The Rise, Rise… and Rise of Vinyl Records


Who would have thought that vinyl records would make such a big comeback in the last five years? By the late 80s, vinyl sales had fallen off a cliff and were pretty much dead and buried.

Apart from collectors, who have always been and always will be the champions of the black disc as well as of the 7-inch single which still populated the world’s jukeboxes (this is before the advent of CD jukeboxes), the format which had been so dominant from of the 1950s has been largely crushed under the weight of the digital revolution. Which, ironically, was the saving grace of the music industry that was in decline in the early 80s.

The masses rushed to embrace the compact disc format and it’s easy to see why – it was pristine sounding, “Perfect Sound Forever” (if a little too clinical), space saving, storable and most importantly, portable. . Much like Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens, they coexisted side by side for a period before the digital format dominated the musical landscape.

However, as first downloading and then streaming have taken over and made the CD redundant and almost obsolete, more and more people have rediscovered, discovered or rediscovered the joys of listening to music on vinyl. Most notably, it was initially fueled by the perceived ‘coolness of turntables’ in TV shows such as Bosch and Suits, as well as hit films, X Men: First Class and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. , among others.

Vinyl records and turntables began to appear in trendy commercial advertisements touting everything ambitious, from trendy sportswear and artisan coffee to trendy restaurants and the latest sneakers. A critical factor in vinyl’s wider acceptance has been that a new generation of young people, tired of the sterile reading of data-driven digital listening, have instead chosen to dig into the past, through the collections of records from their parents and siblings, to listen to and enjoy music in whole new ways.

Nothing beats the personal experience of taking a record out of its sleeve, placing it on the turntable, dropping the needle and relaxing to marvel at the work of art in its many multi-dimensional forms, read the lyrics and credits, and generally revel. the sheer physicality of a tangible art form. This is something that neither CD nor streaming can provide.

And yes, there is a difference between listening to vinyl and digital. There is a warmth, a fullness and a depth to many albums recorded on analog tape. Listen to A Night at the Opera by Queen, The Wall by Pink Floyd or What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye on record then the same on CD for example.

The ‘Prodigitals’ say vinyl records have static and clicks and pops and digital is clean and perfect – we say life is far from perfect and hey there’s also static electricity! After all who need perfection. Is the Mona Lisa perfect?

Beyond the hip factor

The growth over the past few years has been nothing short of stratospheric. In the UK, for example, seven million vinyl records were sold in 2021, the most since Phil Collins’ But Seriously topped the charts nearly 30 years ago. Vinyl sales far exceed CDs worldwide and continue to gain market share due to re-releases of classic albums as well as new and emerging artists making the humble black record their go-to messenger.

It’s no different here at the southern tip of Africa; In the past month alone, Wonderboom, Anna Wolf, Wendy Oldfield, Cindy Alter, Black Cat Bones, The Medicine Dolls and perennial alternative rockers Springbok Nude Girls have all released new albums on vinyl. The booming South African market has also been boosted by the entry of global music labels, including Universal Music, Warner Music, Sony Music and independent players such as Just Music, all of whom see vinyl as the new industry in growth of recorded music.

The overarching problem facing the global record resurgence is simply one of supply and demand, or in this case demand is outstripping supply. The backlog of titles awaiting press in Europe and the United States is huge and can take up to six months.

Buying and collecting vinyl went way beyond that initial hip factor. It’s the album cover, the aesthetics of the record itself, the grooves of the vinyl and above all the sound experience that attracts millions of music lovers. May the 12-inch vinyl record reign for a long time! What is ultimately important in listening to music is that it takes you on a journey, it is an anti-stress, both emotional and inspiring. It makes you think and sometimes question, it’s good for your soul and for the experience of life. As they say… “a day without music is like night”.

So while other music formats have come and gone, the humble vinyl record not only continues to be relevant, but plays a larger and more dominant role in people’s listening habits.

Benjy Mudie is a music industry veteran whose long career has seen him at the forefront of artist and music development in South Africa. He owns one of Joburg’s top record stores, Vinyl Junkie, and is also a weekend radio DJ, marketing consultant, and confirmed obsessed with vinyl music.

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