For Christmas this year, I excitedly opened a box from my wife and broke out into a wide grin at its contents: my first record player. After we'd taken it out and opened a few of the included LPs, my kids both asked simultaneously, "What's that?"
Yes, it is 2014. And yes, I'm rocking it like it's 1984. But after this summer's discovery of the 100 or so records that my father had relegated to the attic, I was overcome with nostalgia and something of a yearning to re-experience the warm sound and cool album art I remembered as a kid. And I'm definitely not alone. Vinyl sales this year are on track to top 8 million, crushing last year's sales of 6.1 million. During Black Friday, more than 259,000 vinyl albums were sold — the second-best sales week since numbers started being tracked way back in 1991.
"Four years ago, maybe half our releases would get an LP option," James Cartwright, production manager at Merge Records, told PitchFork. "Now every release we do has a vinyl format."
What's driving the renewed love between consumers and a recording format almost 85 years old? For one thing, millennials, the largest demographic in the U.S., say the format gives them an experience not possible with digital music or CDs. The artwork and accompanying lyrics that come with vinyl records are a huge selling point, with one survey finding that over a quarter of all people who purchase vinyl never even play them.
"You can own what is essentially a piece of art in a size where artwork can be appreciated (unlike most CD covers)," wrote one respondent.
The other major consideration for choosing vinyl over its digital counterparts is the sound. Not only is it the only format that's fully lossless, but it also generally has the most dynamic mix, giving you that warm, organic sound that comes closest to what the artist intended.
"Instead of everything just being loud, you have actual dynamics, like real music does," writes Chris Heinonen on WireCutter.
As vinyl comes back from the brink, the music industry is rallying to keep pace. This month, Memphis welcomed the opening of a new record pressing plant, adding to the dozen scattered across the United States that are struggling to meet demand. Once fully operational, Memphis Record Pressing will have the capability to produce 7-inch and 12-inch records at a rate of 5,000 to 7,000 records per day.
“We have entered an exciting best-of-all-worlds era where there is space and scope for all kinds of music to be discovered and enjoyed in every type of way, including on vinyl once again,” Gennaro Castaldo of the British Phonographic Institute told The Guardian. “Many of us assumed it had become an obsolete format, but while the flame may have flickered, it never quite went out.”
Related on MNN:
- Yes, you can turn cremated remains into a vinyl record
- Why does music give some of us the chills?
- 10 outstanding music festivals you haven't heard of yet