The Album Is Dead. Long Live the Album!


When the CBS Records manufacturing unit in Carrollton, Georgia, opened its doorways in 1981, it was the most important record-pressing plant on this planet. It employed 1,400 staff on round the clock shifts to fulfill shopper demand for vinyl information. By 1990, CBS Records had shipped its billionth file. And by 1991, it closed endlessly.

With the appearance of the CD within the late 1980s, each vinyl file and tape cassette gross sales plummeted. Vinyl was relegated to an analog passion for old-timers and record-store nerds. The future was digital. By the early 2000s, the CD turned the brand new endangered species, almost killed off by the rise of the MP3 and peer-to-peer file-sharing networks like Napster.

It was then that we began studying the primary obituaries for the album. File-sharing made it simple to obtain your favourite particular person tracks, add them to your iPod, hit shuffle and revel in. But gone was the idea of the album-listening expertise, sitting again and appreciating a musical murals from starting to finish.

As we moved into the period of authorized digital downloads from providers like iTunes and Google Play, issues did not look significantly better for the album. Singles dominated the obtain charts and a few artists started ditching the standard album format altogether by merely “dropping” new tracks on-line one after the other.

But 2 fascinating shopper traits have emerged over the previous couple of years which will conspire to save lots of the beleaguered album. First is the dramatic rise in reputation of subscription music streaming providers like Spotify and Apple Music. And the 2d is the sudden comeback of vinyl.

The Resurgence of Vinyl

Ryan Lewis runs Kindercore Vinyl in Athens, Georgia, the one record-pressing plant in the exact same state the place CBS Records as soon as dominated the business. Lewis’s operation is tiny in comparison with CBS Records, however the brand-new file manufacturing unit and its state-of-the-art equipment is an indication of simply how well-liked vinyl has develop into. The Kindercore Vinyl plant in Athens can press 3,000 information a day utilizing new Warm Tone urgent machines from Viryl Technologies, the primary totally computerized and robotic record-manufacturing tools.

In 2016, vinyl gross sales topped $435 million within the U.S. and grabbed almost 6 p.c of complete music gross sales, the best market share for information since 1988. While the vinyl comeback could have initially been fueled by city hipsters, Lewis says that it is completely gone mainstream, with vinyl information and turntables on the market at massive field shops and vinyl references displaying up in TV commercials and flicks.

“The one that really blew my mind was when I saw ‘Purple Rain’for sale on vinyl at a Cracker Barrel,” says Lewis.

Lewis credit score’s vinyl’s resurgence to the engaging physicality of information and a collective need for a extra private reference to music. A number of Christmases in the past, he seen a number of his associates shopping for vinyl information as presents for his or her teenage and twenty-something nieces and nephews. They wished to share albums that meant one thing to them, and an iTunes reward card simply did not reduce it. Lewis’s associates weren’t alone. Vinyl gross sales have been rising by 10 p.c annually and 2017 vinyl gross sales are already up 2 p.c over the identical interval in 2016.

But vinyl’s numbers are a drop within the bucket in comparison with the explosive development of streaming music. In 2016, on-demand music streaming from providers like Spotify and Apple Music overtook digital music gross sales as the only hottest option to hearken to music, capturing 38 p.c of complete audio consumption. And it is gotten even larger in 2017, with Nielsen reporting a 62.4 p.c year-over-year improve in on-demand music streaming in comparison with the identical interval in 2016.

At first look, the growing dominance of streaming audio appears to be like like one other strike towards the standard album. After all, Nielsen reviews that within the first six months of 2017, album gross sales have been down almost 20 p.c throughout all codecs, together with full digital albums, particular person digital tracks and bodily albums like CDs.

How Streaming and Vinyl Complement Each Other

But there’s additionally proof that at the least some streaming music listeners are interested in the format exactly as a result of it permits the type of immersive, old-school listening expertise that was lacking from the digital obtain period. Lewis, for instance, makes use of Apple Music to pattern new artists, and since he is paying $10 a month for limitless entry, he is more likely to hearken to full albums. And if he likes what he hears, he’ll fork over the $20 to $40 for the vinyl model.

“That’s a way that digital and analog coexist really nicely together,” says Lewis. “As we move toward streaming, it’s made it easier to reconnect with music as a whole and easier to listen to longer-form music. It’s like you’re buying the keys to this enormous record collection.”

If you want proof that streaming can truly be a very good factor for albums, have a look at one of many largest releases of 2016, Kendrick Lamar’s “DAMN.” When the album dropped in May of final yr, it instantly dominated streaming audio, with a record-breaking 9 songs from the album showing within the prime ten slots on Billboard’s On-Demand Streaming Chart (one other “DAMN” monitor grabbed the 11th spot, too).

What meaning is that streaming listeners weren’t simply taking part in the hit single on repeat, however have been truly listening to the entire album. And Lamar’s streaming streak wasn’t a fluke. Earlier in 2016, each J. Cole and Drake (twice) took excessive eight spots on the Billboard streaming chart after they launched new albums. And Frank Ocean’s “Blonde” made the most important splash, grabbing 17 of the highest 20 spots on Apple Music’s “top songs” chart every week after it got here out.

Yes, hit singles nonetheless get essentially the most streams general, however there’s additionally a transparent need to hearken to full albums from vital artists. Lewis sees a direct connection between the rebirth of vinyl and at the least a few of the wild reputation of streaming.

“I think the rebirth of vinyl has positive repercussions for the music industry. Even for people who aren’t buying vinyl or don’t have turntables, it’s still positively affected the way people view albums, music and artists,” says Lewis. “Whether people are playing music on vinyl or streaming it, there’s this renewed cultural sense of an album as an individual thing. It’s gotten back into our psyche.”


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