This post was produced as part of the UW Comm Department’s undergraduate Entrepreneurial Journalism course.
By Lauren Becherer
Whitney Ballen could be considered an old soul. The 22- year- old Seattle singer/ songwriter draws inspiration from vintage photos, loves her cat, and listens to tunes on her turntable.
But spinning records may not be considered so ‘old school’ anymore. Just like high-waisted jeans and Nintendo, vinyl records are making a comeback. A big one.
A recent industry report by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) shows that vinyl sales in 2012 were up 52% from the year prior. Nielsen’s music-sales tracking system SoundScan reports that vinyl sales have increased annually for five years. The reports came after Record Store Day on April 20 where vinyl albums reached the highest sales point since 1997.
“This trend is exciting,” Ballen said of the reported numbers. “Artists are always looking for intriguing ways of attracting their audience. With vinyl, it may be to present a feeling of nostalgia. They always say, ‘history repeats itself.’”
In the meantime, CD sales fell 13.5% according to the IFPI report. Matt Kolhede of Rainy Dawg Radio said this statistic does not surprise him.
“The CD was the last new physical format for albums to be released on and those were invented quite some time ago,” Kolhede said. “The instant satisfaction of the mp3 will always reign supreme, but when it comes to physical formats, it totally makes sense that LPs are making a resurgence. Records are a much more deliberate way of listening to music.”
Some DJs at Rainy Dawg Radio play vinyl, which involved physically changing a record for every song rather than running a pre-selected playlist of tracks. Kolhede said that DJs consider sound quality and a more hands-on approach when choosing to play vinyl on their show.
Like many bands lately, Whitney Ballen produces records on vinyl. Her latest album, White Feathers White Linens, sold significantly more vinyl than CDs. She said this is perhaps because of the included mp3 track that comes with it as an incentive for those who may not own a record player.
“I pressed my record on vinyl because I wanted it to stand out, and at the time there weren’t many local artists pressing to vinyl,” Ballen said. “Now it seems like it is everyone’s ideal medium. I grew up listening to vinyl and appreciate its physicality and sound quality.”
But is the “cool” factor of vinyl records just another ’80s throwback trend? Mainstream retailers such as Urban Outfitters now sell albums on vinyl and even record players. Katie Mckenna, Marketing Assistant at Silver Platters in Queen Anne, said there is a certain “hipness” to records, especially in creative marketing strategies that the music industry uses.
“I think a lot of bands and record labels are getting really creative with way they sell music,” Mckenna said. “You get more with vinyl—it’s bigger, has a warmer sound, and comes with artwork which attracts collectors. Jack White for example puts himself out there in a really fun way. Some people may think it’s gimmicky but I like it.”
She’s referring to White’s “Blunderbuss,” the top-selling vinyl album of 2012, outselling The Beatles’ “Abbey Road” and The Black Keys’ “El Camino.” Some music companies promote vinyl by including free digital downloads of the purchased album, similar to Ballen’s tactic.
“When I have the opportunity to listen to vinyl versus digital, I will always opt for vinyl,” Ballen said. “Not because it is now the thing to do, but because I can appreciate the difference in sound and depth that vinyl offers compared to an mp3 track or CD.”
She said that producing records on vinyl is more expensive and time consuming than other recording mediums, but pays off in the end.
“The production cost of pressing vinyl versus duplicating or replicating CDs is a pretty hefty difference, especially if you are doing it without label support or as an individual artist like me,” Ballen said. “Compared to CDs, vinyl pressing includes creating metal plates which add to the cost. Vinyl is a very fragile medium but so worth it.”