Updated: Oct 10, 2022
The greatest comeback of all
Vinyl’s Vivid History
We’ve all done it. We’ve all seen the stacks of records piled up. We’ve all ridiculed loved ones who still don’t have a Spotify account: ‘Stuck in their ways’. But what if they have the right idea?
Vinyl records have a long history. The first record was created in 1857 by Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville, a French printer, bookseller and inventor. The Americans continually improved this product, and Thomas Edison (the inventor of the lightbulb) devised the Phonograph. In 1887, the gramophone was invented by the German, Emile Berliner. These became widespread around the turn of the century.
Fast forward to 1920. It was the highest-selling year on record. Over 100 million units were sold. The 1920s started well outside of records: women began to win the vote; the roaring twenties was beginning - a time known for vivacious parties and freedom; The world was in a period of post-war, and people were ready to live. Radio and records began to rival each other as the decade progressed. In 1921, HMV was founded; records generally cost between 68p and £1; music was into full swing - literally.
The 1940s was a new era. WWII was savagely vexing most of Europe and the Americas. The US Government had a new ploy to keep morale high: sending records to the front. In 1941, record sales vaulted to 130 million+, and in 1944 the ban on playing recorded music and venues was lifted. In 1946, the return of soldiers sky-rocketed sales to 350 million and 372 the following year.
Vinyl’s visage shifted in 1948. LP or Long Plays were contrived by CBS (Columbia Broadcasting System), in particular Peter Goldmark. It initially played for around 21 minutes, was 12 inches wide, and played at a speed of 33 ⅓ RPM (Revolutions per minute). This vital step forward in the vinyl world pioneered towards the vinyl we have today. While it has changed slightly by dimensions and the tech has improved, what caused such a downward spiral less than a semicentennial?
Up until 1988, vinyl was the predominant way of listening to music outside of the radio. This changed vastly when the compact disc or CD came onto the market almost a decade after its invention. Vinyl sales were hit to the point where ‘vinyl had died’. Then came the new technology of streaming. Spotify was founded in 2006. Deezer in 2007. Apple Music 2015.
Photo provided by Dorien Monnens
The Vinyl Revival - Did Vinyl Ever Die?
The vinyl ‘revival’ officially started in Germany. In the 1990s, Techno and Rave music became popular, and CDs were deemed “uncool” by the youth magazine Der Spiegel. The media outlet also noted this era was the ‘renaissance’ of LPs as they could be so-called ‘beat-matched’ on tracks. However, this movement died around the Millennium, and the Sistine Chapel of LPs hadn’t been built.
2007-2014. Between the year of the first iPhone and the year of the Ebola epidemics, vinyl sales had marginally increased from the minute number the previous seven years had sold. This resurgence was partly thanks to a BBC 6 ‘Vinyl Revival’ series, and by 2014, sales roughly equalled those of 1996.
2016: a year of recovery. In 2016, sales increased by 53% from the previous year to 3.2 million sold records in the UK. This was the best economy for 25 years. The biggest selling artist of the year was David Bowie, a potential positive consequence of his death in the January.
We live in a nostalgia-fuelled world. Many people want to go back to a simpler way of living without social media and modern complications. This is seen through our music trends and our shifts in music taste and tangibility. Even more so, many artists, such as Mark Ronson, choose not only to print their records through vinyl but choose to release vinyl before the album is dropped onto Spotify and the like. According to NME, record sales were at a 30 year high in 2021 and this is expected to grow into the 2020s.
Record redemption is not coincidental. In 2008, the first Record Store Day was held in California. This idea and small collaboration spread vastly across continents with, namely, Billy Bragg cementing this annual celebration in the British record community. The globalisation led to ambassadors being named and this year, Taylor Swift became the first ever 'global ambassador' for the 15th anniversary of the first Record Store Day.
Record Store Day is generally held in April or May and many companies dedicate more than the annual day each year by creating their own 'Record Days.
Written by Eleanor Hylton