Sinead Dunphy examines the newfound craze for vinyl in the age of streaming
Vinyl is making a comeback. Once seen as an artefact of a time gone by, made irrelevant by CDs and MP3s, vinyl records are now a hot commodity again. According to the Recording Industry Association of America, vinyl sales are steadily increasing while CD sales rapidly decline. Vinyl is now poised to be outselling CDs by the end of the year for the first time since 1986. However, streaming remains the dominant music listening medium for 2019, as paid subscriptions to streaming services generated 62% of industry revenues in the first half of 2019. It makes sense since most people are looking for the best bang for their buck and streaming subscriptions are far better value than buying individual records. Nevertheless, sentimentality and collector’s mentality ensures that some people stay loyal to vinyl. However, one can’t help but notice the disparity in age between the artists dominating streaming charts versus vinyl charts and wonder about the age and interests of the consumers listening to these artists.
The vinyl charts are heavily populated with older acts but also with alternative genres. Modern pop records in the vinyl charts are few and far between. Queen’s greatest hits album holds the top spot currently, with artists like Joy Division, Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd, David Bowie, Nirvana, Bruce Springsteen and Oasis keeping it company in the top 20. Younger and more contemporary artists in the charts tend to lean in the alternative direction like Catfish & the Bottlemen, Foals and Lewis Capaldi. This raises some interesting questions about why people choose whether to buy vinyl or simply stream their music. Billie Eilish is one artist who manages to dominate both, with her debut album When We All Fall Asleep Where Do We Go getting to second place in the vinyl charts for 2019 so far while receiving over 47 million monthly listeners on Spotify alone. It’s interesting to consider Eilish’s fan base, predominantly young millennials and gen z, and wonder why these fans in particular want to buy the album on vinyl as well as streaming it. So many young music fans don’t bother with buying physical copies of their music or paying for it at all. Is it some sort of cool factor driving the desire to buy Eilish’s record on vinyl? Or a feeling that the music is worth spending money on and owning a physical copy to cherish? Perhaps a bit of both.
The idea of music being disposable seems to be prevalent in these trends. While fans of older and alternative music are more likely to buy records, fans of modern pop hits don’t seem so inclined and one must wonder why that is. Artists like Drake, Post Malone and Ed Sheeran reign over the streaming charts with billions of streams to their names but when it comes to vinyl they don’t place nearly as high. With the rise of streaming and the internet in general, people seem to have even shorter attention spans and are focussed on instant gratification whether its same day delivery of packages or millions of songs available to you every month for the price of one vinyl record. Jimi Hendrix despaired at the fickle ‘jukebox’ generation but the streaming generation are a whole new beast. Artists are extremely badly paid for streams with Spotify paying $.0043 per stream over 30 seconds. This has created a trend of short songs and albums that leave the listener wanting more, therefore streaming more times over than they would with longer material. Lil Nas X’ ‘Old Town Road’ remix is the perfect example of this with a track length of two and a half minutes, you don’t quite get your fill of that annoyingly infectious hook and are more likely to listen to it over again. Similarly, Kanye West’s most recent album Ye and Daytona, which he produced for Pusha T were only 23 and 21 minutes long, respectively. The streaming charts seem to be full of music that listeners are quite happy to binge-listen to over and over for a brief period of time before all but forgetting the song completely.
It’s undeniable that some people are drawn to things that make them feel cool, like they’re part of an exclusive club. These people are more likely to listen to alternative music and of course are also more likely to buy vinyl. Age must be a factor too however as older generations are more accustomed to owning their music. Lastly, there is something to be said about the quality of the music and the listener’s attachment to it. Older music seems to dominate the vinyl charts as a lot of people deem it more worth keeping than a lot of the hastily produced, released and forgettable music that is currently dominating the music charts.