We were wrong when we left you for the young and sexy new compact disk, and now, 30 years later, we want you back – Vinyl. The record revival is a phenomenon that’s been baffling music punters for the past 10 years, but in this article, we’re clearing things up, I spoke to Stirling’s authority on vinyl and owner of Europa Music, Ewen Duncan, to see if he could explain the revival of vinyl.
It would seem that with the advent of new technologies like streaming and digital downloads that music would abandon its old physical format, this is not the case. Vinyl has been on a steady rise over the last decade, selling 14.3 million units in the US in 2017, juxtaposed to only 1 million units in 2007. This isn’t indicative of vinyl’s younger brother, however, as CD sales have been falling over the last 20 years, selling 943 million at its peak in 2000, and only 99 million in 2016.
This begs the question, just why is vinyl becoming so popular while CDs are dying? When I asked Ewen what he thought the lasting appeal of Vinyl was, he pointed to ‘the ritual’ of playing vinyl, the motions one goes through when listening to a record, the retro appeal of setting a record down on a turntable, putting the needle down, listening, before flipping it to the B side and doing it all again. He also mentioned the physicality of an LP, being able to own a real physical copy of a piece of music, being able to appreciate the artwork of an album as well as the reading available on the sleeves.
So who or what is to thank for the return of vinyl? Ewen says that the introduction of record store day in 2008 was a major factor for the recent record resurgence, and looking at the sales numbers, it’s hard to deny the correlation. Record store day aims to celebrate and publicise the unique culture of record stores and their undeniable impact on local music across Britain. Limited edition records are made specifically to celebrate record store day, a personal favourite of mine being the 2017 re-release of Toto’s Africa LP in the shape of the African continent. Events are held by record stores across the UK to celebrate the day, Europa itself hosting a day of music in the streets of Stirling.
If we have anyone to thank for bringing vinyl back into the limelight it’s the independent record stores themselves, and if we’re talking about record stores at the forefront of this movement, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better case-study than Europa Music. The shop was founded in Alloa in 1976 before moving to Stirling in 1992, those astute readers among you might have noticed that Europa survived the death of vinyl and managed to come out on the other side for its resurgence.
I asked how the store managed to survive this period, and Ewen answered saying it was thanks to the stores massive and eclectic collection in vinyl, having approximately 60,000 records in stock at the time of the interview.
Europa Music underwent its own revival in 1995 following a fire that nearly ended the shop’s history, burning down 60% of the business and destroying £250,000 worth of stock in the process, worse still insurance issues meant that they would not be reimbursed. How did Europa manage to recover from this near-death experience? Ewen said the shop managed to stay alive thanks to regular customers donating their old record collections.
It may seem like things couldn’t get better for record stores, but a new threat has surfaced in the form of high street chains such as HMV and Tesco, who have jumped onto the vinyl resurgence, selling records in store. Ewen argues that these massive corporations are unfair competition for an independent business as they have sale or return deals, meaning that records are given to these chains under the pretence that any copies not sold will not be paid for. Most record stores, like Europa, aren’t lucky enough to benefit from these sale or return deals, meaning that they operate at a loss, whereas there is little to no risk in selling vinyl for these callous corporations. For independent record stores who have survived the death and subsequent rebirth of vinyl, this very well could be the final nail in the coffin.