The Return of Vinyl | Analysing the Resurgence of Physical Music Formats

UK Vinyl Sales

We explore the music business and the recent resurgence of love for physical music formats. If you’re looking to get to grips with the wider music industry and stay on top of the latest trends and innovations, then studying our Music Business course could be for you. 

VInyl: THe foundation of the music industry

The return of vinyl has been a significant development for today’s music industry.

In the past, vinyl was the go-to music format. During the seventies, vinyl sales were huge with millions of copies of albums such as Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours and the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band sold

Yet, despite this, the dominance of the vinyl market suffered a huge setback with the arrival of new technologies and methods of music consumption during the 2000s. Digital files were seen as more desirable than vinyl LPs and sales plummeted accordingly.

Fast forward to 2023 and now, in a musical world ruled by digital music and streaming services, vinyl records have been enjoying a significant resurgence. There are multiple reasons behind this including a renewed thirst for tangible assets from music lovers and consumers.

Here, we will explore the vinyl revival, vinyl consumption, why old formats have grown in popularity and whether market trends surrounding vinyl’s comeback can continue.

Vinyl sales

The vinyl revival has been extraordinary with sales of the format gradually increasing annually over the last 15 years. 

Vinyl sales continue to rise in the UK, with more than 2.7 million LPs sold so far this year – up 12% on 2022, according to figures from the BPI.

Of the ten biggest selling vinyl albums in the UK during 2022, eight were records released that year.

A BPI spokesperson said: “Demand for vinyl continues to rise despite many years of growth, driven by the passion fans feel for the format and the emotional connection it provides with the music they love.”

In the US, this surge in popularity is being mirrored according to new figures from the Recording Industry Association.

Their report of sales data showed how vinyl LP sales outperformed CDs in the US for the first time since 1987 in 2022. Just over 41 million vinyl records were sold in 2022, to the tune of $1.2bn (£0.99bn). Only 33 million CDs were sold, amounting to $483m.

What happened to the vinyl market?

The rise of the CD was one of the main reasons behind the death of vinyl during the eighties and nineties.

Suddenly this once popular mode of music consumption looked tired and old-fashioned – and consumers and the wider music industry became more excited by newer formats.

Alongside cassettes, the CD became the dominant force in physical music market and production of vinyl was scaled back to reflect this drop in demand.

The advent of music streaming amid the digital age, including services such as Apple Music and Spotify, revolutionised the music industry during the 2000s. The convenience and ease of streaming music for customers took over which is why the CD has fallen in popularity.

According to the Entertainment Retailers Association, vinyl album sales grew 11% to £150.5m, while CD sales dropped 17.4% to £124m – this is the first time vinyl has sold more than the CD since 1987.

The vinyl revival – when did it begin?

2006 is seen as the year that vinyl sales reached their lowest ebb – and ever since, sales have been heading in an upwards trajectory. Increasing numbers of music lovers have shown interest in the format, encouraging retailers to take advantage of the new trend.

In recent years, the numbers have grown and grown. In 2022, UK vinyl sales grew for the 15th successive year in 2022, reaching their highest level since 1990 with 5.5 million units sold. Remarkably, new releases made up the majority of the year’s biggest sellers, something that is a radical development from previous years when interest was driven by older titles and artists.

Some of the artists helping propel the business forward include many of the biggest names who have chosen to release their music on the format.

Taylor Swift | Midnights

Taylor Swift’s tenth album Midnights was released in October 2022 and has been seen by music industry experts as one of the driving forces in the year’s huge vinyl sales. 

According to industry figures, it helped push annual vinyl sales revenues above those of the CD for the first time since 1987.

This was helped by Swift releasing four different limited vinyl versions. In 2022, Midnights sold more than 89,000 vinyl copies.

Harry Styles | Harry’s House

The third studio album by the one-time One Direction star turned solo artist has become one of his most popular releases. He received Grammy Awards for Best Album and Best Pop Vocal for the his work on the 13-track record. Styles also broke the record for the largest sales week for a vinyl album released in the US with Luminate stats revealing how it sold 182,000 copies in its opening week.

Arctic Monkeys | The Car

The 2022 record by the Sheffield indie-group is their seventh and is the latest chapter in their evolution from a young guitar band to sophisticated LA-living lounge lizards. The Car features some of frontman Alex Turner’s most sophisticated songwriting and continues where their previous record – 2018’s Tranquillity Base Hotel & Casino – left off in terms of the band’s growth. The record was the third best selling vinyl album of 2022 as well as the best selling cassette of the year in the UK too.

Liam Gallagher | C’mon You Know

Liam Gallagher may well be known as the frontman of Oasis but his solo career has seen him make his mark on a whole new generation with his creative efforts showing some staying power.

