Somebody was trying to tell me that CDs are better than vinyl because they don’t have any surface noise. I said, ‘Listen, mate, life has surface noise.”
That is what the iconic BBC Radio DJ John Peel once said about vinyl records. Nowadays it seems like people are really listening to his long overlooked metaphor. Over the last number of years vinyl sales have sky rocketed. Once considered ancient technology with no further use, records are now a common sight in homes and music stores all over the world in the midst of the iPhone age.
The format has increased in popularity so much so that last year Tesco announced it would begin selling records at some of its UK stores.
2015 saw another upsurge for vinyl sales with the 10 best-selling albums of year totalling over 500,000 individual copies in the US alone. This is in stark contrast to 1989 when vinyl sales were at all time low as the compact disc began to dominate the industry. Vinyl accounted for 9% of all physical music sales in the US in 2015.
Coincidently Taylor Swift’s pop power album 1989 was the second best-selling album last year at 74,000 copies. Tay Tay was beaten to the number one spot by Adele whose latest release, 25 sold 115,000 copies.
Statistics released by GFK Chart-Track late last year showed that 51,191 vinyls were sold in Ireland up to October 2015. These sales made vinyl worth €1.5 million to the Irish music industry and are the highest sales figures in the format in Ireland in 20 years. GFK Chart-Track are a London based company who have compiled Irish music charts since 1992.
Interestingly, it was revealed that half of all vinyl purchases in 2015 were made by people under 25 years of age. “Millennials” (some say hipsters) have been credited for creating the demand for present day artists to utilise the century old method of sound capture.
Vinyl is not just the haunt of the classic artists anymore as can be seen with Adele and Taylor Swift. Other modern artists that have committed their work to wax include everyone from Foo Fighters to Arctic Monkeys and even Justin Bieber and Kanye West. While the sales may be attributed to their status within the music industry or global celebrity culture, it is worth noting that some fans seem to still love the sound of a needle on wax no matter the genre.
Perhaps not too surprisingly the two biggest rock albums on the list were released over 40 years ago. Pink Floyd’s iconic Dark Side of the Moon and The Beatle’s historic Abbey Road still managed to attract at least 49,000 sales each despite the age of the music itself.
So will this vinyl revival continue in to 2016 and beyond? Based on the ever increasing sales figures from previous years it certainly seems that way. Figures released by Billboard show that a total of 11.9 million were sold in 2015 compared to just 9.2 million slabs in 2014. On top of this 14 albums passed 40,000 vinyl sales while only three managed to do so in 2014.
All positive signs and with cities like Dublin littered in indie record stores as well as larger chains such as HMV stocking vinyl’s now, it’s pretty easy to find a slab of wax with your favourite artist on the cover sleeve.
A needle scrapping the sound out of a wax disc just feels more organic than a heavily engineered and compressed mp3 file. Vinyl does have surface noise but it’s pretty obvious people still want to hear it to go along with the surface noise in their everyday lives.