The most stunning and powerful change that has taken place in the world over the past two decades is the way we have come to define the word “convenience", and most interestingly, the personal sacrifices we as a technologically advanced society are willing to make and accept as part of that convenience.

We "see" friends online instead of in person. Our groceries are delivered rather than hand selected ourselves. We buy jeans online without trying them on. And our music is wirelessly parked in the cloud instead of displayed with pride on the bookcase, where our stereo used to rest. Ironically, we unconsciously accept the fact that convenience trumps the true quality of life's personal experiences and the products we use as a result of those very same advancements which purport to increase our quality of life.

But the needle is shifting, and a small bubbling backlash is on the rise worldwide that points to consumer trends and experiences geared towards those longing for the quality, nostalgic homages to traditions of the past and the small-batch, handmade touches of various niches.

And this is music to our ears. We secretly miss and need the analog in our lives. Enter the LP: the long-playing piece of vinyl also known as the record album. This search for quality and the connection to the past speaks directly to the sharp rise in vinyl sales over the past seven years. The market of buyers has grown into a significant chunk of the recorded music industry's sales.

How significant? In 2014, 9.2 million records were sold, capping a slow, yet steady increase in sales over the past decade. People want to hold and feel a piece of the history which lies within the groove. And placing the needle on the outer edge and hearing the faint crackle of the record player is the drug of choice for those striving for that physical connection with a product.

“Buying, collecting and playing vinyl is an experience that's been lost on the ears of the modern music listener," says longtime music executive and founder of Philadelphia's seminal punk-rock label Watermark Records, Jason Jordan. “You can't smell the ink of a digital file and for music hoarders, what is possibly better to collect than vinyl?"

Crate diggers dive into bins for music from the past, shop for new offerings from current artists, and scour sites like discogs.com and bpm.com for rarities and limited-edition releases of less-popular genres like reggae and punk. “It's an amalgamation of old and new weaving together, Jordan adds, "as a physical reflection of the listener's personal music history. The vinyl enthusiast's collection is entirely personal; a reflection of one's self."



Record albums

True audiophiles agree, but for different reasons. Ari Bressman, an avid consumer of vinyl and high-end audio equipment points to another perspective. “People often purchase not to collect, but for the acclaimed superiority in sound quality and as a badge and testament to their superior music taste," he says. 

Craig Kallman, co-president of Atlantic Records, knows that “gotta have it" feeling more so than anyone else, claiming ownership to more than 750,000 pieces of vinyl--an obsession that began in 1975. For Kallman it's the combination of both schools of thought: the superior sound quality and the chase for the big find find that keeps his collection growing.

For this reason, Atlantic Records presses and releases more vinyl records than any other label major label today, and weaves limited-edition pieces into every marketing campaign and release.

“We work hard at creating the most compelling vinyl offering and packaging possible to complement the aesthetic of the artist on an individual basis," Kallman says. “Consumers appreciate the effort, embrace the 'cool factor' and recognize that every physical piece is an artifact from a fan's perspective."

But for the average consumer of music, retailers like Urban Outfitters or large independents like Rough Trade Records in Brooklyn and Amoeba Records in L.A. offer accessibility and ease of use for those looking to dip their toe in the analog waters, even stocking the stylish and reasonably priced Crosley turntables for the curious newbies. 

Urban Outfitters claims to be the world's largest brick-and-mortar retailer of vinyl. The retailer's dominance of the 13 to 24-year-old “cool kid" crowd is due in part to the cost-conscious pricing, big-city fashion appeal and tastemaker attitude that spans across a variety of platforms, from home goods and shoes, to books and even electronics and cameras. So are the consumers buying these records as a fashion statement or just because of the convenience of buying clothes and curated music under one roof?

Jordan architected the Urban Outfitters music initiative in the early '90s and is a driving force behind the resurgence of the vintage medium at the retail chain.

“What began as a branding and imaging experiment showcasing credible and independent genre-specific music turned into a legitimate sales strategy," he explains. "That can only happen if the audience is there, and clearly it is. Trends come and go, but the appetite for vinyl has proven itself to have legs."

No matter where you fit in on the vinyl spectrum -- from tourist to audiophile, crate digger to collector -- there's no doubting the staying power of the almighty record. Forecasters may claim the sales numbers seem small and insignificant from a business perspective, but the record industry remains hopeful that what once was old will be part of the future paradigm.

And as long as the needle keeps dropping, those producing and manufacturing these 180-gram discs of vinyl show no signs of scratching out.




Jeff Rabhan

Jeff Rabhan has worked in virtually all areas of the music industry and has helped guide the careers of international superstars across all genres of popular music. His clients have garnered more than a dozen Grammy Awards, helped sell more than 100 million records, and generated more than $1 billion in global receipts. He started his career as a music journalist at Rolling Stone and SPIN, then held executive positions at Atlantic Records and Elektra Records before transitioning into artist management. He currently chairs the Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts.