Between the grooves: The people fuelling the vinyl revival

Written by on 18th April 2024

In the last decade-and-a-half, there has been an explosion in the popularity of vinyl records. But who are the people fuelling the vinyl revival? Callum Rowe investigates. 

5.9 million vinyl records were sold in the UK in 2023 | Image – Callum Rowe

Living rooms and bedrooms across the UK echo to the sound of pops and crackles in between the tracks on Taylor Swift’s re-recording of her fifth studio album, 1989. It was the biggest-selling vinyl record in the UK last year with more than 78,000 copies sold.

In 2023 the sector continued to go from strength to strength with vinyl purchases reaching their highest annual level since 1990. In 2007, just 210,000 vinyl records were sold in the UK, but every year after, sales grew to a peak in 2023 of 5.9 million.

Jordan Blyth loves it. He’s been buying and collecting vinyl records for years after being inspired by his girlfriend’s modest collection and record player setup when they first started dating. “I bought an Enter Shikari record – that was the first one,” Jordan Remembers. “At the time I loved the idea of pulling something a bit more physical out. I thought, ‘This might be a fad, I might just have one or two’. But then it slowly grew.”

Newcastle-based band Club Paradise members Ryan Young and Jackson Vert had their parents’ passion for vinyl records passed down to them. “My mam and dad were always playing vinyl records when I was growing up,” frontman Ryan says. “Uncle Jam Wants You by Funkadelic was one of the first ones. All of the artwork for every single press was hand-painted. That was my first memory of seeing a record.”

Guitarist Jackson had a slightly different gateway into record collecting: “The first time I was really into records was when I had a student income. I went to Forest Hall and bought a man’s entire soundsystem off Gumtree. I then started to buy albums that I liked. Then that’s when my parents mentioned they had loads of vinyl records in the loft.”

Whether it’s through girlfriends, parents or randomers in a North Tyneside village, the act of collecting records is something that appears to be passed on from person to person. But that doesn’t necessarily explain the continuous rise in popularity of the musical commodity.

Taylor Swift’s re-recording of 1989 was the biggest-selling vinyl record in the UK in 2023 | Image – Alamy

Almost half of the 100 most-bought vinyls in 2023 were released in the past two years. Additionally, they were albums released by established artists with predominantly younger fan bases like The 1975, Ed Sheeran and Maisie Peters.

Younger consumers of media typically have shorter attention spans, and Ryan makes the link between this and established artists releasing their music physically. “Every form of creativity is so disposable. Beat the scroll – that’s the tagline,” he says. If attracting and sustaining the attention of younger and fickle audiences online is too difficult, releasing an album on vinyl that artists know is going to be big is a great way to “beat the scroll” and lock in the audience’s attention. And their cash.

But consumers might be buying the records for another reason. Taylor Swift released five different vinyl versions of her album ‘Midnights’ in 2022, each of which cost upwards of £30. “For me, it’s all about collecting. It’s a nice piece of physical media, and you’re supporting the band,” Jackson says. But Jordan believes it cannot cross a line: “The idea of collector’s items is a good thing, so long as the artist isn’t trying to exploit the listeners.”

The collector’s item argument might have some legs. After all, one of Ryan’s first memories of vinyl is seeing record artwork on his parents’ wall. “Even if you don’t own a record player, I’ve seen people just have sleeves on the wall framed,” Jackson says. “It looks cool. It’s a piece of art that someone has worked on. So you are buying that as well.”

Vinyl records are considered pieces of art by some fans | Image – Callum Rowe

Even though he’s not a U2 fan, Ryan says he’s “too scared” to open the first press of The Joshua Tree album from 1987. If an artist – like Swift – releases multiple versions of one album, fans will inevitably buy them all and keep them in their original condition just to say they have them in their collection. And with more and more artists releasing multiple versions, sales inevitably increase.

In 2020, the market saw the second biggest year-on-year rise in sales since the vinyl revival began back in the late 2000s. The UK was locked in thanks to the pandemic, and Jackson believes this was the reason for an enormous surge in the popularity of vinyl. “People were getting into loads of different hobbies. People weren’t going out and had all this spare money, so bought a record player,” he stated.

With sales increasing, revenue for the artists releasing the records increases hand-in-hand. Artists make $0.003 for every stream of a song on Spotify. It’s a pittance. “I wonder if there’s a conversation that vinyl is a new stream of income in general,” Ryan argues. “Live fees aren’t great, royalty fees aren’t great, so you need to put out the best merch and vinyl.”

The CD market suffered its smallest yearly decline in 2023 with 11 million copies sold. And 100,000 cassettes were sold in the UK last year too, proving that physical media is a valuable commodity for music consumers as much as it is for the bank balances of artists.

If it is the will of artists to release music on vinyl, and the compulsion of the consumers to keep buying records, the growth of the market shows no signs of slowing down. As well as the sound of pops and crackles reverberating around the country, the sound of people agonisingly rewinding a cassette with a pencil might play out in harmony too.

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