Music Business

The difference between Vinyl fans: Then and Now

Industry analyst Russ Crupnick of Music Watch shares his findings about what’s so different about modern vinyl music fans.

by Russ Crupnick of Music Watch

The new generation of Vinyl buyers are dedicated to the format and represent an opportunity for artists, retail, and device marketers.  

In 2021, vinyl record sales topped $1 Billion in the US. The last time vinyl sales topped the billion-dollar mark was 1988, when inflation adjusted revenue was $1.2B (RIAA).  Between 1989 and the early 2000’s the vinyl format was smothered by cassettes, CDs and digital downloads. After the 80’s it took until 2010 for the vinyl format to show an uptick in sales, though it would take several more years for momentum to really build.

There remains an entire generation who grew up during the golden age of vinyl. Some were around for Brubeck’s “Time Out”, released in 1959. Others listened in awe when the album was reinvented, thanks to “Sgt. Pepper” and “Pet Sounds”. Alas, that generation of “Vinyl 1.0” buyers is slowly fading.  What if you were born during the vinyl drought, say in the ‘90’s or aughts? That cohort is helping to drive a renaissance we’ll call “Vinyl 2.0”.  And it begs the question, how is this generation different from those who bought during “Vinyl 1.0”?

MusicWatch’s recent consumer study, “Revelations About the Vinyl Revolution” examined a myriad of topics related to the resurgence in vinyl, ranging from consumer profiles and motivations, to shopping habits and device portfolio. We dug into the data to see how the new generation of vinyl buyers is different from the earlier generation. Vinyl buyers born in 1989 or later were compared to the older generation*.

There are common suppositions around younger vinyl buyers; they buy more to display the artwork than to play the vinyl, they don’t own turntables, they only buy today’s “top hits” from the most popular artists, and they aren’t strongly invested in the format. Let’s blast through a few of those beliefs.

  • They truly are “newbies: Nearly 8 in 10 have started purchasing vinyl in the past five years.
  • Vinyl 2.0 buyers like to display vinyl, but they like listening to it even more: 37% say they buy to display, much more than the older group. Even so 78 percent intend to listen to the new vinyl albums that they buy; it’s just that some records jockey between the wall and the stylus.
  • Current releases from popular artists are their favorite type of new vinyl album: but they buy across the spectrum of reissues and re-releases, releases from indie bands, and even more specialized genres such as Classical or Jazz. They love to rediscover older music that they’ve never heard before.
  • Alternative, HipHop and Classic Rock are equally their favorite genres. Not surprisingly Classic Rock is the preferred genre for older buyers- by a landslide.
  • Packaging proceeds performance: Purchase motivations for the younger generation are more likely to frame around packaging; liking the artwork or disc design. That’s not to say younger buyers don’t appreciate the sound quality and authenticity of vinyl- they just don’t have the same nostalgic connection to sound features as the older buyers.
  • Supporting artists is important: One-third say that they buy vinyl to support artists They overwhelmingly believe it is important to support artists beyond just listening to their music. Seeing artists and labels embrace the format motivates these buyers to also support vinyl.
  • An opportunity for equipment manufacturers: More than half are intending to upgrade their audio equipment in the next year. These younger buyers are less likely to own a turntable than their predecessors. And when they do own, it’s more likely to be a USB driven or self-contained unit. They aren’t decorating rooms with component stereos like Mom and Dad. This all points to a great opportunity for device manufacturers to educate them on how to get better sound and value out of their vinyl collections.
  • They are connected to physical formats- and streaming too: Younger vinyl buyers are as omni-format a buyer as you’ll ever see. 86 percent stream music (76 percent used a paid music streaming service). Nearly half (45 percent) are also buying CDs. Compared to the general population they are 4 times as likely to be buying digital downloads.
  • They are invested in the format: 93% are interested in buying vinyl next year, compared with 96% of Vinyl 1.0 buyers.

The new generation of vinyl buyers are serious, dedicated, and valuable customers- just like their predecessors. And like the older generation, these buyers want more; more product from the artists that they support or from the genres they are exploring- and better equipment to listen to. To paraphrase Brian Wilson, that’s some good vibrations!

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