Things will never be the same for the music industry. It’s a tired old refrain, but never has it borne more truth than in the case of the compact disc and the likely demise of HMV. I can’t remember the first record I bought from the chain (I have a feeling it was Trampoline by the Mavericks) but I certainly know the last – Everything Everything’s Arc (my premature nomination for best release of 2013).
I won’t be sad to see HMV go – I’m too young to wax lyrical over its heyday, and by my teens music had long been consigned to their basement in favour of bad t-shirts and Katie Price ‘autobiographies’ – but the end of the last of the high street record stores should be of concern to the music industry, where 50 percent of music is still purchased on CD, albeit mostly on Amazon. For classical music HMV has always been a source of cheap Naxos CDs of varying quality, with online sellers like Presto and brave independents competing for the high end.
When HMV launched its flagship store in London in 1986 there were three choices of medium on which to buy music: vinyl, cassette, and CD. Only one of these looks likely to survive the opening decades of the 21st-century, and it’s not the one everybody expected. While CD sales have fallen nearly 20 percent in the last year, vinyl is up by over 15 percent, and it’s no longer just hipsters and fans of vintage fittings who are likely to have a turntable on their desk and an unwieldy stash of records on the shelf.
Experimental music label Slip Discs is just one of a number of exciting young companies to be releasing new albums on affordable vinyl. Increasingly the niche genres that make British music so rich in quality are turning to vinyl, such that even major dealers are devoting ever more money to building up stocks. So what’s behind the trend? Is it really about nostalgia for an imaginary – and obsolescent – past (think Instagram) or does it say more about the shape of things to come? Hopefully the latter, and the classical music industry needs to follow the lead of companies like Slip Discs and capitalise on the fact that its consumers are more likely than most to be among those grown sick of the low-fi twang of the mp3. Unfortunately for the rest of the market, the reality for record producers, sitting in multimillion-pound studios, is that most music is listened to on mp3, via malfunctioning budget headphones or, worse, Dr Dre Beats.