The original set of DJ tech tools were the record, mixer, and turntable. After over 15 years of music sales moving to CDs and digital music files, reports from 2013 are showing that vinyl sales are actually rising – up 31%. Are DJs a driving force in this resurgence? In today’s article, we reached out to DJ-centric record stores around the US to find out if vinyl is really making a comeback.
2013 MUSIC SALES NUMBERS
Nielsen Soundscan is the music industry’s sales tracking system that links point-of-sale systems in over 14,000 retailers (digital and brick and mortar) all over the US and Canada to a centralized database. Soundscan has been tracking sales data since 1991, and complete information on digital sales since the advent of the iTunes Music Store in 2003. They released their 2013 end-of-year numbers in January and four major revelations came to light out of the data:
- Digital sales stagnated: Track sales dropped 5.7% and album sales dropped .1%
- Overall album sales dropped: Down 8.4% (with CDs being a big part of that)
- Streaming rose 32%: Services like Spotify and YouTube accounted for over 118 billion songs streamed
- Vinyl album sales rose 31%: Vinyl only comprises 2% of the market but is still the largest rise out of any data point, selling 6 million albums in 2013
In fact, vinyl has actually been on an upswing in the United States since 2005 and these rising sales have been the trend in other countries as well – with vinyl record sales doubling in Australia and the United Kingdom,
A lot of the commentary surrounding last year’s sales notes that unlike the vinyl sales in previous years that focused on re-releases, this year’s top 10 vinyl albums sold, listed below, are new albums of popular music.
- Daft Punk — Random Access Memories
- Vampire Weekend — Modern Vampires of the City
- Arcade Fire — Reflektor
- Mumford & Sons — Babel
- Mumford & Sons — Sigh No More
- Queens of the Stone Age — …Like Clockwork
- Bon Iver — For Emma Forever Ago
- Lumineers — Lumineers
- The National — Trouble Will Find Me
- Justin Timberlake — The 20/20 Experience
MARKET HEADWIND: RECORD PRESSES CAN’T KEEP UP
A second big indicator that vinyl records are in high demand was made apparent in a recent article on Vice’s Motherboard. Demand for new pressings is very high at the extremely limited number of record pressing plants in the United States (only 16 major presses exist). United Record Pressing, a major pressing plant, has three shifts of production employees in order to keep up with demand – allowing the machines to run nearly 24 hours a day.
In an interview last year, Chad Kassem, owner of Quality Record Pressings, told the New York Times, “We’ve always had more work than we could do. When we had one press, we had enough orders for two. When we had two, we had enough orders for four. We never spent a dollar on advertising, but we’ve been busy from the day we opened.”
The same New York Times article goes on to discuss how Soundscan’s numbers mentioned above actually might miss a large number of albums that are pressed and sold direct to fans by artists – estimating the number of records pressed in 2012 is closer to 25 million.
RECORD STORES FOR DJS
But have DJs been contributing to this increasing demand in vinyl records? We reached out to a number of record stores in the US and Canada to find out.
In New York, there’s an upswing of new record stores that have opened in recent years – including Rough Trade, a massive 15,000 square-foot store in Brooklyn, which opened in November and is actually an international expansion of two London shops by the same name.
Across the East River at Good Records in Manhattan, owner Jonathan Sklute told us that his vinyl sales have been growing every single year since opening 9 years ago. We asked him if DJs were key customers:
“Yes[…] DJs used to make up a lot more of the business but with the advent of DJ software it’s a smaller percentage than it used to be. The biggest change has been amongst young people who wouldn’t be classified as DJs but are young enthusiasts.”
Not far away at the well-established (opened in 1975) Rock and Soul record and DJ equipment store, owner Sharon Bechor has seen a similar upward trend over the past couple of years – with DJs buying more 45s and casual listeners buying 180 gram vinyl LPs.
“[In NYC DJ culture] there’s a “back to 45″ movement. Non-DJs are buying full LPs, not singles.”
In Toronto at the 24-year-old Play De Record DJ shop, co-owner Jason Palma has also seen sales trending upwards for vinyl records – not only for his core DJ customer, but also for the average music listener. We asked him if a “back to vinyl” concept had caught on among Toronto DJs:
“Definitely. There are a good amount of DJs that are tired of the digital format. They just don’t have the energy for that anymore. A lot of people are having more fun actually getting to play records than just the files off a computer.”
On the West Coast, we’ve started to see small independent music stores with a focus on attracting DJs start to open in the last few years. In Los Angeles’s Highland Park, Mount Analog has been open for about a year and a half, selling techno, house, and dance music. Co-owner Zane Landreth knows of at least 6 different records stores just in Highland Park that have opened in the last 3-4 years:
“A lot of labels are making vinyl-only exclusives, which makes it a necessary component of music sales. There are the kids that are just getting into vinyl and the people that have never stopped. [Among DJs] I can’t tell if it’s people that have tried Serato and Traktor and said “fuck that” and went back to vinyl, or if it’s a new up-and-coming thing with younger kids.”
Across town, one of the oldest record stores (1977) in LA is Bagatella Records in Long Beach. Owner Steve Mintz is a bit more trepidatious about the a resurgence in DJs playing wax. He’s seen younger people getting into the market,
“It’s a glimpse of the old school way of listening to things. I see an upsurge of younger people buying records but I can’t determine if it’s a fad or not. Knowing if this is a trend or a fad is like knowing if the stocks are going up or not.”
WOULD YOU MOVE BACK TO VINYL?
Really think about it – would you consider leaving digital tools and moving back to a more simple record bag of your selections? In putting this article together and reaching out on Twitter, we’ve heard three different types of responses:
- No, vinyl is outdated / inconvenient for gigs
- Yes, I made the move or would consider it
- I never left vinyl / Still play records on a regular basis
Let us know your own thoughts in the comments – is vinyl a realistic future for some DJs, or is this just upsurge in sales temporary fad?
DJTT’s Katie Kester also contributed to this piece.