To date, he’s released As You Were (2017) and Why Me? Why Not (2019) with this latest effort, C’mon You Know being his latest artistic and commercial triumph.

The record sold almost 33,000 vinyl copies by the end of 2022, having been released in May 2022.

Wet Leg | Wet Leg

Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers are Wet Leg, a two-piece indie rock band from the Isle of Wight who have become one of contemporary music’s more intriguing success stories. As Wet Leg, the pair signed to Domino Records and scored a smash hit with their track Chaise Lounge in 2021. Their subsequent self-titled debut release went on to even higher acclaim when it landed the following year.

The record hit the top spot in the official charts and also saw overall vinyl sales of 12,872 during the first week. This is the highest total for a debut album in its first week for more than 30 years of chart history.

Find out more on the UK’s best-selling vinyl albums of 2022.

Vinyl records | industry support

Vinyl Revival

In 2023, with such a burgeoning market, the record industry has placed greater value on the album format and the retailers behind them.

National Album Day

National Album Day was launched back in 2018 as a way of celebrating the long-form format.

Taking place on 14th October, 2023, this year’s event marked 75 years since the format’s and is a way for music fans to share stories of their favourite releases – perhaps the first LP they heard or the most influential in their lives.

Find out more.

Record Store Day

Record Store Day started life in the US with a collection of indie retailers coming together to spread the word about their importance. It is now a celebration for the people who make up the world of the record shop – the staff, the customers, the artists, the labels – and sees more than 250 stores marking the day.

Find out more

Why have vinyl records made a resurgence?

Vinyl Revival

There are myriad different reasons behind the renewed love affair with the vinyl format.

For many music lovers, an affection for vinyl has always been there. But here are some of the contributing factors behind why this has once again grown into a mainstream passion.

The listening experience

For many music lovers, the experience of listening to a vinyl record is deemed to be more authentic than streaming. Some have likened it to a ritual, where the listener has to give more to the artist than just pressing play on Spotify. From placing the needle on the record to flipping between sides, there’s more engagement and action from the listener. It’s also deemed by many to offer a ‘warmer’ listening experience.

Love of physical items in a digital world

There is much to a piece of vinyl which, for some music lovers, is a huge part of the appeal of investing in a physical item. Not only is there the weight of the wax but the sleeve too. Vinyl records are seen as a lifelong investment and way of forging a deeper connection with a favourite artist other than just downloading or streaming a new release. There is also a sense of nostalgia that surrounds vinyl which makes it appealing to those who love collecting music.

Joining a community of music lovers

Community has become increasingly important for many of us in recent years and the vinyl-loving one is passionate and dedicated to the format.

Many music fans come together at record fairs and local shops to pick up used records, discuss their favourites, learn about hard-to-find gems and even trade records or albums.

Accessibility of vinyl albums and record players

The accessibility of vinyl albums has played a role in its revival as has the price of record players and turntables. If you’re looking for a record player, then many products can be bought for as little as £100 from a variety of high-street retailers. In the past, a hi-fi specialist would need to be visited.

Records can be easily found online but a wide range of retailers now stock them too. Everyone from Urban Outfitters to big supermarket chains including Tesco are choosing to sell the products.

Does vinyl sound better than digital?

Many audiophiles supposedly appreciate vinyl records for their warm  sound as they believe that the format is capable of capturing subtle nuances and details that can be lost in digital formats.

However, is this really true?

There are different takes on this but ultimately the answer is subjective and dependent on what listeners enjoy.

According to the BBC, “as digital kit cannot read analogue soundwaves, they are translated into a digital signal and back into analogue again, meaning some information is lost or approximated in the process. With vinyl, every single part of the analogue wave is captured in those grooves, making it the only true lossless format”.

However, there can be inconsistencies with vinyl and the quality can degrade over time. Ultimately, it depends on the sounds you prefer and what works best for you and your ears.

What does the future for vinyl look like?

According to the BPI, more than 159 billion audio music streams were recorded in the UK in 2022, compared with 68.1 billion audio streams back in 2017.

This demonstrates how digital music and streaming continues to dominate the music industry market and the ways in which music lovers listen to their favourite artists. At the same time, the appetite for vinyl has continued to grow too and suggests that the love for physical formats in the digital age is set to continue.

The latest figures suggest that vinyl sales in 2022 increased by just 2.9% year-on-year to 5.5 million, compared to growth of 10.6% (around 500,000 units) in 2021. However, limits to production capacity mean demand can only go so high.

Kim Bailey at the ERA told MusicWeek: “The outlook for vinyl remains extremely positive.”

“It’s worth remembering that the much talked about problems of vinyl have been a result of demand exceeding supply – there are worse problems to have.”

Which suggests vinyl is in a great place to continue its remarkable run of popularity…

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