The difference between vinyl fans: then and now

Music Watch industry analyst Russ Crupnick shares his findings on what’s so different about modern vinyl music fans.

by Russ Croupnick music watch

The new generation of vinyl buyers is dedicated to the format and represents an opportunity for artists, retailers and device marketers.

In 2021, vinyl record sales exceeded $1 billion in the United States. The last time vinyl sales topped the $1 billion mark was in 1988, when inflation-adjusted revenue was $1.2 billion (RIAA). Between 1989 and the early 2000s, the vinyl format was stifled by cassettes, CDs and digital downloads. After the 80s, it took until 2010 for the vinyl format to show an increase in sales, although it would take several more years for the momentum to really materialize.

There remains a whole generation that grew up in the golden age of vinyl. Some were there for Brubeck’s “Time Out,” released in 1959. Others listened in awe as the album was reinvented, thanks to “Sgt. Pepper” and “Pet Sounds.” Alas, this generation of buyers of “Vinyl 1.0” is slowly fading. What if you were born during the vinyl drought, say in the 90s? This cohort is helping to drive a renaissance that we will call “Vinyl 2.0”. And that begs the question, in what is this generation different from those who bought during “Vinyl 1.0”?

MusicWatch’s recent consumer study, “Revelations on the Vinyl Revolution, examined a myriad of topics related to vinyl’s resurgence, ranging from consumer profiles and motivations to buying habits and device portfolio. We dug into the data to see how the new generation of vinyl buyers is different from the previous generation. Vinyl buyers born in 1989 or later were compared to the older generation*.

There are common assumptions about young vinyl buyers; they buy more to show off the artwork than to play the vinyl, they don’t own turntables, they only buy current “top hits” from the most popular artists, and they’re not heavily invested in the format. Let’s review some of these beliefs.

  • They are really “beginners: Nearly 8 in 10 started buying vinyl in the past five years.
  • Vinyl 2.0 buyers love to show off vinyl, but they love to listen to it even more: 37% say they buy to display, far more than the older group. Even so, 78% intend to listen to the new vinyl albums they buy; it’s just that some disc jockey between the wall and the stylus.
  • Current releases by popular artists are their favorite type of new vinyl album: but they buy across the spectrum of reissues and reissues, indie band releases, and even more specialized genres such as classical or jazz. They enjoy rediscovering older music that they have never heard before.
  • Alternative, HipHop and Classic Rock are also their favorite genres. It’s no surprise that classic rock is the preferred genre for older buyers – by a landslide.
  • Packaging produces performance: The younger generation’s buying motivations are more likely to revolve around packaging; love disc artwork or design. That’s not to say younger buyers don’t appreciate the sound quality and authenticity of vinyl – they just don’t have the same nostalgic connection to sonic characteristics that older buyers do.
  • Supporting artists is important: A third say they buy vinyl to support artists. They overwhelmingly believe in supporting artists beyond just listening to their music. Seeing artists and labels embrace the format motivates those buyers to support vinyl as well.
  • An opportunity for OEMs: More than half plan to upgrade their audio equipment in the next year. These young buyers are less likely to own a turntable than their predecessors. And when they have one, it’s more likely a standalone or USB-driven unit. They don’t decorate rooms with stereo components like mom and dad. All of this points to a great opportunity for device manufacturers to educate them on how to get better sound and value from their vinyl collections.
  • They are connected to physical formats – and streaming too: Young vinyl buyers are omniformat buyers like you will never see. 86% stream music (76% use a paid music streaming service). Almost half (45%) also buy CDs. Compared to the general population, they are 4 times more likely to purchase digital downloads.
  • They are invested in the format: 93% are interested in buying vinyl next year, compared to 96% of Vinyl 1.0 buyers.

The new generation of vinyl buyers are serious, dedicated and valued customers, just like their predecessors. And like the older generation, these buyers want more; more stuff from the artists they support or genres they explore – and better gear to listen to. To paraphrase Brian Wilson, those are good vibes!

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