Love of vinyl records on the rise since the start of the pandemic

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A vinyl revival has been sparked in 2021. Nostalgia for older music technologies has been picked up during the pandemic and beyond.

MRC Data, a provider of music sales data to the industry, reported that 1.1 million vinyl records were sold in Canada last year, a 21.8% increase from 2020.

“I think while streaming and digital media certainly provide convenience, part of the listening experience is missing,” said Guelph vinyl enthusiast Rob Penfold, who owns more than 1,000 vinyl records.

This experience he refers to is the tactile experience of taking a record out of the sleeve, putting it on the turntable, putting down the needle, and getting up to flip the record. He says he is more invested and immersed when he listens to vinyl records.

“Vinyl sounds better,” Penfold said.

To make money from streaming services like Spotify, artists need to have one million streams of their song to earn $4,000 according to Music Gateway and Wall Communications Inc.

CDs are another older music technology, but in 2020, for the first time in 34 years, vinyl record sales revenue exceeded CDs. Vinyl sold $619.6 million in revenue while CDs sold $483.3 million in the United States according to the RIAA’s year-end report.

Penfold was around when there was the switch from vinyls to CDs in the late 1980s. This new music format had a portability with portable Discman CD players that vinyl record players did not have.

“There’s a kind of retro appeal to it. Things that are vintage tend to be attractive and people tend to think vinyl is from when their parents were younger,” Penfold said.

He got into record collecting when he was a teenager because his father had a large record collection. It started with Beatles records, it has all the original Canadian early pressings of their records from the 1960s.

Music from the pre-digital era was recorded in the 1960s on four-track and eight-track tapes.

“When you listen to a vinyl record of something that was recorded on analog tape, you’re listening to the exact audio transfer of how that material was recorded,” Penfold said. “Where if you were listening to something that was recorded digitally, then it’s made on vinyl.

“While it still sounds great, there’s a little something lost in translation there, and then even more lost in translation if you just listen to it digitally and the digital signal is the approximation of the computer from what it hears.”

Bryan Munn owns Royal Cat Records with his wife Kara on Macdonell Street. They opened the record store six years ago and said sales had increased during the pandemic.

“People are looking for a different experience with their music than they may have had in the last decade,” Munn said.

He said that being able to have a record in hand, the album cover and the liner notes which are the basic information of the recording and listening to the album from cover to cover are all factors different listening experience compared to radio or streaming.

“We meet new customers every day who are just starting their collections and some of them are older customers who may be repurchasing their vinyl collection for perhaps the second or third time,” Munn said.

“We see a lot of very young people coming in and buying a turntable. Whether it’s novelty or a real passion for music, they want to start accumulating real records.

Munn said many of his jobs are in the vintage market, selling antiques and vintage clothing.

“At some point I noticed that I was selling more records than almost anything else and I never thought I would be able to own a record store.”

Munn said that due to the popularity of vinyl and the lack of a manufacturing base, many pressing plants closed over 20 years ago. He said there was a backlog of vinyl record pressings. Young people in groups who want to press their album on vinyl are the last in line when artists like Adele are far ahead of them.

He said some smaller bands resort to other, older formats like cassette tapes while waiting for their records to be pressed onto vinyl.

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