The end of one year, and the beginning of the next, is always a nostalgic time for me.
But the recent string of deaths of music giants like Lemmy Kilmister, Natalie Cole, David Bowie and Glen Frey (just to name a few), drew me deep into thoughts of the past while listening to more music than I have in a long, long time.
Music is extremely powerful. It’s universal, and the only language on Earth that doesn’t require translation. It knows no border, race, color or creed; and it brings people closer together that any other form of media. These truths have remained the same for centuries. But from records to 8-track tapes, cassettes to CDs, and MP3s to streaming sites, the way we listen to music—and the industry as a whole—has gone through a lot of changes over the past 20 years.
From the burnout of big box giants like Tower Records, Virgin and Blockbuster Music, to the slow death of the compact disk, to the rapid rise of streaming sites like iTunes, Pandora, Spotify, Grooveshark and Jay Z’s newest venture, Tidal, to the current blight of legal battles and congressional hearings about publishing rights and how artists get paid—the industry is in full disruption mode.
So much hinges on this emotional connection to nostalgia. New Kids on the Block toured last year. Guns and Roses are headlining Coachella this year. G&R, really?
But for the record: I’m a big fan of streaming music and listening to iTunes—largely because I’m on the road so much. That said, the one gift I secretly coveted this past Christmas, but didn’t publicly announce (sorry honey!), was also this season’s top selling audio device on Amazon—the turntable. Ironically, these record players weren’t being gifted to baby boomers; it was the children and grandchildren of baby boomers who were buying and receiving them. My generation is now the predominant force putting the needle on the record!
Today, sales of vinyl records are growing faster than downloads and streaming. According to data by Nielsen SoundScan, more than 9.2 million vinyl records were sold in the U.S. last year, marking a 52% increase over the year before.
The Wall Street Journal also reports that the vinyl sales are the highest numbers recorded by SoundScan since the music industry monitor started tracking them back in 1991. But even more startling are the figures on digital sales. While Nielsen revealed that streaming was also up, purchases of digital downloads have continue to decline.
Meanwhile, more vinyl records are being pressed now, and production volumes haven’t been as high since the late 1970s. United Record Pressing of Nashville, TN, is making around 30,000 to 40,000 albums a day, and the company is expanding—building a second plant to keep up with demand. “In 2009 we had gone down to running one shift a day, six hours a day. Today we run 24 hours a day 6-7 days a week,” said Mark Michaels, CEO, United Record Pressing. Nostalgists and music purists have reason to rejoice: sales of vinyl records are on the rise.
I get it. I know nostalgia well—personally, and how it plays out across different industries. From furniture to fashion to foods, there is a paradigm of oscillating trends. Things are cyclical: here today, gone tomorrow, then back again. People want new and cool products, then gravitate to recycled styles—especially in music and art.
But I never had a record player growing up. The format doesn’t make me as nostalgic as the music itself. So, what’s behind this resurgence of vinyl—especially here in Chicago—where, according to Nielsen, it accounts for over 9% of new vinyl sales in the entire country?
This month on 12 for 12 we head to the Wicker Park headquarters of Chicago’s largest record store, Reckless Records, to answer this question and find out how they’ve thrived by keeping the “record” in record store.