I’ve been saying it for years: vinyl is the way to go and Millennials are finally catching on! Best Buy announced this week that its stores will stop selling CDs (compact discs) altogether this July 1. Meanwhile vinyl sales have been steadily rising over the last few years, becoming, once again, a high-demand item for music retailers who have been struggling to compete with digital streaming services and music downloaded from the Internet. According to The Guardian, vinyl sales saw a 53% increase between 2015 and 2016, the highest sales numbers for vinyl since 1991. Although vinyls have always been kept around by independent retailers like Half Price Books and local stores like Cheapo Records and Electric Fetus here in Minneapolis, retailers like Best Buy and Target have caught up with the trend. As some begin to drop CD sales, none seem to have any plans to stop selling vinyl.
Vinyl sales began to decline when Philips and Sony partnered together to develop CDs in 1982. The light plastic discs were smaller and more convenient, as cars became equipped with CD players and music went mobile with personal Walkman players. In the era of Ray Bans, DeLoreans, and MTV, heavy plastic discs that required large turn tables and needles became items you were more likely to find in Grandma’s living room rather than your average American teenagers bedroom.
The digital takeover of popular music was chronicled in David Grohl’s 2013 documentary Sound City, which focused on the legendary recording studio in Van Nuys, California that was eventually shut down as digital recording technology began to replace tape recording reels and mixing consoles. When Napster was introduced in 1999, it ushered in a new era of digital music that could be shared and downloaded via the Internet, already making CDs obsolete after less than 20 years on the market. MP3 players also enjoyed a brief spout of popularity before iTunes was released and the age of the iPod, Smartphone, and now digital streaming really took off.
So what’s the reason for the vinyl comeback that’s once again changing the music industry? Most would tell you it’s about the experience with the music. In a world where virtually any song is available in a matter of seconds, digital streaming has taken away a personable aspect that music lovers once enjoyed. Even MTV, which has been criticized for making popular music more about the image of the artist rather than the music itself, still retained a personable connection with fans because it brought the artist into their living rooms and showed them what to wear, what to say, and how to think.
In a way, digital recording technology also made music less human because it enabled recording engineers to fix even the slightest imperfection in a player’s performance, and overdub raw, authentic instrumentals with pre-recorded sounds and effects. Like modern cinematic effects, popular music has become almost otherworldly thanks to seemingly perfect digital-sound quality. Vinyl records not only featured exquisite cover art, but also pamphlets with stories and images of the artists that fans could flip through while listening to the music.
Vinyl also featured an A and B side, becoming a staple by which popular songs were judged. At the same time, vinyl provided a wholistic listening experience for fans who got to hear music that wasn’t played on the radio, or that you could just Skip on your playlist. Whatever the reason, it’s great to see vinyl records making a comeback in modern retail markets. Whether you’ve had your own collection for years or are just now discovering the magic, it’s never too late to start your collection. Check out Half Price Books or a local record store near you, and discover music like you’ve never experienced it before!