The Importance of Vinyl Records in a World of Streaming

In a world where music streaming is king, you could be forgiven for thinking that all the romance has been lost from music. But, vinyl records have given us the opportunity to appreciate the music for the artform that it is. Furthermore, it would seem the market for vinyl records is crucial to artists and the industry more so than ever before. 

It would seem times have changed. The music industry, over the years, has been consistently growing and changing to keep up with an ever growing and evolving world of new tech. Music streaming platforms, debatably, have transformed the music industry more than anything else in the past 50 years. It has affected the way artists produce and release music and more importantly the way fans consume and listen. 

Before the boom of streaming, social media and the internet, artists relied on revenue from a mixture of record deals, touring and album sales. Sales for vinyl and CD’s however, plummeted when music became digitised and all singles, EP’S and album’s were available for individual purchase instead on Itunes. 

However, the success of this was limited as collectively, all music sales went down in the late 90’s to early 2000’s as music was commonly pirated. In this sense, the emergence of platforms such as Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music and social media outlets like Youtube changed the game for the better. Rates of piracy reduced as music became significantly more accessible with every song you can think of in one big online library. The music industry also became a lot more populated as the barrier to entry reduced. Artists didn’t need a recording studio or record deals to write, produce and release music for profit, anyone could do it from their phone or computer at home. 

But as music was no longer for purchase online individually, artists then have had to in turn rely heavily on views and streams for revenue. The revenue that is collected from streaming however, is significantly less than that of individual music sales. Research indicates that the average earnings for artists on platforms like Spotify is about $0.004 to $0.007 per stream. The majority of the time, this miniscule amount is then divided to payout labels, distributors etc. before the artists get their cut. So now the framework has changed again, because now it’s not just a matter of how many people are listening to your music, it’s also how many times they’re listening to it. 

So in a world where the structure of music sales has completely flipped on its head, how can we support our artists? How do they earn revenue? Well it’s true that artists still earn a large cut from scoring a good record deal and/or touring. However, musicians now must rely heavily on other avenues such as music merchandising, licensing their music for use in advertisements, film, tv, games etc. Or perhaps now, as sales increase, physical music sales in the form of Vinyl and CD’S. 

In this crazy world we live in where it feels like all music is digital, it feels like a breath of fresh air that vinyl sales suddenly picked up again in the past 5 years and people are appreciating a physical form of the art they listen to. It is nostalgic and expressive but it also provides an entirely different fuller sound. 

The average cost of a vinyl record is anywhere between $15-$50 and more depending on the artist, the rarity of the music, the age of the record etc. Research shows that according to traditional recording agreements artists can earn anywhere between an average of 10%-25% on retail price on individual vinyl sales. So considering this, when you compare what an artist would earn from 100 individual record sales, to 100 streams on Spotify or Pandora, it’s clear how profitable physical music sales are as part of music merchandising. 

What does this mean for the future of vinyl? Is the resurgence just a trend like any other, doomed to fizzle out? If it is, why should artists even bother? Perhaps the industry should instead focus on campaigning for a more generous payout from streaming. 

Well it’s clear from the business side of things that vinyl record sales are prosperous for both artists and the industry at large. And don’t get me wrong, I wholeheartedly agree with the notion of fighting for better royalties for artists in streaming. But in terms of vinyl records staying power, I believe that the future of vinyl is bright, and imperative to both artists as well as us as listeners on both a business and personal level. 

As I see it, music is everywhere today. There is more music being released today than ever before, we hear it all day everyday, mindlessly consuming as we walk through shopping centre’s, drive to work or sit at the local coffee shop. We very rarely actively listen to music and thanks to social media, our attention spans are just getting shorter. It's not as often now that anyone has the patience to sit and actively listen to an entire album, EP, or sometimes even a single if it's longer than 3 minutes. Music streaming has aided this in the fact that we can chop and change through music in seconds, swapping from artist to artist across a selection of billions of curated playlists, one for every mood you can think of. And when we don’t hear what we like, we ask the platforms to suggest something different, give us more, and then we say ‘no not that, next, next, next, next.’ We treat music on these platforms like profiles on a dating app, the romance of music has been tainted by over exposure and accessibility.  

I personally believe that the collective exhaustion of this system has been the biggest contributor to vinyl resurrecting, becoming popular amongst all age groups and most importantly, why I believe it is (at least it should be) here to stay. Not only is it a way to support artists financially, it is also a way to actively appreciate the art of music. Survey results show that more than 60% of young people aged between 18-29 own a record player, with most others planning on purchasing one. There is a market, and a need to slow down, artists want to be heard and we as listeners should fight for the full experience of music. So perhaps this is the time for the industry to revert back to what we had been doing before, a time where artists were paid amply for someone purchasing their art, and when we sat and listened, we actively listened, and just appreciated the music.