With rumours of vinyl’s demise greatly exaggerated, the wider music industry is adapting once again. Barnaby Dracup delves into the vinyl renaissance
Despite a panicky music industry throwing the baby out with the bathwater in its headlong rush to embrace emerging digital formats, it was the small independent labels that kept vinyl alive and kicking throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s, mostly in the dance music, R&B and hip-hop genres.
Vinyl was kept on life-support for the longest in the pubs and clubs, perhaps because of the format on which the nightlife industry operated – the famed Technics SL-1200 direct-drive turntables originally manufactured from October 1972 until 2010 and much loved by DJs because of their ‘bulletproof’ construction and instant stop/start high torque motor.
Over the last decade vinyl has made a strong comeback with home audiences. Ironically, CD playing decks which emulate a turntable (CDJs) have become omnipresent alongside laptop-operated mixing software in the DJ booths and vinyl has been phased out in the clubs.
These home audiences have led to the huge growth in record sales over the last three to four years. With high street heavyweights such as Sainsbury’s and Tesco even stocking vinyl – and instantly reducing its cool factor – there seems to be an air of permanence to what was considered by many to be temporary.
With this rise in the format’s popularity the surrounding industry has been playing catch-up, the official vinyl LP album and singles chart (officialcharts.com) being launched in 2015, as new figures revealed the vinyl resurgence continued strongly in that year. 2014 witnessed vinyl LP sales reaching a 20-year high in the UK at 1.29 million, following seven years of growth.
With the highs of 2015 and 2016 showing no sign of stopping, David Bannister, of family-owned British audio manufacturer Ruark said:“You only have to look at the success of this year’s Record Store Day (recordstoreday.co.uk) and the vinyl sales figures to see that the fascination with vinyl shows no signs of going away. For the week after Record Store Day, which ended 27 April, a staggering 547,000 vinyl albums were sold and at the end of July vinyl sales hit the one million mark for the first time in two decades.”
Danish heritage brand, AM Clean Sound recently redesigned and relaunched its original vinyl cleaning range from the 1970s in reaction to the global upsurge in vinyl and turntables sales. Jacob Moesgaard, CEO, said: “Vinyl should account for almost a fifth of the sales of physical music products by the end of 2017, and even Sony has recently announced that it will restart the manufacture of its own records. So, while it’s been dismissed as the niche domain of hipsters who don’t even have turntables, or nostalgic dads buying countless reissues of Dark Side Of the Moon, I think that for vinyl the only way is up.”
The surge in popularity of the physical format does seem to be translating to the equipment and devices on which it is played.
Jamie Harriss of Bartlett’s, a North London audio specialist, says: “With the renaissance of vinyl, consumer interest in turntables has increased two-fold. The superior sound quality and tactile experience of vinyl playback offers an antidote to our increasingly digitised world. Modern turntables now come with all the mod-cons and connectivity the younger generations expect, but many still want to obtain that ‘fully analogue’ experience.
“If you have a hankering for the retro or classic look and a solid equipment purchase in general, then look to Garrard turntables, which hold excellent value in the secondhand market, as they are stone-cold classics within the hi-fi world; refurbished and collectors’ models are now widely available.”
Mr Bannister of Ruark added: “The fact that turntable manufacturers have incorporated modern technology, such as Bluetooth, has definitely helped attract a new generation of music lovers to vinyl.
“Now a turntable can sit neatly on the side and easily pair wirelessly with your Bluetooth speakers to create an utterly modern turntable system, one that no longer requires a physically large and/or expensive hi-fi system with lots of wires and boxes.”
However, Mr Moesgaard is more scathing of some manufacturers’ ‘goldrush’ approach to the vinyl resurgence: “Like it or not, it’s difficult to walk down the high street without seeing a portable turntable displayed alongside Justin Bieber’s latest album. Aimed at kids, this new breed of retro styled turntable is overpriced for the tinny sound it produces and, more worryingly, will wear your records down faster than a typical turntable, due to an unusually high tracking weight on the cartridge. So, while it’s great to see that the industry has woken up to the fact teenagers represent the future of vinyl, it’s just a shame they’re not exposed to other infinitely better entry-level record players out there.”
Despite this, those with a true passion, whether old or new, are blessed with modern technology, fantastic sound, features and conveniences.
Mr Bannister said: “With a good system, vinyl also offers listeners a different sound quality which many believe can’t be beaten. Couple that with the tactile experience of owning something special when you finally find the album you’ve been searching for and you’ve got something which music streaming services simply cannot give.”
Mr Harriss agreed: “Ensure you have a quality hi-fi system to complement the turntable and you’ll be rewarded with a lifetime of wonderful sound that transports you right to the heart of the music.”
That there are major moves being made by some big names in the industry perhaps backs up the general buzz that the vinyl resurrection is showing no signs of dying down. The business benefits of a fully operational record label with its own pressing plant also means they can offer vinyl to customers to buy literally hot off the press – which has not been done before.
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