Turntable Takeover

Chilling out, courtesy of Agency
via GulfNews

Brian Quinn

Vinyl sales soar to the highest level since 1990
I’m very good at the past; it’s the present I can’t figure out. I’ve gotten to the point where I can’t remember song titles, or at least they don’t stick like they used to. Spotify, for all its virtues – most notably songs, a lot of songs – has turned music into fast food and me into a taster. I don’t listen anymore; I sample. I snack from an endless conveyor belt of bangers, golden oldies, hidden gems and feel good anthems that don’t feel so good anymore. And yet, I’m still hungry.
Thankfully I’m not alone. With concerts and festivals being cancelled, rescheduled or postponed indefinitely due to the COVID outbreak, music lovers have had to fill their appetites by other means. While vinyl and turntables have been back in vogue for over a decade now, last year saw sales skyrocket. According to BPI (British Phonographic Industry) 4.3m LPs sold in the UK in 2020, making it the biggest total this century, while in Ireland vinyl has overtaken CD as the biggest-selling physical format. Sales in 2020 jumped by an impressive 42% compared to the previous year, with 309,000 vinyl albums sold. As stated by The Official Charts Company, “vinyl now accounts for 8.1% of the total albums market in Ireland.”
2020 marked the best year for vinyl record sales in Ireland since 1990, back when Sinead O’Connor and Vanilla Ice topped the charts. CD sales would eclipse vinyl the following year, overtaking the cassette as the most in demand music format of 1991. Throughout the decade there was a continued decline in vinyl sales, with only collectors and nostalgic old-timers remaining loyal. It wasn’t until the 2010s, a time when digital downloads reigned supreme, that LP sales began to inch upward again. The vinyl revival, as it became known, was both a savvy marketing campaign by independently owned record stores and a consumer reaction to the rise of digitized music, oft-maligned for being cold and impersonal. The throwback trend proved so popular that record labels began to produce vinyl again—not for each new release, mind you, but often enough that Billboard added a chart specifically ranking vinyl sales. And just like that, wax was back on track!
When Covid-19 hit Ireland no one expected just how big of an impact it would have on the music industry. It wasn’t just concert venues that had been deserted: it was the bars, the rehearsal spaces, the busker-filled streets. Hell, even Spotify took a hit, with the New York Times reporting that the platform’s streams were down 11% in April 2020 – its lowest point of the year. 
Less surprising was the effect Covid had on physical music stores, which, bar a brief period leading up to Christmas, have remained closed since March last year. Stores have had to pivot their business online in order to survive. This meant improving, or in many cases introducing, virtual browsing features and robust shipping systems to meet customer demand. “Lockdown gave us the incentive to finally get our website and websales in order” Sean Nolan, sales assistant at Wicklow Street’s Freebird Records tells me. “We’ve definitely made a big step in the right direction in terms of getting stock online and keeping everything up to date and hopefully now have the basis of another source of income for the shop.”
Ahead of the virtual trend, however, Dublin Vinyl were able to hit the ground running. The Glasnevin based company and Ireland’s only record pressing plant launched The Record Hub at the beginning of 2020, an all online record store stocking vinyl, turntables and every accessory in between. Speaking at the website’s launch, CEO and co-founder of Dublin Vinyl, Hugh Scully said: “Within a couple of months of launching our pressing plant, we experienced significant demand from vinyl fans to buy albums directly from the plant. In response to this, we expanded our label partnerships and began shipping directly to customers.” “We’ve invested heavily into warehouse and fulfilment software and infrastructure,” managing director Donagh Molloy, told The Echo. “We now can seamlessly integrate with the majority of major sales channels to manage an artist’s or label’s sales.”
For many stores, moving online would prove an arduous process, meaning vinyl sales dipped  considerably during the first lockdown. However, with rallying campaigns such as Record Store Day, Love Record Stores and the first ever National Album Day taking place throughout the summer of 2020, September saw vinyl sales climb back up. Today the demand is bigger than ever and indie record stores are more than happy to keep up. Just this past April, The Record Spot, located in Dublin city’s Fade Street, reported that 4000 new LPs were arriving in stock to meet interest. And if that doesn’t get people excited, the organisers of Record Store Day have announced that the event will take place this year across two separate days: June 12 and July 17th.
“With people being at home, vinyl is certainly one of the things they have turned to for pleasure and enjoyment,” David Hawkes, MD of Universal Music UK’s Commercial Division, told Music Week. “So it doesn’t surprise me at all that the magic of vinyl has played a big part [during the pandemic].” With money saved during lockdown and no live performances to spend it on, music fans have turned to vinyl in an attempt to capture that intimate, event experience as close as they can. “People want something tangible again,” says Scully. “A playlist isn’t a collection – even a hard drive full of mp3s isn’t really a collection. A vinyl collection is something really personal.” 
It’s no surprise then that classic albums have shown to be most popular among vinyl heads. Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours was the highest selling LP of 2020 in Ireland, while in the UK Oasis’ (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? claimed the top spot. See, you can give us new releases: your Harry Styleses, your Duas, your Billies and all the latest Lil’ rappers you can find. But the truth is, when times get tough, we don’t explore new horizons or endlessly scroll through Spotify, our thumbs twitching, eyes peeled—we surround ourselves with what we know and who we love. We reach back into the past to guide us into the future, pump up the volume, drop the needle, and round and round we go.