Music

Vinyl Records Outsold CDs for the First Time Last Year. What's Happening?

The vinyl revolution is upon us.
IMAGE TRAVIS YEWELL/UNSPLASH
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Here’s something music lovers would find interesting: despite digital connectivity with our everyday gadgets and telco services, the crusty old vinyl record is making one of the most surprising comebacks in this age of digital music streaming. Vinyl LP sales surged over 50 percent last year, surpassing both digital and CD album sales in the U.S. 

Vinyl sales continue to grow and has been growing in the US for the last 16 years, according to research group MRC Data (formerly Nielsen SoundScan and Nielsen Music Products), a leading provider of music sales data and is the source of sales information for the Billboard music charts. Over 41.7 million LPs were sold in just the U.S. market alone last year, which is up 45 times from 2006 figures, when the comeback of the LP began.

Photo by Statista.

This is the first time that vinyl LPs have eclipsed the sales of CDs, which only sold 40.6 million units last year. Audio streaming of current music (or music released within he previous 18 months) actually declined in 2021 for the first time since MRC Data began tracking streaming music in 2008. The increase in demand became more significant in the last couple of years as consumers reconnected with their old favorites or have discovered them for the first time through platforms like TikTok. 

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In 1877, American inventor Thomas Edison invented a device to record and play music and called it the phonograph. This was way before they were called turntables. The sound quality was really bad and each recording lasted for only one play. The CD or the compact disc, on the other hand, was invented in 1979 but it was only in 1982 when the first music CD was publicly released. Over 200 billion CDs have been released since then. Still, it’s pretty amazing that a 100-year-old technology can beat modern digital streaming in terms of sales figures. 

Photo by Statista.

The question now is which sound quality is better?

“A lot of new artists release vinyl records because it’s trendy,” says Tony De Leon, founder of the November Hi-Fi Show and a certified audiophile. “They’re doing vinyl for vinyl’s sake. But when you listen closely, the quality of the vinyl they release is pretty shitty. They basically got a CD and pressed it into a record, so there is such a thing as bad vinyl. Vinyl is an analog thing, so when you record in vinyl, the original source has to be in analog such as the master tapes. If you get a CD and turn it to vinyl, it’s a lower quality pressing to higher quality. Hence, you’ll get worse quality.”

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De Leon’s annual show is a gathering of the best audiophile equipment money can buy. If you plan on getting one, be prepared to shell out at least seven-figures for a “decent” hi-end hi-fi set up. (But for mere mortals, here’s a list of turntables that won’t burn a big hole in your pocket).

Is the LP vinyl just for the nostalgic middle-age market? We asked Ronald Sy, managing director of Satchmi Group, one of the most popular vinyl LP retailers about how the LP trend is catching up in the country.

Photo by Satchmi.

“We're proud to say that we've been in this business for more than a decade,” Sy says. “It was literally a passion business by a handful of friends who used to live in Vancouver and sought to bring home that lifestyle here in the Philippines. We're not first in riding the vinyl wave, but we can confidently say we're pioneers in bringing the love for analog music to a younger audience. The love for vinyl record and turntables has always been present, but it always had a specific market - like our parents and our grandparents. It was a real gamble for us to ‘youthify’ the love for vinyl by creating a brand that speaks our generation's language.”

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Satchmi has found an even budget-friendlier turntable to entice the younger millennial market. “We also understood that traditional record players may be out of the normal person's reach,” he says. “We sought to simplify things to the basics by producing our own entry level vinyl player, the Motorino. Now that really put us on the map and opened the doors for so many teenagers fascinated to try their parents' record collection, older people who wanted to revive their love for analog music, and even kids as young as 12 years old seeking us out asking how they can start their own collections.

“Satchmi was conceptualized back in 2011 and we started out as an online retailer then joining most of the major bazaars,” he adds. “And soon, with the help of SM, we were able to secure a place in SM Megamall. Today, we maintain one location, Satchmi Cafe in Megamall where we provide the whole experience of listening to vinyl records with food, coffee, and ambiance.” 

According to Sy, vinyl never really died out. There was always a core market that really kept it going. He added that the momentum for portable vinyl players was actually first felt in North America. It was part of the day-to-day aesthetics and audio lifestyle in Vancouver. When the so-called “vinyl revolution” happened, everyone suddenly went gaga for it, searching for old players to refurbish, seeking out the rarest records even in flea markets. By 2013 Sy and his partners were already mulling over to the possibility of introducing the Motorino and realized that there was no sense selling records if there were no accessible players for newbies. 

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Photo by Satchmi.

Aside from Satchmi, there are a number of places one can look for vinyl LPs, and many of these stores are full of character and nostalgic vibes. (If online shopping is your thing, here’s a list of virtual shops you can check out as well)

Locally, Sy said that it is hard to say which genres are more popular and which ones are not. Because with the tangibility of vinyl, many of its customers are also collectors. And that usually means that they do not stick to a specific genre. But he says that they stock up with copies of the main categories like jazz, blues, and pop. In 2021, Adele took the first spot as the bestselling vinyl album in the US, selling over 318,000 copies in just two months.

That’s more than enough reason to believe that vinyl records are probably here to stay.

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