Music Business

Vinyl continues to set records

Another Record Store Day just wrapped, once again highlighting that the vinyl renaissance is far from over, and despite ongoing manufacturing delays it appears to only be gaining steam.

Guest post by Fred Jacobs of Jacobs Media Solutions

Assuming you were paying attention, Saturday was a banner day.

For starters, it was World Emoji Day.  The first of these emotive symbols was :-), introduced by computer scientist Scott Fahlman in 1982 on a school message board.  When Apple added emojis to their iPhone keyboards, emojis blew up.  On an average day, 5 billion emojis are used on Facebook Messenger each day.

But alas, this post is not emojis.  This past Saturday was also Record Store Day in the U.S., a day that had special significance this year.  This special day was begun in 2007, highlighted by Metallica’s appearance at Rasputin Music in San Francisco.  Since then, artists from around the country show up at their favorite record stores.

If anyone values the allure of vinyl, it is musicians.  In Detroit where I’m from, Jack White has built not just an homage to vinyl – his Third Man Records operates as a vinyl stamping plant.  I made the trek to Canfield Street to take in the sweet sounds and smells of his retail tribute to record albums, a trip well worth taking.

On the wall of the pressing plant below a whiteboard listening the various vinyl pressing projects Third Man is working on, including the use of color to make their records stand out (and become collectors’ items), as well as a Paul McCartney project.  Third Man’s yellow and black theme permeates the building, creating a colorful, identifiable brand identity.

But vinyl has become much more than just rarities to be bought and sold by music aficionados.  It has become a bona fide growth area for a music industry that finds itself in continual transition – just like the rest of the media business.

The Associated Press reports that while the entertainment industry mostly suffered throughout 2020, sales of vinyl records surged – up an impressive 29%, contributing $626 million in sales.

And try this on.  Vinyl is now outselling compact discs, impressive for a music format written off for dead not so many years ago.  (And if you still don’t believe in the power of retro, keep in mind audio cassettes had a great year as well.)

With each passing year, Record Store Day is celebrated by the release of exclusive vinyl albums by name groups.

Astonishingly, there are now more than 400 additional record stores than when the business hit bottom several years ago.

Another vestige of vinyl’s comeback in the sales of turntables.  The brilliant Detroit retailer, Shinola also makes turntables – high-end ones.  Their main store is located two doors down from Third Man, so I wandered in to peruse their new lines of amazing products, well beyond their classy watches.

The Rose Gold Runwell model (below right) is a beautiful addition to any sound system, but it will set you back a cool $2,500.  And you have to sign up on a waiting list to reserve yours.

Fortunately, you can buy a brand new turntable for under $100 at BestBuy, as many are now doing.

We’ve been tracking turntable ownership for the past several years when we first started seeing the green shoots of vinyl’s resurgence.

Our Millennial Project – an ethnographic study of Gen Y for public radio in partnership with PRPD in 2016 – revealed just how many twentysomethings were collecting vinyl records.

And when we started popping the question in Techsurvey, we learned more people own turntables than listen to podcasts each week:

It’s no surprise Baby Boomers are in the vanguard, lovingly showing off their “Dark Side of the Moon” vinyl.  But as we saw in our study of Millennials, three in ten of them also have a turntable as part of their sound equipment.

You don’t have to be a nerd like Jack Black, John Cusack, and the hilarious Todd Louiso in “High Fidelity” to have a special appreciation for vinyl.

Given the rapidly rising costs of special vinyl releases. the stage is set for an even bigger vinyl splash in the coming years.  For radio stations in the Rock format family, in particular, many fans of all ages get excited about vinyl, opening up opportunities for features, giveaways, special weekends, and other celebrations of the way many of us first enjoyed our favorite music.

Greta Van Fleet’s Sam Kiszka

And wouldn’t you know it, the acknowledgment of vinyl’s special place in many music lovers’ hearts is a differentiator from the digital format used by audio streamers from Spotify, Pandora, and others.

There’s something very tactile about perusing those vinyl stacks in a record store, far more satisfying than scrolling through menus and playlists on your phone.  As music lovers of all ages are coming to realize, album art, liner notes, and the practice of listening to all of side 1, and then flipping the record over to side 2 brings a certain joy.

As long, that is, if you haven’t dozed off.

Special thanks to Randy Kabrich for the heads-up. 

Fred Jacobs: President & Founder at Jacobs Media.

Fred Jacobs founded Jacobs Media in 1983, and quickly became known for the creation of the Classic Rock radio format.

Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.

In 2008, jacapps was launched – a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,300 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created – a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the “connected car” and its impact.

Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media’s commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.

Fred was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 2018.

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