, but with 2013 seeing the first official Cassette Store Day (counterpart to the established Record Store Day), things are looking bright for a format that is now the mainstay of a certain kind of indie label.
So what are the reasons for this unlikely comeback? One factor is undoubtedly the retro-mania that has a firm hold on the UK. With shops like Urban Outfitters now established (which does sell vinyl in some stores), the growth of tumblr, and all this hype over the questionable ‘hipster’ phenomenon, interest in the decades that many never experienced is stronger than ever. This isn’t just limited to the 60s and 70s, either – the 90s retro boom is now in full swing, with bands like Swim Deep and Peace the poster boys for the fuzzed-out, faux-grunge image that increasing numbers of teenagers and early 20-somethings are emulating.
Another reason could be the spate of high profile vinyl releases this year. Vampire Weekend, the Arctic Monkeys and Daft Punk have all chosen to commit their albums to wax, with the latter’s “Random Access Memories” the best selling record for many years, a deluxe double-LP package costing £20 and over. Vinyl is not reserved, however, for the upper echelons. Whilst expensive to produce, the format is often the preferred type of release for small/medium sized indie labels, particularly in the US. Vinyl-buyers tend to be collectors and are often highly loyal, buying multiple colours for each album (and with today’s pressing capabilities, you can understand why!)
The growth of the formats could simply be the yearning from music fans for something touchable. MP3, whilst highly convenient, is undeniably cold and distant, offering little interaction. Vinyl and cassettes, on the other hand, provide that physical connection. They are visually appealing and often come with inserts featuring lyrics and photos, something that digital formats rarely offer. Album sleeves can also be framed, a cheap way of getting some art on the walls.
Vinyl and cassettes, it has to be said, really make little sense in our current digital age; they are expensive, largely inaccessible and a relic of the past. Weirdly, there’s something quite appealing about that.
by Joe Stewart, Razz Music Correspondent
(top image source)