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KIDS & NERDS FUEL VINYL EXPLOSION (COMMENTARY)

Earlier this week, the RIAA said that more than 13m vinyl LPs were sold in the U.S. last year, with 9m+ sold during the first half of 2015. That projects to a record-breaking year for the resurgent format—during the 21st century, at any rate. LP sales haven’t been this robust since 1989, the final year of the original vinyl era, when nearly 35m were sold, just before CD sales kicked in.

That revelation was followed by another courtesy of MusicWatch, which reports that half of vinyl record buyers are under 25, and men are more likely to buy LPs than are women. Interpreting this info, the vinyl renaissance is being driven primarily by two groups: millennials and audiophiles. Are the two groups drawn by similar aspects of the analog experience, or are these two distinct impulses? We posed that question to vinyl expert and advocate Michael Fremer. Here’s what he had to say:

We “lost” a generation or so when college kids discovered they could download music via their high-speed T1 accounts. And then that exploded—creating a haze produced by too much choice, with no form or substance. That created too many options and a diffuse situation.

So for the same reason the next generation is buying records and turntables, they are turning to over-the-air radio stations where DJs curate their own shows instead of relying on consultants. There was a story about that earlier this week in The New York Times—a successful Seattle over-the-air station has just opened a $15 million facility in a public location where passersby can see them at work and watch live-in-studio performances…and of course there will be a RECORD store on the premises too.

The kids I talk to like the packaging and artwork, like the sense of intimacy with the artist who selects the tunes on the record, likes to sense of artistic support—which helps explain that Taylor Swift’s 1989, not Dark Side of the Moon, is the bestselling record of 2015 so far….it’s a double LP set; she’d sold more than 40K copies last time I looked.

And they like the sound. They grew up in a digital world, and there’s something about the sound of a record—even if sourced digitally—that draws them in. Mastering engineer Bernie Grundman provided a good explanation for that during the mastering panel discussion I moderated during the recent WAX event at Capitol Studios.

This is not all that different than the “book resurgence” also underway—it’s just the way to read. Vinyl is the way to listen to music! Not on a plane or while driving, but at home, yes.

I was on a plane returning from Italy last year. I sat next to a 15-year-old girl and her mother. I told them what I did. The daughter said, “All of my friends have turntables, and I’m getting one when I get home.” The mom said, “I play CDs.” The daughter said, “Mom, you are so old fashioned!”

According to Ben Carter, one of the millennial-age founders of U-Turn turntables, which has sold more than 10k ’tables so far, the vinyl demographic is centered between 20-34.


Michael Fremer is the editor of analogplanet.com and a senior contributing editor to Stereophile. The latest episode of his Analogplanet radio show on WFDU can be streamed or downloaded here

 

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