Nostalgia: Records getting back in the groove

The return of the vinyl LP is not just a nostalgic interlude, but a change in buying habits that is music to the ears of the region's independent record stores

When the compact disc became established on the music scene, it seemed to herald the end of the vinyl record.

The ‘unwieldy’ vinyl format was seen to have had its day compared to the more user-friendly size of the CD which, reputedly, didn’t even suffer sound glitches like scratches which so bedevilled its rival.

At first sniffy about the new technology, the artists came to embrace it for its purer sound while the companies producing them saw costs plummet.

It was Dire Straits, fronted by Gosforth raised Mark Knopfler, and their album 1985 Brothers In Arms, which was the first CD album to sell one million copies.

By 2000, nearly 2.5bn CDs were sold worldwide, which proved to be the high point. Since then sales have begun to fall away thanks to the likes of downloads, MP3 players and, surprisingly, the re-emergence of the vinyl LP.

Sales of vinyl reached a 15-year high last year at 780,000, according to the Official Charts Company’s sales data. This was an increase of 101% on 2012 and over 270% on 2008.

Sales of 7” vinyl singles were strong, too, up 34% year-on-year, while sales of 12” singles rose 60% in the same period.

The figures were boosted by releases from Arctic Monkeys, Daft Punk and David Bowie.

The Arctic Monkeys’ fifth studio album, AM, was the biggest selling vinyl LP of the year followed by Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories and the David Bowie album, The Next Day was the third biggest seller.

While it is fair to say in a straight face off LPs lose lands down to CDs in amount sold, in the long term it could be argued that the older format will outlive the newer one.

For all their positives, the CD is more a technological construct than the vinyl LP and so, in the end, will inevitably be overtaken by greater technological advances, coupled with its lack of that certain something vinyl possesses.

Marek Norvid, boss of RPM records which has been based in Newcastle for 25 years, said: “Vinyl produces a much more earthy sound, there is more roundness to the tone. The CD is too clinical. Music needs its rough edges.”

Vinyl, in truth, has never gone away as despite the juggernaut of CDs and rival music sources, there was always a demand for them from music purists, the curious and fans of Retro chic.

However in 2007 sales of them reached their nadir when they fell to below 200,000, making up just 0.1% of album sales in the country, seemingly in a death spiral as the figure four years before had stood at around 600,000.

Then something happened which was to change the face of the business forever. In 2007 bosses at an independent record stores in San Francisco got seriously cheesed off with the major record companies who they thought were ignoring the demands of their vinyl customers. They took to lobbying them to release at least a limited quantity or recording on vinyl through independent record shops

Looking for a way to publicise this, they hit on the idea of copying a marketing strategy which had proved so successful for independent comic book stores in the US. Free Comic Book Day, in which a limited amount of free comics were given away as part of a series of events, had attracted many new customers. It has become an annual event and takes place on the first Saturday in May each year.

In 2007 came Record Store Day.While no records are given away free, artists performed or made in-store appearances while there were issues of special vinyl – and CD – releases, and it is also now an annual event, taking place on the third Saturday of each April.

In 2008 it was taken up by British stores and the result was remarkable. The sales drop from 2003 to 2007 was followed by a similarly steep upward trend from 2007 to today.

In the UK on Record Store Day 2013 it is estimated that the 300 independent record shops managed to sell a huge £2m worth of vinyl in one day between them.

In Newcastle , Marek was part of a group which extended it to a High Bridge Festival.

“It was just a massive success,” he said.

And the demand for vinyl – which had lead to an a big increase in record player sales – is not just restricted to relics of a bygone vinyl age.

Marek said: “A lot of young people brought up on MP3 players and downloads are going straight onto getting a record player. CDs are starting to suffer.

“There are refurbished record players from the 60s and 70s and the Retro looking ones made in the Far East.”

Vinyl buyers may still be relatively small in number, but they’re committed. The BPI surveyed 1,700 of them in September last year to find out more about their habits, and discovered that one in five buy at least once a week, while seven in 10 buy at least once a month.

The BPI’s survey also shows that the average vinyl buyer has 300 LPs and 80 singles in their collection. 35.3% of vinyl buyers are aged under 35, but some stereotypes remain intact: 87.4% of the survey’s respondents were men.

Among male vinyl fans is Dr Lee Barron at Northumbria University .

He has viewed the increased popularity of vinyl with both a personal and professional interest, as one of his academic research interests is popular culture.

“It was a really important part of my teenage years,” said Lee, now in his 40s.

“I used to be into heavy metal big style and album covers were as important as the records themselves. Heavy metal fans would often buy five versions of the same album if they had different covers.

“The sound quality of CDs is brilliant but they don’t have the same artistic quality.”

Famous album covers include, by Pink Floyd, Dark Side Of The Moon and Wish You Were Here; any number from the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, London Calling by the Clash, Never Mind The Bollocks by the Sex Pistols. The list is endless.

“And it used to be a thing to be seen walking around with these albums, to show your music tastes” said Lee.

Vinyl LPs in shops seem to provide more scope to browse and broaden your musical tastes.

He said: “I was in a record shop the other day and saw three teenage girls picking up an album by Neu! . It was marvellous.”

Neu! was a 1970s German band formed by two former members of Kraftwerk who in their time enjoyed limited commercial success but are now seen as the founding fathers of ‘Krautrock’ which influenced the likes of David Bowie, Brian Eno and Joy Division. Not very Justin Bieber.

“It’s great that kids, young people, are getting back into beautiful things like this.

“It has such an artistic quality in addition to sounding great.”

And, even its fragility compared to the more durable CD is seen as a positive.

“It means you have to treat it with care and respect,” said Lee.

And Marek summed up its allure nicely, adding: “Vinyl reminds us that music is art and not just a commodity.”

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