From the high street, you’d be forgiven for thinking the growth in vinyl sales was a myth. We’re not seeing the high streets overrun with record stores, and those that do exist are populated, for the most part, by the usual suspects. Younger generations are only treading tentatively in their doorways. So who’s buying? And where?
It’s true that vinyl records have made an incredible comeback since the early 2000s, when it looked like they’d seen the end of their era. Alongside the obvious reduction in CD sales today, we’re also noticing a decline in digital downloads. But of course, people are still discovering and consuming music, they’re just doing it online on sites like SoundCloud, Spotify and YouTube.
With these sites not being run by the artists themselves, many fans are turning to vinyl as a way of giving back directly to those who make the music. As we’d suspected, a lot of it is about the timeless classics - vinyl is nostalgia. For baby boomers, it’s a way of holding onto a part of their identity, a priceless blast from the past. Curiously though, it’s a similar experience for millennials even though they weren’t around for the first turn. Yes, millennials are buying vinyl - but it’s a throwback to their own childhood.
The medium of vinyl, for millennials, is more about putting up a defence against our complete digital immersion, and remembering the tactile. In the quest for something real, we slide the disk out of its sleeve and lower the needle into its groove, and we’re part of something alien, poetic, even romantic. This is what we crave in challenging times, and David Bowie’s death last year was proof of that with vinyl sales spiking 53%. At a certain point, vinyl becomes art.
So we appreciate vinyl more now than we did ten years ago, but we’re not spending our time in record stores. Which begs the question, where are millennials paying tribute to the artists they know and love?
First though, we need to understand why the younger generations aren’t flooding into these meccas of music in the way their parents did.
And the question answers itself. Record stores were designed for their parents, and many of those who weren’t around in the golden age of music just don’t feel comfortable stepping into a place that’s scarcely changed for decades. They don’t feel they belong, or perhaps worry that their taste in music will be scoffed out the door. Add to that the fact that millennials are far more comfortable shopping online - and even on-the-go - and it’s hardly surprising that the local record store is not their first point of call.
A growing number of people then are getting their vinyl fix online. And they’re probably not all millennials, if the global uptake in e-commerce is anything to go by. We all love the convenience of buying online.
As listening itself is also a more mobile experience now, fans are associating music not just with the internet but with their phones. In response, we’re sliding vinyl purchasing into listeners’ lifestyles with a mobile app called Quickfire, which syncs with Spotify or iTunes and offers a library of over 25,000 records. It’s becoming natural to discover new music - or be reminded of old favourites - while listening on-the-go in one app and having the LP pop up in another, so you can come home to find the very same record waiting for you soon after.
So actually it’s not a battle of digital vs tangible at all, rather a seamless pairing of the two. For millennials, the online world creates that record store experience of discovering artists and finding people with a similar taste in music. But it also offers more - the internet can personalise the experience for each individual far beyond what physical stores are capable of. It makes it comfortable and convenient. And millennials are very happy to buy where they browse, but it doesn’t end until they’ve got something they can touch. Something that will never change.