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The resurgence of vinyl and cassette tapes is shaping the UK's listening habits


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Many of us are old enough to remember CDs; a once leading format which essentially marked the beginning of the end for physical formats. Or did it?


Image Credit: Pixabay

Over the last decade, there has been plenty of speculation about the ‘death’ of analogue formats: CD, vinyl, and cassette tape. However, judging by the UK’s music buying habits over the last year, the sales of vinyl have been consistently growing and continuing their resurgence whilst the real surprise has come from cassette tapes which seem to be enjoying a renaissance.

With millennials and Gen Z obsessing with generations gone by instead of looking at whatever future lies ahead, it’s clear they have a stake in purchasing physical formats, but why?

Perhaps there’s no more fulfilling way to listen to music than via vinyl record. Ever since digital music services like Spotify and Apple Music came out, consumers have become more detached and passive in their listening patterns. Yes, you can listen to any song, by any artist, anywhere – and that’s great – but concurrently it creates an environment of disposability. Placing a record on a turntable and listening, uninterrupted, from start to finish through your favourite album is always going to be more satisfying than letting a streaming service shuffle through their algorithm-driven recommendations. With that in mind, many millennials have taken to buying a record, flipping it every 30 minutes and admiring the 12-inch artwork; just like their parents and grandparents did.

Norman Records

Infographic courtesy of Norman Records

Vinyl record sales are now at their highest level since the early 90s, according to independent label Norman Records, who collated data that showed over 1/10 of all physical albums purchased were vinyl. In total, there were 4.2 million records sold in the UK during 2018. Not bad for a ‘dead’ format.

Still, whilst plenty of music fans cling onto the expiry of CDs – with 32 million CDs sold in 2018 (almost 100 million fewer than 2008) – cassette tapes saw a drastic leap of 125.3% when compared to 2017. Accounting for the largest volumes sold since 2004, 2018’s best-selling act on cassette was The 1975 with their latest album, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, selling a considerate 7,523 copies. According to Norman Records: “They were joined in the top 10 by The Prodigy (their no.1 album No Tourists reaching 2,148 cassette sales) and both editions of the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack – Awesome Mix 1 & 2 – which have remained popularity thanks to the savvy marketing focused on the use of the tape format by Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord in the Marvel Films”.

Norman Records

Infographic courtesy of Norman Records

Whether it be for nostalgia, experience, or tangibility, there is a recognisable fascination with 80s memorabilia, culture and style being brought to fruition in the way we choose to listen to our music. Not only that, but our audio-visual culture consistently thrives of the past in popular entertainment. Look at TV and there’s Stranger Things, look at film and there’s another Star War’s movie, and for music, there’s Kendrick Lamar asking “Annie, are you okay?” as he runs a line from Michael Jackson’s ‘Smooth Criminal’ in his own track, ‘King Kunta’. Politically and socially, our current state is a mess, so why not look back to a time where young people were radical and different, getting wavy instead of worrying about reality?

Although a phenomenon, and a successful one at that, there are plenty of ups and downs in the physical music market, however, where vinyl and tape are concerned, it looks as if the next few years will continue their upward trend. Physical formats do not seem to affect how listeners consume streaming services and digital formats, as vinyl and cassettes coexist with modern formats for most people, being appropriated for a specific time and place.

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