Vinyl & dance music: a health check | Features | MN2S

Last week, the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) issued a press release celebrating vinyl album sales in the UK passing 1 million units in 2014 – their highest level this year – using data compiled by the Official Charts Company (OCC).

What most sites and commentators didn’t seem to notice was that word ‘album’. It’s not a reflection of the state of play of dance music vinyl sales – the majority of which are, of course, singles. So we’re left with the questions – how healthy are dance music vinyl sales, and is anyone collating the data?


The OCC doesn’t reveal data of which stores contribute to its figures, so we decided to contact a couple of key retailers to see whether they do. First, we spoke to Simon Rigg, founder of Phonica Records – probably one of the best known and busiest physical stores, based in Soho, London and with an online audience across the world. “We used to [supply sales data to the OCC], but it was time-consuming and over 50% of our titles don’t have barcodes anyway” he tells us.

Phonica Records

The story is the same at Juno, the online-only store that branched into digital after starting life as a vinyl retailer. Label manager and A&R for the store, James Vorres, also points out the fact that most vinyl is ineligible for the OCC’s charts – which is because releases generally don’t meet their various criteria. We don’t currently supply sales data for any physical items, but we do for our digital store. I guess it comes down to the fact the majority of physical items we sell are not chart registered and / or they are represses. The digital side makes more sense as we shift a lot of the major label stuff and they like to have everything chart registered. We do sell some commercial music physically, but the numbers are quite low.”  

So how are we supposed to get a grip on the status of vinyl sales? Perhaps it’s best to go to the people actually making the records – the vinyl pressers and distributors. Although this only tells us how many are pressed, and not how many actually get sold, it’s probably the best we can do. Alas the distributors we contacted declined to comment. Rigg give us some sense of the quantities individual records sell, however. “I’m sure if you speak to electronic music labels now – most are selling 300-500 copies – and are happy if they manage to sell 500 copies of a release. That’s a good seller [these days]! Ten years ago, we would’ve been talking about ten times those numbers for a good-selling release. These figures were always off the radar as far as BPI and Soundscan figures were concerned, so any should be taken with a pinch of salt.”

While we can’t get a sense of the actual quantities, we can establish a clear uplift in sales for these major retailers. “Vinyl is doing really well at the moment” says Rigg on Phonica’s output, “although it seems to be spread more widely these days with less big sellers and more, smaller consistent sellers. [Our] sales are probably up 20% since five years ago.” Juno report similar figures, with Vorres saying: “Vinyl has been growing each year since 2011, and 2014 is 15% up year-on-year. It’s now at its highest point since 2009.

Anecdotally, the trend also seems pretty clear. Pressings have picked up, new vinyl stores have popped up like London’s Kristina Records and Love Vinyl, and many vinyl-only labels do a decent trade. It’s encouraging news for independent labels hoping to press their music onto vinyl. For the right kind of sound, the demand is there, and pressing plants now tend to offer runs of as little as 300 units to help make for a more viable proposition.

But it seems there’s no way of pulling all of this together and seeing how sales compare to the ‘golden age’ of the format. It seems we may never know just how much vinyl is being sold. If the OCC could create an easier way for stores to track and report sales, perhaps retailers would be more likely to get on board. In the meantime, we encourage labels and retailers to use barcodes to help try and improve the situation.

What does the future hold for vinyl? It’s worth noting that vinyl is made from crude oil – not exactly the most sustainable or cheap substance around. Given the high costs of producing vinyl, perhaps there’s a future for the ‘format’ (a 12-inch grooved disc, that is) using different materials. We’ve already seen records pressed onto chocolate and records 3D printed onto wood, paper and acrylic – but it remains to be seen whether there is a viable, durable alternative that sounds as good as vinyl.

Furthermore, the recent announcement of Pioneer’s PLX-1000 showed that the world’s biggest DJ equipment manufacturer think vinyl’s in a good enough place to move into producing turntables for the first time. As long as supply and demand can match up, the future of vinyl looks safe.

Want to get your label’s music on vinyl? Click here to contact our label services team for more info.

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