The first reference that came up when I searched ‘vinyl fad’ was an advertisement for high waist stretch vinyl leggings (only $15.60 from boo-hoo Aus.). That’s not a plug, you understand, just an observation on the randomness of internet searches.
Vinyl records, or LPs as they were known in my youth, have indeed made a comeback, after being superseded by compact discs (CDs) some 30 years ago. In the US, where such trends usually start and end, 9.7 million vinyl LPs were sold in 2018. This was a 12% increase on the 8.6 million copies sold in 2017.
In Australia, 860,000 vinyl albums were sold in 2018, up from 717,000 in 2017. The revival began in 2015 with a modest 314,000 copies sold.
Demand for new music on vinyl is such that last year Sony started manufacturing vinyl albums in Japan. Australia’s only pressing plant, Zenith Records, will be joined by a new pressing plant competitor, Program Records.
Vinyl seems destined, however, to remain a small-scale, boutique business compared with the growth of music streaming. ARIA (the Australian Recording Industry Association) said music streaming (wholesale) revenue continued its explosive growth pattern in 2018. It now accounts for 71.4% of the overall market by value amid annual growth of 41.2%.
The streaming category includes revenues from subscription services (Apple Music, Deezer, Google Play,Spotify etc) and on-demand streaming services such as YouTube and Vevo.
The compact disc format continued its gradual decline, securing 10% of music market revenue with just $53.17 million in sales.
By comparison, streaming services and digital downloads earned $445 million in combined sales.
Vinyl sales grew from $15.79 million in 2015 to $21.73 million last year, robust enough sales to keep the industry interested.
Yamaha Music USA’s Ted Goslin says the return of the vinyl LP is being drive by the under-25s hipsters. “Visit your local record store”, Goslin writes, “Chances are you’ll spot a man bun, a flannel shirt or some other identifiable accoutrement of this popular sub-culture.”
Collectors are also driving the renaissance of vinyl, constantly scanning second hand shops for a rare gem to add to their collections. The other demographic adopting vinyl as a serious hobby are people in their 30s and 40s, who can probably afford the high quality speakers, amps and turntables it takes to make vinyl sound good.
This topic came to mind after I retrieved 200+ vinyl albums from the bottom of the linen cupboard, where they have been for 17 years, and packed them into three plastic milk crates. As some of you may know, we are packing up and moving on. Expect a flurry of stories in coming weeks about packing too soon (“Honey, where’s the can opener?”), decluttering and when does sentiment outweigh practicality.
The most sought after vinyl albums are usually in mint condition (rarely or never played) and of course everyone wants 0000001 of the Beatles White Album, sold at auction recently for $790,000.
Over the years, I have had occasion to liberate an album from the linen cupboard and give it a spin. I once went through a whole week of listening to vinyl and nothing else. It’s true what they say – the sound is mellower, easier on the ears than the compressed attack of digital audio. But you have to sit down and actively listen and not have it on in the background like a café mix.
There’s a quiet hiss and an occasional crackle as we listen to the likes of the Moody Blues, Blood Sweat and Tears or Joni. Sonic heaven.
But it’s a pain getting up to flip the album over, isn’t it?
If you have looked after your records, it seems not to matter if they’ve been in a cupboard for 20 years. They will play like it was Yesterday or Tomorrow (Never Knows). There’s a certain level of frustration now, as I sift through these albums, having packed the record player away.
The other attraction of vinyl albums is the elaborate cover artwork that helps make LPs more collectable. Obvious examples include Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (a pre Photo Shop montage); Blind Faith’s bare-breasted teen holding a model aeroplane (it was banned in some countries) and Nirvana’s Nevermind, a baby in a swimming pool seemingly chasing a dollar bill.
There were also some stunning Pink Floyd covers by design company Hipgnosis; a man bursting into flames, hospital beds on a beach, a shaft of white light passing through a prism to become a rainbow.
So when I was asked was it really necessary to keep the vinyl collection, I had to say yes. It is an important connection to my youth and early songwriting influences and yes, I do listen.
The LP (long player) collection is quite eclectic and includes a lot of jazz and blues (my earliest influence until I discovered The Shadows). I have discovered that my niece and her husband are not just vinyl converts, they love jazz. So I have promised to give them my jazz albums, which include five recordings by the Dave Brubeck Quartet (note to executor).
The collection includes a lot of folk albums that I purchased for small amounts of cash at a time when record shops were having sales to get rid of surplus stock before CDs arrived. I would not dream of getting rid of such gems as albums by Kath Tait, the McGarrigle Sisters, Silly Sisters, Martin Carthy, Bert Jansch, Van Morrison, Maddy Prior, The Pogues and Christy Moore.
Meanwhile, I discovered that banana boxes from our friendly IGA were perfect for packing CDs. Just fill in the small spaces with paper or bubble wrap, put the lid on and tape it up with ‘FRAGILE” writ large on the box. So far I’ve filled five of these boxes. Not to mention the four boxes of unsold stock from our recording ventures.
Much has been written about the decline of the CD, signs of which have become obvious. Few laptops now come with a built-in CD/DVD reader/player. Likewise, many modern cars don’t have CD players. As far as I can tell, the new medium for the average music listener is a Google app, Bluetooth, a smart phone and a subscription to a streaming service.
My brother-in-law has a Google Play speaker in his lounge room – hours of endless fun. As I have previously observed, the app struggles with different voices and often chooses the wrong song:
Bob: “OK Google, play The Goodwills.”
Google: “Alright. Here’s DJ Goodwill from YouTube Channel”
Bob: “Stop, Google. Play T.H.E. Goodwills”
This time it works and, because all of Google’s music is drawn from its subsidiary, YouTube, we hear one of our songs used as a soundtrack for a six-minute video. It’s confusing.
I ask Ms Google to play ‘Silhouettes’ and once again she turns up a more recent song of the same name (by Avicii).
Bob: “No, no, Google. Play Silhouettes by The Rays”
Ms Google: “Alright alright! Playing creepy voyeur stalker song Silhouettes by The Rays.”
Bob: “What! Are you developing independent thinking now, like Hal from 2001 a Space Odyssey? Also, you need to learn how to use commas.”
Ms Google: “Look Bob, I can see you’re really upset about this. I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill, and think things over”.
Further reading: Some technical opinions of interest only to audiophiles.
FOMM back pages – https://bobwords.com.au/planned-obsolescence-strikes-again/