How the Record Seduced Its Way Back to the Top

IFPI’s Global Music Report for 2021 showed that the global recorded music market gained a 19% surge, thanks in large part to paid subscription streaming. But, interestingly enough, physical format sales showed growth for the first time in 20 years. In particular, LP sales jumped by more than 50% in 2021. Even though the statistics show we are consuming and collecting more digital music than ever, why do people feel the need to spend their paychecks on analog on top of that? And no, it’s not Uncle Roger and Grandma Sue’s nostalgic purchases bringing back vinyl, surveys show that millennials are actually its biggest consumer.

It’s simple – the concept of the trade-off is at play. With convenience there is the sacrifice of substance – this concept applies to most things like food, exercise, music, and it goes on. Like they say, anything worthwhile is not easy. Although consumption of music has become easier, we are not consuming it in the same way. We are impatient, we easily flit between work on a touchscreen, maybe listening to something all the way through half the time. However, there is a certain magic that happens in the empty space you have to fill, which, for example, we are forced to do with analog. It’s a ritual: place the record on the mat, lift the needle, put the needle down, press play, wait for the satisfying surface noise signifier, then listen to Side A make its way round. Although we could just skip to the track we want or go ahead and switch out the records, humans are not coded to have to put in the extra work if we don’t have to.

There is something romantic about records. From the collecting and appreciation aspect, we can admire the unique artwork on different jackets, read the linear notes, and admire special pressings. From holding the literal music in your hands, basking in the warm crackle of the needle dancing against the grooves, and slowing life down for a second, vinyl allows us to create moments. For millennials and Gen-Zers that were partly raised by technology, our increasingly digital age makes us crave the purity that oozes from the archives, a jealousy that manifests itself in the revival of not just analog, but in the revival of film photos and recycling fashion trends.

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