How consumers turned the tables on record companies
The draws of vinyl are obvious: a fuller, more raw and warmer sound compared to the inferior compressed quality of MP3s; the tangible nature of the physical product as a collector’s piece, with its sleeve and cover art, in opposition to an impersonal click on the computer. “We’re seeing younger generations being the most format-savvy, streaming music on their phones whilst on the commute, but playing a record when they’re back at home. That’s not to say the over-25s don’t buy vinyl, they most certainly do, but the growth in sales is the younger generations adopting vinyl as a post-digital behavioural response.”No, not a quote from a 2009 Overgrown Path post, but an extract from an article in Friday's Independent reporting a resurgence in vinyl sales. This report, which is based on BPI year-end data, contains many important lessons for classical music. Disillusionment with the sound of low-resolution audio is spreading beyond audiophiles, resulting in a post-digital behavioural response - aka negative reaction - among mass market music buyers to dumbed-down sound quality. Other lessons are that even in an era of virtual reality the tactile and the visual are still prized, listeners are prepared to trade convenience for quality, and dual format listening (remember vinyl at home and cassettes in car?) is returning - header photo shows vinyl turntable with iPod dock. That description of how consumers stream music on mobile devices but listen to vinyl at home confirms that the music market is segmenting and refusing to conform to the convenient but erroneous single mass market model. Another noteworthy lesson for classical music is that the post-digital behaviorally responsive sound quality freaks with spending power are at the younger end of the market.
But there is one even more important lesson from this report. The last thing that Universal Music and the rest of the corporate nexus want is vinyl regaining market share: because vinyl records resist digital rights management solutions and are expensive to press, warehouse and ship. But, despite this, there is a major resurgence in vinyl sales. Which just goes to show that what big music prescribes, the market need not accept. Forget all that baggage about clicks and plops on vinyl; this is not a debate about vinyl versus MP3; because SACD and Blu-ray audio discs, and lossless music files all deliver audio quality that is significantly better than the ubiquitous MP3. This debate is about the much wider tension between commercially driven reductionism and consumer powered aspiration. And those pointers from the BPI report take us beyond recorded music to live classical music, which is also under siege from the reductionist forces of big music. Now here, inspired by reports of a vinyl resurgence, is a suggestion. The Association of British Orchestras should invite Universal Music ceo Max Hole back to their 2014 conference and ask BBC Radio 3 controller Roger Wright to join him in recommending a strategy for the future of classical music. The orchestras should then do the exact opposite of everything that Max Hole and Roger Wright recommend. If they do the opposite, I'll wager that classical music audiences - like vinyl sales - will suddenly increase.
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