Streaming may have revolutionised the music industry, but it seems that some habits really do die hard. Despite being up against such stiff competition, vinyl records, CDs and cassette tapes have all found a new lease of life in the streaming era – proof that physical formats are still very much alive and kicking.
In the UK, vinyl sales have increased for 15 consecutive years up to 2022, and CDs make up half of all album purchases. Meanwhile, more than 185,000 units cassette tapes were sold in 2021 – their highest stats since 2003. In the US this past December, vinyl had its biggest sales week since 1991. Physical music are no longer the whimsy ‘audiophile hipsters’, but a key part of many music fan’s listening habits.
The resurgence is being led by artists who have recognised a considerable demand for their music. In 2022, artists like Arctic Monkeys and Wet Leg had astonishing years with the wax-buying public. And speaking of cassette sales, UK artists such as Harry Styles, Florence & The Machine and Central Cee led the way in 2022, with their respective three records – ‘Harry’s House’, ‘Dance Fever’ and ‘23’ – accounting for the year’s biggest-selling cassette releases.
Taylor Swift is a massive vinyl fan: she sold a staggering 575,000 vinyl copies of her latest album ‘Midnights’ in the US during its first week in October 2022. That figure bested the record, set just five months previously by Styles’ ‘Harry’s House’.
Given that both of these artists command a young fanbase, vinyl is proving as crucial a gateway as Spotify’s playlist. The nature of owning your favourite artist’s new record – in an array of colours, no less – carries a timeless appeal, as does he chance to add to one’s aesthetically-pleasing record collection at home. Music-buying needn’t be done exclusively online, either: record stores that have been able to ride the uncertainty of the pandemic are benefitting from this continuing strong interest in physical music products. Record Store Day – an annual event where artists often release exclusive, one-off records – continues to go from strength to strength.
For many artists, the attraction of releasing their music on vinyl, CD or cassette centres around the notion of furthering their creativity and, of course, fostering a more physical connection with their fans. Glass Animals drummer Joe Seaward told NME in 2020 that, for his band, the chance to release their ‘Dreamland’ album on cassette was “a really nice excuse to make something beautiful that people can have as a piece of art”.
That’s high praise indeed for the physical music format, but not at all an exaggeration given its blossoming popularity: long live the vinyl, CD and cassette tape, we say.
Stay tuned to NME.com/C23 for the latest on the return of the iconic mixtape