CD and vinyl sales: How the way we listen to music is changing the industry
The music business has always been a tough nut to crack, but as customers turn their backs on CDs and vinyl, how do artists survive?
The crackle and pop of stylus on vinyl is an essential part of music for some people.
But they’re a dwindling crowd. CD sales have slumped and vinyl sales have plateaued.
The HMV collapse over Christmas, citing the decline of CD and DVD sales, shows how the high street is struggling to adapt to changing patterns of how people buy and listen to music.
Andy Haddon owns the Left For Dead record store in Shrewsbury and was a former manager of an HMV store, and he believes the changes to the way we purchase music runs deeper than the mere existence of streaming and the internet.
“There are lots of factors and to say it’s solely the internet is a bit of an excuse,” he says. “I thinks it’s about consumer confidence. Look at this Christmas, two years ago a customer would come in to my store and buy two records, last year it was one record, and this year it was books priced at £3.50 to £4.
“I have customers who come in and and say that they want to buy records but they just can’t afford it, and that’s where we are economically.
“Normally at this time of year I would plan for the next 12 months, but I just can’t do that.”
The drop of 23 per cent for 2018 was the biggest since the CD format peaked in the early 2000s and follows drops of around 12 per cent in 2016 and 2017, according to the British Phonographic Industry (BPI). Vinyl sales rose by 1.6 per cent, with 4.2 million records sold.
However in December a new streaming landmark was hit, with two billion audio streams recorded in a single week.
And while Andy does accept there has been a change in the habits, he doesn’t see it as the sole reason for sales declines in the physical formats.
“The decline of CD and DVD has been on the cards for a long time,” he said. “There are new ways to listen to music and watch films now. I’m a massive film fan and I have tons of DVDs at home at home that I barely watch. You can just stream everything now.
“A lot of my customers have Spotify accounts and buy records at the same time – so they aren’t mutually exclusive.”
Jonn Penney, from 90s Stourbridge rock band Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, says while streaming has its advantages, it presents a bleak outlook for artists.
“When my band was big in the 90s the big income would be from sales of CDs, vinyl and cassettes – the physical formats,” he says.
“That would be where you would expect the money to come from, and tours would be a loss leader to promote whatever album we had out. Ticket prices were cheap because you just wanted to get people in, they were never crazy.
“These days that has turned completely on its head. For most bands their income come from live show, and that is why ticket prices have gone up and up. At some point this is going to plateau.
"The music itself holds no monetary value any more, and that all started with streaming or when the record companies got caught out by piracy.”
Jonn believes that the discovery of new music on streaming services is difficult because of the sheer volume of artists uploading their work.
“We won’t recognise original music ideas because there won’t be an opportunity to recognise it,” he says. “Where is the next David Bowie going to come from and where are people going to be able to find them?”
Jonn still buys CDs and downloads music from iTunes in order to support artists financially, and remembers his first vinyl records fondly.
“The first single I bought was I Don’t Like Mondays by the Boomtown Rats on seven inch, and the first album I had was Duran Duran’s self-titled debut album,” he says. “And you know what? It was great, it changed everything for me.”
T’Pau singer Carol Decker says she has seen streaming and downloading cause a significant decrease in her income, and believes that the recent surge in vinyl is on borrowed time.
“Spotify pay a pittance and you don’t see anything from iTunes really, so people are able to listen to our music without us being paid for it,” she says.
“The problem is that artists are not also just in competition with each other, but we are also with competition for things to do digitally like computer games.
“Where we do make money is during a tour and gigs. We sell CDs and merchandise which are still sought after by people of our age.
"Also PRS still gives us royalties and the 80s are still very popular around the world, so things like radio play and if it gets used for karaoke still pays.”
Dan Owen, from Shrewsbury, released his debut album Stay Awake With Me in 2018 and relies on both CD sales and gigs for his income.
“You make the money at live shows,” he says. “The sale of CDs at our shows basically paid for the tour, although that won’t show on any charts. I know lots of artists who raise money this way, but they just don’t get recorded.”
Streaming has helped Dan’s career, and he was discovered after a fan posted a video of him singing a Bob Dylan song on Reddit after a show.
“I’m pretty positive about digital music,” he says. “It’s great for discovering new acts and is social too. We are told about the times when everyone would come around and listen to a vinyl, well I do that now with friends except we pass around an iPad and play lots of different music.
“It can pay well, although you do need a lot of listens. One million streams equates to about $5,000, so you have to make sure your music is available on streaming all the time.
“I only stream now really, although I used to buy CDs from Virgin and HMV. My first album was Eminem and D12 – it’s still a good album, but now I would just be able to stream it.”
Who knows what the next changes will be, but BPI chief executive Geoff Taylor has warned that growth of music sales in 2019 could also be impacted by Brexit, which is something Andy Haddon agrees with.
“Brexit could very much have an effect, especially on vinyl,” he said. “A lot of vinyl is pressed in Europe and you could end up with a levy which might push the price of records up; it might not, we just don’t know.”