Why vinyl is hotter than ever
Don't call it a comeback - the vinyl revival is no longer a retro trend but a permanent fixture in the music world.
In the UK every one in eight albums sold last year was on vinyl, continuing a rebirth started 12 years ago.
The most popular vinyl sellers last year were Queen - they sold 75,000 vinyl albums globally.
In Australia this week young acts Harry Styles and Billie Eilish join Creedence Clearwater Revival and Pink Floyd in ARIA's vinyl album chart.
While the pandemic has led to store closures, online sales have spiked.
Wally Kempton, who runs Cheersquad Records & Tapes in Melbourne, is seeing his boutique label enjoying "better than usual" sales over the past few months.
Turning two next month, Cheersquad deals in new bands (such as Newcastle's Vacations) and re-pressing Australian indie band Snout, Gersey, Sandpit, The Fauves and Kempton's own band The Meanies on vinyl - sometimes for the first time.
"It is nostalgia, for sure," Kempton says of vinyl sales.
"It might be an album someone loved when they first bought it and they haven't seen it in a long time. They lost their CD when they moved house or lent it to someone and they want to own it again. And there's the vinyl collector who wants it because it's never been available on vinyl before."
Cheersquad regularly releases albums on coloured vinyl to tap into the lucrative collector market.
Kempton gets his albums pressed at Zenith Records in Brunswick - Australia's main vinyl press which uses vintage equipment for the best quality.
"Zenith tell me all the vinyl starts off clear and even black vinyl has to have a colour added to it," Kempton says.
Local pressing saves on high freight costs from international pressing plants in Germany and the US.
A standard single album, on 150 to 180 gram vinyl, costs around $4000 to have 300 copies pressed, which usually has a six-week turnaround.
Coloured vinyl, double discs or gatefold album sleeves can add an extra $1500 to the process which is reflected in slightly higher prices.
In 2020 new vinyl albums can sell from $30 to $70 depending on where you shop or the thickness of the vinyl.
With only a few large pressing plants left around the world, it can be a long wait to get a spot as often major labels and big-name acts get priority.
Cheersquad's new albums by Level Spirits and Sandpit were held up slightly while Zenith pressed thousands of copies of the 40th anniversary reissue of Split Enz's True Colours album on multiple colours, while they're also pressing a reissue of the Australian version of Nirvana's debut album Bleach.
"Vinyl has a lot more going for it than just a stream," Kempton says.
"It's something tangible to look at and pore over, the sound quality is better to my ears, I'd much rather listen to vinyl on a turntable as good as my fancypants Bose bluetooth speaker is."
Kate Ceberano waited patiently for a vinyl version of her album with Steve Kilbey and Sean Sennett, The Dangerous Age.
The CD was released in January, the vinyl has just surfaced.
"It's harder to get it made, but it takes time to get something great back," she says.
"Quality means something these days. We used to save up for an album, it might have taken more than six weeks. It's not like this easy candy you eat and it burns up and it's gone. Vinyl is a visceral thing you can hold in your hands, you earned the money for it, you paid for it, you play it. You pore over the liner notes."
Ross Wilson is ambassador for Saturday's Record Store Day - the annual event has already been pushed back due to COVID-19, and while stores in other states can hold special events, in Melbourne's lockdown click and collect remains the policy (there will be more Record Store Days in September and October).
"I'm a bit of a vinyl hound," says Wilson, the Australian musical legend who recently splashed out on an imported jukebox that plays 70 vinyl singles.
"Making a streaming playlist is a bit impersonal," he says.
"Vinyl is an album format, streaming has taken everything back to the single format, it's about one song at a time."
Wilson's band Mondo Rock is about to release a double coloured vinyl edition of its recently released Summer of 81 live album.
"We got 100 of the 300 copies pressed before Zenith were shut down for being a non-essential service," Wilson laughs.
Zenith is hoping to open as soon as possible.
"There's machines in there that if they're not fired up a few times a week they'll seize up and become inoperable," Kempton says.
There are occasional problems with the generation who've grown up without vinyl.
"One customer sent me a photo and the mailman or mailwoman had folded their vinyl in half like a newspaper and put it in their mail slot," Kempton says.
Vinyl is also a powerful weapon in the chart battle. Physical sales, especially vinyl, can give an album an extra push.
The weighting system used means a physical sale is worth about 150 times more than streaming an album.
Taylor Swift released her new album folklore on no less than eight different coloured vinyl formats, all with different front covers.
There were also eight different deluxe CD versions. Many fans bought all eight of each format.
"It gives a collectable back to fans," says Paul Cashmere of Noise 11.
"You could be the biggest Taylor Swift fan in the world but have nothing to show for it, vinyl changes that. Some fans stream the album and never take the vinyl out of the plastic."
Australian acts DMA's, Lime Cordiale, In Hearts Wake, Hockey Dad, Emma Swift and the Teskey Brothers all released their ARIA top five albums on vinyl this year which loyal fans snapped up.
"It's 100 per cent beneficial for the charts," record company boss Michael Gudinski says of vinyl.
"Artists realise your first few thousand fans are so important. They're thinking about those fans, doing special packaging, limited editions, extra songs."
As well as releasing his Music From the Home Front concert on triple coloured vinyl next month, Gudinski is planning to reissue several classic albums from his Mushroom Records catalogue to celebrate the label's impending 50th birthday in 2022.
"Neil Young said to me 25 years ago just because it's new technology doesn't mean it's better," Gudinski says.
"The CD format is definitely on the way out, but there's still something about hearing vinyl. You can buy a turntable for $150 or you can spend $5000. People will pay for quality vinyl and quality records. The real music enthusiasts are lapping it up."
Record store day runs nationally tomorrow - check what's happening in stores near you at recordstoreday.com.au
Originally published as Why vinyl is hotter than ever