Ever since moving to a new house late last year, I’ve been meaning to set up a new sound system in my home office. The crown jewel of this setup would be a new record player. I even went as far as to clean out space for the sound system, which is something I usually don’t do. I usually procrastinate, but not this time.
In recent years record players and vinyl releases have enjoyed a return to glory around the world. Sales for this medium have been growing every year. In 2018 alone, there has been a 19 percent spike in overall sales in the United States. In other places, the jump has been even bigger, with one report from industry analyst Digital Music News saying vinyl sales were up 66.6 percent in Canada over the first half of the year. Japan is also enjoying a vinyl renaissance.
The heyday of records was in the 1960s, ’70s and even ’80s. But eventually new technologies wowed consumers. Cassette tapes, CDs and eventually MP3 files grew in popularity. Now, streaming sites such as Spotify and Apple Music dominate the music industry. For a while, records were just oversized plastic plates in your parents’ closet.
But now younger people want to own records, both of older releases and newer albums from contemporary artists. The reason why isn’t easy to pin down, but it might have something to do with the decline in physical items over the last decade. Downloading and streaming are convenient but impersonal. More people want to be able to hold something in their hands, and records serve that purpose.
In Japan, this has resulted in music stores such as Tower Records stocking more vinyl or, in the case of HMV, opening special establishments selling only records. Demand for this format has gotten so big that Sony Japan opened a new pressing plant earlier this year, becoming only the second factory in the country to make new records. I wouldn’t be shocked if more factories emerge in the coming years.
The vinyl revival is also in harmony with another trend: the growing interest overseas in old and out-of-print Japanese music from the ’70s and ’80s. Music labels have started rereleasing this music from the past, ranging from relatively popular artists like Taeko Ohnuki to obscure ones like experimental rock band Mariah. Now music lovers around the world can hear these artists in their original form.
The vinyl revival shows no sign of slowing down in the near future. Which is good for me, because even though I cleared out space for a record player, I actually still haven’t gotten around to buying one. Turns out I’m still good at procrastinating. Well, at least I’ll still have many more chances in the months ahead. (Patrick St. Michel)