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The rise of vinyl

Written by Conor Whybrew.

Ten years ago, the music industry was struggling. Music fans had stopped buying physical copies of music. Instead, everything was being moved into a digital format and being downloaded illegally for free. Record labels were looking for new and innovative ways for the public to continue paying for music. There was one man who wasn’t even a record executive who played the largest role in changing the record industry. His name is Jack White.
Last year, Jack White’s Blunderbuss was the first vinyl record to outsell Abbey Road since 2008 when SoundScan started measuring vinyl sales.
Jack White started releasing vinyl with his band The White Stripes. He would release limited edition records with colored vinyl or slightly different covers. He would do what he could to make every record unique to vinyl collectors. This created a whole new generation of vinyl record buyers. Suddenly, vinyl records were no longer something taking up space in your grandparents’ basement. There was a whole new generation of music enthusiasts starting record collections of their own that included new releases and classic albums.
The reason for buying vinyl records goes well beyond Jack White. Analog format is a better sounding format verses digital. An analog sound wave is a smooth wave flowing from high to low. A digital sound wave is chunky where its highs and lows are separated by a dramatic rise and fall. The two graphs below demonstrate the difference. There is just a depth to the sound of a vinyl record that cannot compare to the digital format. This depth comes from the different forms of sound waves.

There are many reasons to choose vinyl over a digital format, other than sound quality. Listening to a vinyl record is an experience. It’s not just clicking some play button on a screen. Playing a vinyl record is a full-fledged activity. It involves cleaning your record, placing the needle, and committing to listening to a full album, the way the artist intended. Once you place the needle, you cannot stop that record until it is finished.
One of the drawbacks to vinyl records is their sensitivity to damage. However, this can be just as much of a positive thing. To keep a vinyl record requires a certain level of care and appreciation. That means you are paying attention and maintaining your records every time you play them. You’re committing more time to a vinyl record. This increases the appreciation you have for that record. Whereas, an mp3 file on a computer can easily be forgotten over time.
Vinyl record sales have been on the increase since 2005. According to Nielsen SoundScan, 4.6 million vinyl records were sold in 2012. In 2005, sales were less than one million units. The projected record sale for 2013 is 5.8 million units. It is safe to say, that vinyl has made a lasting impact on the music industry. It’s the longest lasting audio format on the market. The vinyl record was invented in 1888 with the first 12 inch record being introduced in 1903. The fact that music is still being used on this format 110 years later should speak volumes about the quality of the format.

There is now a whole new culture revolving around the revival of the vinyl record. Along with the revival of the vinyl record came the revival of the independent record store. Every third Saturday in April is regarded as Record Store Day worldwide. On Record Store Day, artists and record labels release limited edition vinyl records that can only be purchased at local record stores. This is a great day for local businesses and vinyl enthusiasts.
There’s also websites and monthly clubs dedicated to selling limited edition, exclusive pressings. Pop Market (http://www.popmarket.com/) sells an exclusive package everyday to members of their site. They also sell complete collections and box sets of various artists. It is free to become a member of their site. Feedbands (https://feedbands.com/) sells an exclusive first pressing of a record every month for $14.95 for black standard weight and $19.95 for colored 180 gram vinyl. Currently, the first month is free when you pay for shipping. Jack White’s record label, Third Man Records, also runs a quarterly club called The Vault (http://thirdmanrecords.com/vault/). The club releases first and only presses of various albums by Third Man Records artists. The Vault costs $60 paid over three installments and includes multiple albums and merchandise that change with every package.
The music industry is definitely in the digital era, but there are large and growing portion of music fans that are committed to buying vinyl. Mp3 sales continue to largely outsell vinyl records. However, it is still safe to say that vinyl is thriving in this digital era of music.

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