Last week, I checked into the Kabuki Hotel in San Francisco. It was one of those weeks in the Bay Area when a Google convention drove the price of hotel rooms to stratospheric costs. So, I ended up in Japantown at a hotel I'd never stayed at before.
Let me tell you – it's beautiful, contemporary, and a truly unique space. The manager ended up checking me in, and during his orientation of the hotel reminded me I had arrived on “Vinyl Day,” which they do every Tuesday. In the lobby of the hotel, there's a turntable that's accessible to anyone and everyone, along with stacks of a couple hundred albums to choose from. At the time I walked in, Steve Miller's “Anthology” was playing. It was a very, cool atmospheric scene.
Many Baby Boomers, in particular, have a romantic relationship with the notion of visiting a record store, picking through the stacks and bins, and reconnecting with the music of their past. Those stores were glorified in the 2000 movie, “High Fidelity,” staring John Cusack and then newcomer Jack Black. Cusack played Rob Gordon, the store's conflicted owner who struggled with balancing his relationships with both the music and the women that have played major roles in his life.
This past Saturday was Record Store Day, a now-annual event that was started in 2008 to catch the vinyl wave. (A second day is celebrated on Black Friday each year.)
Over the weekend, thousands of record stores participated, and this year's ambassadors were Pearl Jam. Labels, artists, and the stores themselves created promotions to celebrate the day and take advantage of this multi-generational renaissance in vinyl.
But has vinyl truly become a hot physical format for music once again? Or is it a fad rooted in nostalgia?
Our new Techsurvey indicates the movement may have peaked, based on turntable ownership. And this year, our sample skewed older, providing a demographic advantage for the vinyl movement.
A recent story in The Vibe by Adam Aziz counts down the “10 Ways The Music Industry Will Change In 10 Years.” Among his predictions? The death of record labels, automation taking on a role in the songwriting and production process, and the rise of VR (virtual reality) as a way to create experiences at concerts, festivals, in the studio, and backstage.
But his top prognostication?
The death of the physical format of music.
They attribute the rise of vinyl to the nostalgic trend in tactile platforms (record albums, cassettes, books). Aziz suggests we should all “temper our excitement” because streaming has emerged as the dominant way we consume music.
You can see that seemingly unstoppable trend since Spotify launched in 2008 (interestingly, the same year that National Record Store Day debuted).
The Statista chart below compiled by IFPI (yes, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry) clearly tracks the trend toward streaming versus owning music.
In “What A Difference A Decade Makes,” Statista's Felix Richter concludes, “As market leaders Spotify and Apple Music continue to grow, it is all but certain that streaming will dominate music consumption going forward, especially considering that many of today’s and most of tomorrow’s listeners have grown up without a CD player and probably consider an iPod a relic from a long-forgotten time.”
The Verge's Partricia Hernandez reports that streaming made up 75% of music industry sales last year, based on RIAA data. That's a heady stat that will most likely continue to grow with each passing year.
The shaky state of the album has motivated most record labels and artists to even rethink their release strategy. A story in Rolling Stone by Elias Leight suggests they're giving much thought to these days to how albums are sequenced. If you're Ariana Grande, you can do what you want. For everyone else, spreadsheet analysis has now become a required course in the music business.
That's because in the old days, you bought an album, and you bought all the tracks – good or bad. Now, data is causing artists to rethink everything – long intros on videos are being scrutinized, and more and more, artists are placing their best songs up front in the sequence, hoping to capture a consumer's attention before they skip out.
We moved into a new home a couple years back, and while designing the media room, I knew I wanted a new turntable. And I use it – somewhat infrequently – to play that occasional Moody Blues, Steely Dan, or Stones album. It is enjoyable to take that vinyl treasure out of its sleeve, and drop the tone arm on Side 1, Track 1, and let it play in the order in which it was intended.
But I don't forget for a moment this activity is as retro in today's Digital Age as using dial phone or a typewriter. There's something comforting about it, especially for those of us who grew up in the pre-Internet era, and remember record stores like Rob Gordon's Championship Vinyl in Chicago.
So, as my old friend often asks me,
“So, what's on your turntable?”
BTW, Mental Floss' Garin Pirnia has compiled a list of “The 13 Coolest Record Stores in America.” You can access it here.
Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.
In 2008, jacapps was launched - a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,200 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created - a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the "connected car" and its impact.
Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media's commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.
Fred was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2018.