For the record: Vinyl volume rising
What was initially dismissed as a fluke, a flash in the pan, has become an undeniable reality: Vinyl, that music medium that was practically given up for dead with the coming of the compact disc, has regained its strength, and getting stronger still.
The numbers do not lie.
The 2017 Nielsen Music Year-End Report, which examines the trends shaping the American music industry, shows that vinyl recorded its 12th straight year of growth—after declining by a hefty 30 percent in 2005—even if streaming continued to dominate all forms of music consumption and total physical albums continued to decline.
Last year, total physical album sales dropped by 16.5 percent to 102.9 million units from 123.2 million in 2016.
On-demand audio streaming, on the other hand, skyrocketed by 58.7 percent to 400.4 billion from 252.3 billion in 2016.
Against this backdrop, vinyl rose grew by a significant 9 percent to 14.3 million units in 2017 from 13.1 million in 2016.
The biggest vinyl seller was The Beatles’ 51-year-old “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” with 72,000 units sold, followed by the 49-year-old “Abbey Road,” also of The Beatles (66,000), Guardians Of The Galaxy Soundtrack (62,000), Ed Sheeran’s Divide (62,000), Amy Winehouse’s “Back To Black” (58,000) and Prince’s “Purple Rain” (58,000).
Vinyl LPs last year accounted for 14 percent of total physical album sales, the highest recorded by Nielsen since it began tracking music sales and data in 1991. It was also an increase from 11 percent in 2016.
Nielsen noted that demand for vinyl last year surged in the second and fourth quarters, mainly due to the nationwide celebration of Record Store Days in April and November and the release of more new and classic albums on the format.
Record Store Day was first celebrated in 2008 to celebrate the valiant record stores that have managed to survive in the United States despite the onslaught of the digital revolution and keep the flame of vinyl burning.
Music fans responded enthusiastically and thus the passion for the physical medium was reignited.
The revival of vinyl is a trend that has likewise reached the Philippines, which is celebrating its own Record Store Day on April 21 at the UP Town Center in Quezon City.
Record Store Day is described as a day for the people who make up the world of the record store to come together and celebrate the unique culture of a record store and the role that these independently owned stores play in communities.
Record Store Day Pilipinas includes a record fair, live performances by leading bands with recent releases on vinyl.
Spearheading the celebration are Satchmi and Offshore Music, which was set up in 2016 out of the desire of a group of investors including Eraserheads’ frontman Ely Buendia to establish an independent music label.
Its first project was the production of “Inner Play,” the first album of Apartel, where Buendia is a member.
“After we launched the album during the Hi-Fi show in November 2016, things started to happen; artists wanted to work with us, and we were surprised at the number of projects we suddenly had on our hands,” said Pat Sarabia, drummer of Apartel and Oh Flamingo!, along with fellow investors lawyer Anton Bengzon and businessman Phillip Florendo.
And this Offshore Music attributes in part to the resurgence of vinyl.
“If you look at the trends worldwide, there is no doubt it is making a comeback,” she added.
A significant number of vinyl buyers are collectors; they are of a certain age and income bracket. They obviously have invested some money in buying the right equipment to listen to their favorite records. These are the guys who are partial to the warm sound of vinyl, and have deeper knowledge and appreciation of music. They have eclectic tastes: from blues, to 80’s new wave, OPM, jazz, soul and funk.”
Offshore Music is optimistic that there is room for further growth as even younger music lovers, those who grew up in the age of CDs and downloads, are learning to love the unique sound that comes out of vinyl records, as evidenced by the response to the launch of The Ransom Collective’s “Traces” album.
“We are also hitting a younger crowd of buyers. The so-called “millennials” have an appreciation for finely-crafted items—things they can collect, things that they can appreciate both visually and aurally over time. They want to start their own vinyl collection, too, because they see the inherent value of a finely made product,” said Bengzon.
Members of The Ransom Collective, who are between 22 and 27 years old, cannot agree more.
Frontman Kian Ransom said: “Vinyl records have a unique warmth and airy quality that you just don’t hear with their digital counterparts. Vinyl shines by highlighting the dynamics and soul of the music by making it feel or sound as though the music is actually being played live in front of you.”
Francis de Veyra, multiawarded film scorer and musical director of Brass Pas Pas Pas Pas, added that vinyl records offered music fans the complete package, from the “bigger” sound to the album cover art as well as the information on the album on the music that is not available on streaming services.
As more people discover or rediscover the pleasure of vinyl, coupled with the availability of a wide range of turntables, sales and interest have inevitably increased.
Vinyl collector Reggie Halili, who helps supervise the seven-month-old Let’s Groove group of some 4,000 vinyl lovers, agrees that there has been a resurgence in the interest in vinyl and he believes that this is due to the sound and the music experience that cannot be compared to that of digital music.
“Spotify is such a breeze. Hook up really swell in-ear monitors or stream to a player and you’re good to go. It is so effortless that it’s sometimes easy to miss all the hard work the musicians, engineers and everyone else involved put in to make an amazing record,” said Halili. “In listening to vinyl records, one would have to invest time into the ritual; removing the record from the jacket, cleaning the vinyl, dropping the needle, listening and getting up to play side B. That forces focus. With vinyl records, music no longer plays second fiddle to answering e-mails or running spreadsheets.”
Halili noted that Filipinos love Original Pilipino Music on vinyl, which have become increasingly hard to find, such that during last year’s celebration of Record Store Day, a Juan de la Cruz album sold for an eye-popping P30,000.
Other favorites include records of VST & Company, Ric Segreto, Hotdog, Ryan Cayabyab, Sampaguita, Bong Peñera and Eraserheads Singles (45’s). Also popular are the new recordings of local artists Noel Cabangon, Aiza Seguerra, Up Dharma Down, The Ransom Collective, Itchyworms and Apartel.
Rene Rivo, who founded the MusicHaven audio equipment store and vinyl retailer, said he had been seeing the growth of vinyl over the past six years, over which he and his family had organized well-attended vinyl bazaars.
Sought after are the albums of Filipino artists. Among the more valuable are those of jazz artist Bong Peñera (at least P10,000 each) Bong Gabriel (priceless, if you can even find one) and Ric Segreto (about P5,000) each, said Rivo, coadministrator of the “What’s Playing Today? Strictly Vinyl Records” Facebook group.
For Bobby Banaag, corporate executive turned investor in Plaka Planet in longtime vinyl haven Makati Cinema Square, sales of vinyl records are poised to grow even more in the coming years.
Once music fans hear the difference in the sound, they are more than likely to invest in the vinyl medium while also continuing to enjoy the convenience that streaming brings.
This is why Plaka Planet has been making good business out of helping both lapsed and new vinyl listeners set up their listening stations.
“For me, vinyl is the best format to listen to music and I am sharing that passion with as many people as possible. I cater mainly to starters. Upon their request, I assemble systems at a low cost, just to get them started,” said Banaag.
“My clients are both young and old. They all fell in love with the charm of vinyl. Digital sound is crisp and perfect, but vinyl is warm and smooth, like listening to live music. It is like comparing wood and metal. Both are solid but wood is more mellow,” Banaag said.
There is just something about the perfect sound of imperfection, he said, that means that the vinyl resurgence is here to stay with the medium to be enjoyed again, just like a favorite song.