In a year largely devoid of live, in-person concerts, fans grew eager for new ways to engage with music. Many found an answer in vinyl, rediscovering the value of physical records in a world otherwise defined by virtual interaction.
According to the Record Industry Association of America (RIAA), LP sales grew over 28 percent in 2020 alone. Many manufactures found themselves struggling to sustain that increase, as production capacities suffered due to staffing shortages and social distancing mandates throughout the pandemic, according to Vice.
Billy Field, vice president of sales and vinyl strategist at WEA, the artist and label services arm of Warner Music Group, offered an explanation for vinyl’s comeback in the age of digital music and streaming services like Apple Music, Spotify, Soundcloud, and Tidal, among others:
“In these unprecedented times it is the labels’ and artists’ continued focus on the fan connection via collectible, bespoke offerings, the addition of incredibly strong hip-hop and pop releases that are converting new generations into vinyl fans and the never-ending reason for vinyl’s ascendance: It’s eternally cool.”
Music analytics provider MRC Data reports that approximately 9.2 million LP records were sold over the past six months. According to Pitchfork, vinyl is proving so popular that industry experts predict sales could reach $1 billion this year, compared to $626 million in 2020.
Supply chains are buckling under pressure brought on by more than just consumer demand. In a conversation with Billboard last month, Memphis Records CEO Brandon Seavers articulated the effects of corporate incursions into the record industry: “Big boxes buying into vinyl has changed the picture,” he said. “In 2020, the average order on a title was 3,700. Now the average order is 7,000 to 8,000.”
Amazon, Target, and Walmart are among the largest new companies to have ventured into vinyl sales. Many are concerned by the presence of such massive retailers. Can the record industry sustain its own resurgence?