What the new rise of vinyl sales means for artists in 2023
Vinyl sales are rising yet again, which means some change is coming for many independent artists and labels…
According to the RIAA, vinyl sales have continued to grow for the past 16 years in a row. Not only that, but they’ve finally surpassed CD sales for the first time since 1988. And we’re not talking a small amount of sales, either. Customers bought $1.2 billion of vinyl records in 2022, which was a 20 percent increase from the previous year.
The trend is real. The question is: What does this mean for you and your music? Should you consider this when you promote a song release? Should you start selling vinyl albums at your shows?
Are vinyl records really making a comeback?
This isn’t some blip on the radar or a passing trend. Vinyl sales have been increasing since 2007, and sales or revenue still haven’t peaked. Last year, 41.3 million vinyl records were sold. And this year sees that number only rising.
According to Billboard, this year’s Record Store Day was the biggest in 15 years, with 1.8 million vinyl album sales in just one week. Here’s another incredible stat from Billboard:
70% of all physical albums sold in the U.S. in the week ending April 27 were vinyl albums (1.809 million of 2.583 million). Year-to-date, vinyl albums represent 59% of all physical album sales (16.296 million of 27.699 million).
So vinyl sales are real and there’s no sign of this trend slowing down.
What’s causing the increase in vinyl record sales?
This question has had analysts and writers scratching their heads for years. Why is vinyl making a comeback? It seems counterintuitive. After all, CDs offer longer-lasting sound quality and portability. And music streaming gives you almost every album ever recorded in the palm of your hand for free or for very little money. So what explains this rise in sales?
It’s not nostalgia. The numbers show that it isn’t Boomers driving vinyl sales. It’s Gen-Z, with artists favored by Gen-Z — Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish, Kendrick Lamar, Harry Styles, etc. — leading the way in vinyl sales.
Honestly, when you read interviews with Gen-Zers, it comes down to intangibles:
- The collectible aspect. Vinyl records are just plain cool. They are bigger than CDs, so they’re more fun to proudly display on your wall, or next to your record player. In fact, 57 percent of Gen-Zers don’t even own a record player, so a number of the customers driving sales aren’t even listening to the records they buy.
- Vinyl albums create a more intense listening experience. You have to go out of your way to hear a vinyl LP. Rather than just shouting, “Alexa, play Childish Gambino,” you have to go through a mini-ritual to listen to a record. You have to find the record in your collection, put it on the turntable, and gently place the needle on the record. So, whereas music streaming can easily lead to a background-music experience, the intentionality behind listening to vinyl makes you want to sit down and focus on it.
- Listeners crave a physical manifestation of their favorite music. Who doesn’t love flipping through the cover art and included material while listening to their records?
- An obsession with old tech. For whatever reason, Gen-Zers love outdated technology. Polaroids, manual typewriters, retro video games, etc. And vinyl records are a central part of that obsession.
- According to the music sales data provider Luminate, Gen-Zers are “willing to spend money to support their favorite artists, especially when it comes to merch as they expressed a desire for their favorite artists to offer more merch as an opportunity to show support by +30 percent more than the average music listener in the U.S.” So while Gen-Z is still happy to stream music, they know that musicians don’t make much money from streaming, and they love to support their favorite artists monetarily.
Is it just hip hop that’s driving sales?
For years, in the early 2000s, dance music and hip hop artists kept the vinyl records market alive when by all accounts it should have been dead. But hip hop is not the driving factor anymore.
In fact, if you look at the top ten best-selling vinyl LPs of 2023 (so far), you’ll see a variety of genres and time periods. (Note that Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon is on here twice!)
- Did You Know That There’s A Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd — Lana Del Rey
- Cracker Island — Gorillaz
- St Jude — The Courteeners
- The Dark Side Of The Moon, Live at Wembley 1974 — Pink Floyd
- Midnights — Taylor Swift
- This Is Why — Paramore
- The Dark Side of the Moon — Pink Floyd
- Rumours — Fleetwood Mac
- Memento Mori — Depeche Mode
- Cuts & Bruises — Inhaler
And here are the Top 10 best-selling vinyl records of 2022. (Source: Luminate)
Artists who have changed the game
As you can see, last year’s top-selling vinyl artists were Taylor Swift and Harry Styles. What’s amazing is how much of Taylor Swift’s first-week sales were vinyl records. (The chart below is from Luminate’s 2022 end-of-year report.)
So, has vinyl outsold CD album sales? According to NME, Swift’s album Midnights was the first album to sell better on vinyl than CD since the 1980s.
So what is Taylor Swift doing that’s driving these amazing vinyl sales? Aside from the fact that she’s one of the best-selling artists of all time, two aspects of her vinyl releases tie in to the trends we mentioned above: They’re collectible and they provide a more complete experience.
Realizing that her buyers are into the whole collectible aspect of vinyl, T. Swift fulfilled a need. According to NME, “Midnights was issued in five colour-coded CD and vinyl editions, with some limited not by how many copies were pressed, but how long they were sold for.”
Check out this video of what Swift’s folklore vinyl album includes. It’s a gatefold, with colored vinyl, rich photographs, and printed sleeves that include credits and lyrics. It’s the perfect package to pore over while listening to her music.
This isn’t new. Just think of such classic vinyl releases like Sgt. Pepper and Dark Side of the Moon, and you’ll see how the packaging adds to the musical experience. And Public Image Ltd issued one of the greatest collectible vinyl albums ever with Metal Box, which was a literal canister.
Should you consider selling vinyls for your music?
The answer is a resounding yes, regardless of your genre of music. After all, you want to offer your music in every medium possible so you can appeal to every potential customer.
And while vinyl record packages are more expensive than CDs, they still offer artists a great way to make money at their gigs. You can get 100 vinyl albums for $1,990 from Disc Makers. The biggest obstacle is turn times. It can take 18 weeks to get your vinyl LPs. This isn’t a problem per se, it just means you have to plan your album release accordingly.
But if you are thinking of releasing your next album on vinyl, keep those trends we mentioned in mind when designing the packaging. The specialist at Disc Makers can help make sure your next vinyl album hits all the right notes.