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Golden disc spins again
Powered by nostalgia, vinyl records are back in fashion but will remain a sub-culture at best. By Team Viva
One would have hardly expected nostalgia to be a tangible demand in a digital world where music is streaming in from clouds and pods. But surprisingly, vinyl records are making a comeback, with surging sales reported over the last year-and-a-half. Partly because surround sound has made music as good as a tactile entity. The other part is about nostalgia, the need to have a physical format and collectible value. Can you imagine Boney M, Abba or The Beatles just as a streaming blip with an icon or the record covers with iconic photographs? Call it technology de-addiction or saturation but vinyl is back as is the turntable.
After World War II, LP ruled the world but with the introduction of compact discs, it became obsolete. Of course, there were a few audiophiles who wouldn’t let go of it and they became collectors of vinyl records. The sound was inimitable — something which the CDs tried hard to replicate and failed. So now vinyl records have made a comeback with technology-aided sound clarity. So much so that topline contemporary musicians like Ed Sheeran are all available on vinyl records. Some artistes are just cutting a solo song disc.
The spurt in demand is linked to the passing away of some music world giants — the sales of their vinyl records skyrocketed as people bought these as mementos. For instance, after David Bowie’s death he became the bestselling vinyl artist of 2016, with five of his albums featuring in the top 30 after his death.
Vinyl consists of an analog, which means there is a continuous signal. Aficionados often attribute a warmth to pure analog sound which is why vinyl records are gaining momentum. The experience is akin to being in a bookstore. Though Kindle is flourishing in the market, the generation does not know what it feels like to go to a bookstore, hold a book in your hand, feel each page and take a whiff of the old musty smell found in libraries. It is something only a book lover can describe.
Sales of vinyl records in particular is seeing an increase because of its vintage quality and a sense of private ownership that a collector feels. It isn’t the same experience listening to Gaana, Saavn or Spotify.
Shridhar Subramaniam, president, India and Middle East, Sony Music, who was the brains behind the concept of doing a recent vinyl pop-up, says, “The sheer simplicity of playing a vinyl and enjoying the rich, warm sounds that follow make the music listening experience personal and extraordinary. It is the only physical format of music that has consistently seen a rise in demand and we decided to offer audiophiles an opportunity to start or add to their collection this International Record Store Day. We have over 2,500 titles, some of them are being released almost after 30 years. We also have exclusive box sets and record store day releases.”
Vinyl stores can be a community experience too where you can walk into a store and meet individuals from all walks of life, digging through crates trying to find something new, old or at times, rare. Says Subramaniam, “Nowadays there is no ownership of music, there is nothing to touch, feel and enjoy. The entire act of putting the vinyl on a turntable, placing a needle on it, is like an immersive experience which people don’t have now and crave for the same.”
In fact, when one does a vinyl pop-up, there are a lot of collectors who come up with their treasure trove which is a peek into music history itself. And these are being organised by other companies as well. Sony Music, for instance, does a “bring your vinyl session” where you come up with the vinyls that your grandfather and father owned. This establishes a sense of antiquity among young adults. With the availability of turntables that are as cheap as Rs 8,000, anyone can buy a turntable but the challenge arises after the purchase. Once you start buying vinyl records, you need to learn the method of maintaining them through time.
In Delhi, one can find vinyl at places like Radio and Gramophone house that was established in 1951 by a Jain family. Though the store mainly deals in modern music equipments, there is a small dedicated section to records with modern day turntables on display. The Shah Music Centre in Chandni Chowk is run by third generation of the family. Customers from across the country come looking for records and players.
In fact, this revival is not really “news”, according to the Consumergateway.org. The website elaborates that the sales of records nearly died out in 2006. Yet soon after they have started climbing again — 2016 was the 10th consecutive year of growth in the US and the eighth consecutive year in the UK, mostly at a double-digit rate of growth. The renewed rise of records is catching attention because it happens to be the only format whose sales are increasing while other formats (CDs and even downloads of digital albums) are in decline.
In a development that has attracted attention to this phenomenon more recently, the research says, in early December of 2016 weekly sales of records (£2.4m) for the first time surpassed revenue from digital downloads (£2.1m) in the UK. In the same period of 2015, sales of records reached £1.2m compared with revenue from digital downloads that was as high as £4.4m (The Guardian, December 6, 2016). Digital downloads are not losing indeed so much to vinyl records but primarily to streaming services — downloading or streaming digital content are closer substitutes, both more distinct from vinyl.
During 2016 unit sales of vinyl albums in the UK have risen by 52 per cent to a volume of 3.2 million LP records, a record by itself. CDs remain the dominant format for albums: Over 47 million units were sold in 2016, but that was 12 per cent lower than a year earlier.
In the US, the year 2016 overall was relatively poor in terms of growth rate (1.8 per cent), nearly stagnant considering that since 2009 unit sales increased annually at rates between 20 per cent and 40 per cent, says the website. The sales volume of vinyl album records has risen from a bottom level of about one million units in 2005-2006 to a level of 17 million units in 2015-2016, rising without a break throughout this period. (Source: Recording Industry Association of America, RIAA)
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