“The music industry is dead!”, “Mp3’s have bled record labels dry!” and “record sales are at an all-time low!” are the outcries of cynics when talking about the music industry. The rise of the Internet, file-sharing and the iPod led many to believe that the music industry is dying, if not dead. I can assure you, however, that it is still quite alive and kicking.
As you may have heard, record sales are up for the first time since 2004 and perhaps more importantly so too are Vinyl sales for the fourth consecutive year. Vinyl Sales in the UK are up 55% and in the US by 41%. Radiohead’s ‘The King of Limbs’, Adele’s ‘21’ and Fleet Foxes ‘Helplessness Blues’ are the three highest selling vinyl releases of the year. Radiohead’s ‘In Rainbows’, Arcade Fire’s ‘Funeral’ and surprisingly Neutral Milk Hotel’s ‘In The Aeroplane Over The Sea’ are the 3 highest selling vinyl releases of the last ten years. Audio Puritans have seen to it that the aesthetic authenticity of vinyl releases has enjoyed something of a renaissance. Mp3s may still be the format of choice for the modern music lover, but when fans want to buy something more ‘real’, more tangible, they continually turn to LPs. Coupled together with the growing success of ‘Record Store Day’ —a holiday dedicated to buying limited-edition vinyl releases from your local independent record store — the musical community is battening down the hatches against the looming threat of musical piracy.
All of this holds heavy implications for the music industry and the musical community; independent record labels, online ‘webzines’ and online retailers have all been directly influenced and in turn had an influence on the recent success of vinyl.
Independent record labels such as Sub Pop, Domino, Warp, Matador, 4AD, XL, DFA, Rough Trade, and countless others share a communal spirit with their fans and artists, who reward the brave decisions made by these labels. You only need to look at the reaction to the PIAS fire during the London Riots this summer and the subsequent outpouring of support within the independent community to see how active and supportive this industry really is. The Internet houses all of the platforms for musical interest and discussion, as well as diligent support for independent artists and their releases, and it is in these more niche areas that these labels and their vinyl releases are able to make gains. Magazines have to worry that an overwrought review or article can alienate their readership and lose them business, whereas Internet based publications or forums enjoy significant freedoms over printed magazines and can promote independent labels and releases endlessly.
Nowadays, the modern music industry is a cross between the old and new. Vinyl, a format that was once thoroughly declared defunct, has seen a huge resurgence in recent years. For instance, music retailers InSound.com sell not only Mp3 and CD formats of the latest releases, but vinyl as well. In fact, more often it is the vinyl sales which perform the best for the website. Moreover, the marketing of new releases has evolved; the Internet is essentially a marketing tool which can make or break an artist. The recent success of acts such as The XX, James Blake and Odd Future, have all largely been based on using the Internet as a means to generate interest.
Ironically, vinyl has ensured that we have reached a position that artists have always longed for, in effect creative freedom. Artists can record and release whatever music they wish to without the consequences of failing to meet sale expectations. The counter-culture movement of the 1960s, the Punk movement of the 1970s and the Indie movement from the 1980s onwards have lamented the constraints of music as a business, not a creative process. Now, thanks to the interest in vinyl and the eccentricities of the Internet, the apparent harbinger of death for the music industry, independent artists have the ability to release the music they want, on whatever format they want and are being rewarded by the music community, which respects this boldness and in turn invests in these artists and their labels. It would seem vinyl is here to stay; the same cannot be said of the CD, which occupies an awkward middle ground between vinyl and Mp3, and as the music industry wrestles with this realisation, independent artists will continue to enjoy their vinyl renaissance.