An Unlikely Demand for Vinyl Brings the Record Back
Streaming sites like Spotify, Apple Music and Tidal bring artist’s discography to phones at a touch, but despite all your music fitting into your pocket, vinyl records are back in high demand.
Vinyl long play records or LPs continued to set highs with nearly 12 million albums sold in 2015, marking it the 10th straight year of growth for vinyl in the U.S. surpassing last year’s volume by 2.8 million units, according to a Nielsen report.
The record player was invented in 1877, and with so many major technological advances in the way we listen to music. Most considered the record dead. Even Rob Cleveland, the owner of Ear Wax Records in Madison, had his doubts.
“When CDs came out I knew that was it. I would always say there would be some record sales, but I would never have guessed that records would come back as hard as they are now.” Cleveland said.
From 1990-2007, an average of 1 million records were sold each year . With 17 years of stagnant sales, how did the factories that make records last to reach this resurgence?
As the technological trend in society moves towards smaller and more efficient, this sudden demand for vinyl is a confusing contradiction. If it is resurgence that has brought the vinyl record back from the dead, the question now becomes why are people buying vinyl?
Ron Roloff, the owner of Strictly Discs in Madison claims, “tangibility. Nobody says, ‘look at my iTunes collection.’ There is a collecting aspect to vinyl that people enjoy.”
As UW-Madison senior and avid vinyl collector, Joe Devries puts it “I like the tangibility, the idea that someone could inherit my records and figure out who I was as a person. By looking through my vinyl makes my collection personal.”
Along with being a great way to express individuality, vinyl is also communal, it requires
“Listening to records is a great shared experience. I can have my group of friends over and we can all listen and discuss the music,” Devries said.
Fueling the demand around vinyl is a growing community; personal expression and shared experiences has led more and more people to begin collecting vinyl .
Cleveland explains it best “vinyl has become a culture, it started as something less and became something a lot more. People buy records together, listen to them together and then go to the live shows together. Along the way they meet different people and it slowly becomes a growing culture, especially so in the smaller sub-genres.”
Through the culture, tight-knit communities have formed around vinyl and Madison is no exception. When asked why Madison has so many bars people claim it is just a part of the Madison culture. However, with five fully dedicated record stores (MadCity Music Exchange, B-Sides, Strictly Discs, and Ear Wax) and another six that sell new releases within a five-mile radius of the Capital steps, what is it about Madison culture that can support that much vinyl?
Cleveland looks to the vibrant music scene “bands are always playing and people are writing or talking about music all the time. It proves there is a culture here for music to grow and snowball into something bigger. It
creates a culture even like the bar culture with different types of music making up all the shops and venues.”
While Roloff attributes it to location “the geography comes into play, we have Minneapolis, Milwaukee, and Chicago. Madison is in this corridor where traveling bands, acts, and records do not have to go to far off the beaten path to find Madison.”
Right now vinyl is booming; demand is on the rise and it only seems to be only growing, B-Sides owner Steve Manley is thankful,
“The impact of a resurgence in vinyl worldwide for record stores is huge. It’s the focus for most stores and the main reason we have survived. In other words, few stores could survive on CD sales alone in the era of streaming and downloads.”
But shop owners are still keeping their eyes on the future. Cleveland observed, “I can see vinyl coming down a bit. Sales have been on a steady increase and so have the prices. It is just a matter of time all bubbles burst, but I can’t see it changing much in this town. Maybe in the bigger scheme music and vinyl will become less popular, but things will still be going on in Madison, for sure.”