With live music shut down for more than a year, fans have turned to albums, and vinyl collections have boomed.
Leading up to Christmas 2020, for the first time since 1991, the record for most vinyl sales in a week was shattered twice, according to the Recording Industry Association of America. Nearly 1.5 million LPs were sold between December 10 and 17, and in the following week, nearly two million were sold. While vinyl sales have been growing since 2007, they increased in the United States by almost 30 percent in 2020 alone.
There seems to be no sign of sales slowing down, either, says Jordan Wiggins, who works at Vinyl Moon.
Wiggins's company releases monthly compilation albums on vinyl showcasing Denver artists such as Andrew Rothschild, Joel Ansett, Panther Martin and Rose Quartz.
“We’ve doubled in subscribers in just the first three months of 2021,” says Wiggins. “Though spending habits have changed for many consumers in light of the pandemic, a subset of spending has actually gone up, particularly when it comes to leisure and home entertainment."
Paul Epstein, who has owned and operated Denver record shop Twist & Shout with his wife, Jill, for the past thirty years, also noticed a large uptick in sales in recent months.
“The first three months of the pandemic were terrible; we didn’t sell anything,” Epstein says. But since businesses started opening back up, “it’s reached a level [of sales] I never would have predicted. We’re ordering numbers of big vinyl releases that I never would have predicted.”
Since people were stuck at home during the pandemic, he continues, old-time collectors spent time with their records and realized how much they value them. But seasoned collectors are not the only demographic buying vinyl at record-breaking levels.
“When the vinyl revival really started taking off, maybe eight or nine years ago, I can't tell you how many people in my general age group — you know, people in their fifties and sixties — came in and said, ‘Oh, I forgot what music sounds like!’” Epstein says.
Yet during the pandemic, he also noticed that plenty of younger people started getting into vinyl for the first time.
“Those [older] people are still around — they’re the ones buying the premium, expensive reissue records," Epstein observes. But in terms of the business of new releases, “it’s young people. The new stuff, like M.I.A. or Billie Eilish — I’d say about 90 percent of those sales will be LPs [as opposed to CDs]."
Nationally, vinyl is now more popular than CDs, reported Forbes in February. Digital download sales are plummeting as more people shift to streaming services, and records are likely to beat out downloads by the end of the year.
Yet while vinyl retailers have flourished, some local independent record labels have seen sales stagnate or even decline.
Boulder native Travis Shetter, who operates the eclectic electronic-music label Budget Cuts Records out of Seattle, points out how smaller businesses were boxed out to varying extents by the explosive growth in vinyl purchases in the past year.
“The pandemic hit and totally froze supply chains at every level with the initial lockdowns,” Shetter says. “Lead times for production and delivery have definitely been hit hard, which has made album rollouts tricky at all levels."
While music buyers seem to be understanding of these types of delays, he adds, “those with little to no market share, like myself, were kind of forced into hibernation, while those with a larger market share actually grew, because they were able to keep doing business and had less competition."
Shetter does see some hope for the smaller companies, however.
His label distributes records through Lobster Distribution. “Lobster never actually shut down, and neither did their vinyl-pressing plant, MPO,” he says. “They just operated with reduced staff, which meant that pressing could continue during the pandemic.”
Additionally, Shetter credits Bandcamp for waiving its revenue share of music sales every first Friday of the month since the pandemic began to help out independent artists and labels. Dubbed Bandcamp Day, those first-Friday sales account for such a large part of Budget Cuts Records' sales that Shetter now tries to line up his new releases with the first Friday of every month.
“The whole Bandcamp Day phenomenon," he says, "has been a major, if not the only, driver in sales."
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