It can truly be said that in the record business, what goes around comes around. And if you don’t believe that, just look at what’s happening with vinyl records: They’ve defied the experts’ assertions and made a huge comeback.
Who wudda thunk? True, the quality of the sound they produce is okay, but it doesn’t equal that of newer technologies. They also take up lots of space. And finding a good record player to listen to your old albums may not be as easy as it sounds.
But logic doesn’t always prevail; facts are facts, and what is clear is that their return is real and not just a fluke. Their revival is not only continuing but accelerating.
The Recording Industry Association of America said that record sales in 2021 outpaced those of CDs for the first time in 30 years: 41.3 million vs 33.4 million. 2022 was the 17th consecutive year that their sales in the US grew, according to Statista. And Billboard says their sales in 2022 were the highest since Luminate began tracking data back in 1991.
Experts and observers both inside and outside of the music industry suggest several explanations for this resurgence, and one of these credits the pandemic, of all things. Gatherings were prohibited in most regions, so it was nearly impossible to attend live concerts.
However, some performers and recording companies released music on vinyl in addition to newer media so fans could get entertainment without having to leave their homes or gather in crowds; the benefits work both ways, as higher record sales enabled both musicians and their labels to earn additional revenues.
“That’s why a lot of live albums were re-released on vinyl or pressed on vinyl for the first time,” explained Lyndsey Havens, a senior editor at Billboard….” Fans responded well to this option and now they’re demanding more of it from their favorite artists.”
Renewed interest in vinyl actually began years before the pandemic, so what explains its growing popularity? Vinyl records are associated with middle-aged people who feel nostalgic about their youth or about occasions that are special to them. Studies, however, show the force driving higher sales is actually millennials and Gen Z consumers.
An article in Reader’s Digest explains that around half of the people buying vinyl these days are under 35. “Vinyl is a physical media for experiencing music, something tangible to hold and own…For many, this adds depth to the experience of music.”
Vinyl has other benefits, too: They can be given as gifts, shared, traded, and collected. Surprisingly, even aspects of records that in the past had been considered drawbacks are now seen as advantages.
For example, for some users the brief delay until an LP starts and the scratchy sound that some make have a certain charm, and for others that adds a dimension that more sophisticated technologies lack. Also, “experiencing the music the way the artist intended can make the listener feel more connected to the music and the artist,” the Digest adds. These insights help us understand why vinyl has been growing so quickly.
Is Vinyl Getting Company?
Along with the renewed interest in vinyl, cassette tapes also appear to be making a comeback. This is evident in sales which, while still modest, show a clear upward uptrend.
Much of the renewed interest in cassette tapes is from micro labels or DIY bands that do experimental or other music that doesn’t reach a large audience. But certainly not all of it is.
Griffith University cultural sociologist Dr. Benjamin Duester says major labels have “woken up to the cassette tape.” He noted that both Taylor Swift and Harry Styles released their latest albums on cassette. And this follows major releases by other stars including Olivia Rodrigo, Billie Eilish, and Lana Del Rey in 2021, and Lady Gaga, Dua Lipa and Kylie Minogue in 2020.
“The resurgence is undeniable,” Rolling Stone magazine concluded.
For much of the 1970s and 1980s, cassettes were very popular. Boomboxes (also called ghetto blasters) were all over the place. And so was the Sony Walkman, which made it possible to shut out the world and listen to music while traveling, walking, jogging, or even while grabbing a quick bite.
But popularity is fleeting, and when CDs were first introduced to the marketplace they moved to the front of the line and sales of cassettes began a steady decline. In 2010, Sony finally stopped making the Walkman.
But more recently, sales, of cassettes have been rebounding. In 2020, only 173,000 were sold. But in 2021, this number nearly doubled to 343,000; and sales in late 2022 appeared to be on a track that would exceed the 2021 level, according to Luminate.
And based on new developments it’s very possible this trend will continue. At least one company has developed a better quality tape that both stores much more music and also delivers significantly improved sound. This could potentially make it appeal to a much wider audience.
The French company RTM Industries, which had been best known for their reel-to-reel tapes, has been in the cassette business since 2018. As of late 2022, they had produced the equivalent of two million miles of new tape, more than triple the amount of four years ago.
RTM recently introduced a new portable player said to resemble a Walkman. TEAC and other companies also make new stereo cassette players.
If you still have your old tapes, records, and record player, dust them off and prepare to enjoy the great hits of the past or the latest sounds in music.
Incidentally, some old records may have become modestly valuable over the years – not only LPs but 45s and 78s too. Some, such as those released by Disney or performed by major stars of the past such as early Elvis, Patti Page, Duke Ellington, or Frankie Lane, may be worth a considerable amount to collectors. You can get an idea of how much they are worth by checking online.
Sources: afr.com; billboard.com; howtogeek.com; nytimes.com; readersdigest.co.uk; statista.com; zerohedge.com