Kop Records on Toronto’s Queen Street East is well populated on a Wednesday afternoon. Outside, the summer is in full swing, scorching rays from the sun bouncing off the asphalt. Inside, millennials duck and dodge each other while navigating the typically narrow lanes of the record shop. Nobody looks over 35 years old. Most patrons are rocking at least one item from the Urban Outfitters starter pack—Thrasher T’s, Birkenstocks and Fjallraven backpacks abound. The rise in vinyl sales that began in the early 2000’s was once considered a fad, but recent economic figures and the advent of innovative vinyl-based businesses reflect the reality that the youth’s infatuation with physical music is here to stay.
“I remember there was a point in which people kept telling me Facebook was a fad,” says Craig Evans, CEO of Flying Vinyl, a UK-based record subscription service. “When anything gets popular, people immediately plot its downfall.”
The company that Evans launched in 2015 sends five 7” records to your doorstep each month for £20 with no added shipping cost. In Canada, it’s $30 a month.
The Hertfordshire entrepreneur says that his inspiration to start the service was borne in his frustration with the digital music industry. Prior to starting Flying Vinyl, Evans owned a digital marketing company that worked with musicians, but he was disillusioned with the oversaturation of online competition.
“The level of noise online, you couldn’t compete with it,” he says. “For us, the best thing was to completely detach from the digital environment.”
Creating a healthy profit is obviously a goal in Evans’ business venture, but he says that he created the company to achieve a lot more than a balanced chequebook.
“We want to put money back into music,” he says. The company is attempting to achieve this goal is by producing exposure for lesser-known artists and creating affordable venues to connect those artists with the consumer. The second-annual Flying Vinyl festival—featuring artists like Black Honey, Swim Deep and The Amazons — that took place in April and cost £20 a ticket is one example of such a venture.
Flying Vinyl’s launch came amid a seemingly endless boom in the sale of vinyl.
According to the 2016 Nielsen Report that charts yearly economic figures in the music industry, last year was the eleventh straight year of growth in physical music sales. 13.1 million total units of vinyl were sold, compared to 11.9 in 2015 according to the report. Despite the continual increase in sales, many critics continue to predict the imminent collapse of the industry, which begs the question: when will we know, definitively, if vinyl is back for good?
“A ten-year growth pattern is a long-term trend,” says journalist David Sax, whose 2016 book Revenge of Analog examines the reemergence of physical technologies. “What factor would come along at this point and make [vinyl sales] go down again?”
Sax, whose work has appeared in the New York Times, New Yorker and Guardian amongst many others, says that the return of vinyl is likely permanent.
“If you look at the demographic of who is driving vinyl record sales,” says Sax, “it is increasingly people that have grown up knowing digital in many ways. They have no nostalgic attachment to [vinyl].” He says this is one clear sign that the new generation of record consumers isn’t just a flash in the pan. The only logical explanation, he says, is that this generation wants something more from their music experience than just the sound that digital platforms provide.
In fact, Sax says he was motivated to write his book after he and a friend broke out an old turntable and started a conversation over what was appealing about it. “It was more than just the sound,” he says.
Evans and Flying Vinyl are banking on it.
“It’s magical having these young people sign-up,” says Evans, “because it’s a sociological shift.”
The June edition of the subscription service featured 7” records that each feature two songs by the likes of Joy Room, Family Friends, The Cosmics, Zuzu and Seeing Hands. The type of music can loosely be defined as “Indie Rock,” but in reality that’s far too limiting for the variety of sounds found on the discs. “London Warehouse Rock” seems more appropriate, as the tunes are what you might expect to hear if you wandered into a trendy, hidden away warehouse party in the UK capital on any given night.
The 7” records you will find in your monthly package are usually vibrantly coloured and offer a much different aesthetic than the classic black record. The records are all pressed exclusively for Flying Vinyl and the limitedness of them is another factor in the product going beyond what a digital download can offer.
The music Flying Vinyl curates is raw—a far cry from the poppy, focus-group-inspired DJ Khaled beats you’ll find littered across the Billboard 200.
The company isn’t alone in the niche market. Other like-minded companies have sprouted up across the world, like California’s V-N-Y-L, which is a record subscription service that caters to the consumers individual musical tastes.
According to the Nielsen report, physical music sales accounted for 11% of total music spending in the world in 2016 only behind music festivals, which dominated the market share at 36%.
As Sax explained, the vinyl record industry has officially passed the trend phase and there’s no reason to believe the industries continued growth isn’t sustainable.
Flying Vinyl’s packaging is covered with their motto: The Revolution Will Not Be Digital. The uprising they’re counting on appears to be in full swing.
Words by Dan LeBaron