The soulless behemoth that is digital streaming continues to evolve into a royalty-swindling Goliath, appearing unstoppable. The British Phonographic Institution’s end-of-year report served up some simply staggering stats; 2016 saw 45 billion audio streams, or the equivalent of all 27 million UK households streaming 1,500 tracks each. However, David is readying his sling, and in the absence of a stone, he’s reached for a seven-inch single to serve as his missile.
The figures paint the country’s renewed love affair with records in black and white. Sales last year rose 53% from the previous annum, reaching 3.2 million – the highest figure since 1991. This followed the vinyl industry’s eight consecutive years of growth since pulling itself back from the brink of extinction in 2006. In the first week of December, money generated from vinyl sales overtook digital downloads for the first time; no doubt fuelled by the Christmas shopping spree, but still an impressive milestone.
Whilst record sales snap at the heels of digital streaming in an underdog terrier fashion, the motive behind the phenomenon seems clear. In this age of instant (but temporary) gratification, the big-hitters such as Spotify and iTunes can certainly boast the practicality of offering up just about anything at the swipe of a fingertip Britain’s audiophiles are seeking permanence. They want something more tangible, something that they feel better satiates their appetite.
Of course, the first liberty that’s lost when pursuing that personal touch that is a higher cost. Unless you’re content with trawling through dusty boxes of unwanted, unloved discs in charity shops – which can be a rewarding, if slightly soul-destroying process – you’re simply going to have to accept that going physical means going expensive. However, this does not seem to be deterring new buyers from entering the vinyl market. As the demand for vinyl swells, its audience is becoming broader, and more importantly, younger. Whilst there’s an argument that buying records is simply another attention-seeking feather in the pork pie hat of the 21st century hipster, the fear that vinyl’s resurgence may be a flash in the pan seems unfounded. Meanwhile, if you’re determined to make the leap and chase your favourite artists’ new releases, don’t despair; in this context at least there’s something extra-special about being prepared to put out. Post drawing up an expensive shortlist of “must-haves”, one of the most character-building aspects of the process is the weeks and months spent saving up before finally pulling the trigger.
It’s in walking to the store, being greeted with a friendly “hello” and an offer of a cup of tea (look for Earworm Records’ sign halfway up Goodramgate – they’re seriously sound), delving into crates and excitedly scanning the shelves to track down that elusive gem. Then in getting it home, pulling out the artwork and liner notes and crossing your fingers with bated breath before finding out whether it’s a coloured pressing, or if it comes with a cute little engraving (holding The xx’s transparent edition of their latest LP up to the light revealed the etching “xx the xx”). So far it’s admittedly pretty superficial; – but then you flick the turntable’s switch to 33 1/3 RPM, ease down the tone-arm and wait for the unmistakable crackle that announces the start of what could be your new favourite album. These are the heart-fluttering moments that streaming can’t, and never will, replicate.
If this appeals to you, then what are you waiting for? Thrifty students have been converted despite the slightly higher price, and there’s always the cost-effective option of scoping out singles (which can be particularly worthwhile for dance and techno fans). If it’s practicality you’re worried about, then fear not – nearly all new releases come with mp3 download coupons. It’s worth the wait to pick up a decent entry-level turntable (research thoroughly and avoid the perils posed by cheap and cheerful brands such as Crosley); but why not start buying records now? A recent BBC survey found that 48% of respondents admitted to not playing their purchases – and while I don’t completely endorse this approach, I get it; vinyl is an investment. It’s similar to the artsy coffee-table books that one might pick up, or suits and ball-gowns that make an appearance maybe once a year; vinyl is an investment, a reward intended for that idealised version of yourself ten years down the line who’s put in the hard work and has found success. So pick up the baton, flip two fingers up to Spotify, and begin the adventure (and obsession) of a lifetime.