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  • Rachel Spooner '26

Indie Bands Take a Chance on Vinyl Records

 

Taylor Swift. Adele. Olivia Rodrigo. Big-name artists are filling record store shelves with

numerous colorful vinyl variants of their award-winning albums. Artists who have massive

fanbases and consistently churn out chart-toppers are taking advantage of the fact that, according

to the Recording Industry Association of America, vinyl records have outsold CDs for the third

year in a row. By combining the forces of their dedicated young fans, in-demand tracks,

formidable record labels, and the nostalgic resurgence of the vinyl format, popular artists are

following a strategy that makes them millions of dollars.


Unlike CDs or cassettes, vinyl cannot be produced from home, making the cost and venture of

pressing vinyl much higher than that of other physical formats. But the trends don’t lie: vinyl

sales are up 26% for the first half of 2023, according to Luminate. Even independent up-and-

coming artists who don’t have a powerful record label to cover the costs of marketing and

distributing physical music media are taking the plunge.


Jessica Thompson, a member of Hotel Fiction, an alternative indie rock band based out of

Athens, Ga., which performed at last year’s “Stomp the Lawn” event at Oglethorpe University,

said that despite the possible financial pitfalls, releasing music on vinyl is a risk that she and her

band are willing to take.


“It’s technically not practical. But I think people really connect with buying physical media,”

Thompson said. “It’s also popular to buy something that represents an artist’s actual work. Like,

you could buy a t-shirt, but the artists created the music, and to be able to purchase that means a

lot to people, even in the era of streaming.”


According to Soundcharts, Spotify pays artists $0.0032 per single stream. To exemplify the

divide between profits from streaming versus vinyl, an artist would have to earn 780,000 Spotify

streams to make the same amount of money from selling 100 vinyl records at an average price of

$25.


For a band like Hotel Fiction having just over 50,000 monthly listeners on Spotify, vinyl is the

most profitable when it comes to making money off music alone. Keron Robertson, an employee

at local Atlanta record store, Criminal Records, said, “Streaming just pays little to nothing for the

artists--well under a penny. Fractions of a penny. So even though for the record, it takes a

financial commitment, there's still a better return just inherently over streaming.”


Thompson emphasized the dedication it requires to invest in vinyl. “From the business

perspective of releasing music on vinyl, it's very expensive and requires a lot of upfront money,”

she said. “When we released our first album on vinyl, we pressed 2000 copies, and it was very

expensive. We had to cough up some personal money to make that happen.”


Hotel Fiction’s debut album, “Soft Focus,” was released in 2021, and the vinyl is priced at $30

on the band’s website. Despite being released two years ago, the band is “still selling through the

vinyl,” said Thompson. “We'll be selling through it for years to come.”


Unlike popular artists backed by record labels who can afford to press a seemingly endless

number of records to meet similarly endless demand, independent bands do not have the same

luxury. “There’s so many things that cost money in music,” Thompson said. “Normally, you

could use an advance and a distribution company through a label to acquire vinyl at good

prices.”


But according to Thompson, releasing music on vinyl is not just about the money—there’s an

emotional aspect of the format that is felt by both artist and fan alike.


Thompson described a moment in which she noticed the heartfelt connection that vinyl can

provide. “We were playing this show two weeks ago in Atlanta, this festival, where we didn't

really expect very many people to show. We were about to go on stage, and I looked out and

right in the front, there was this girl, like, clutching our vinyl in her hands.” Thompson explained

that the fan did not purchase the record at the festival like she originally thought; instead, the fan

had brought it from home for the band to sign. "It was worn down, and she said she listened to it

so many times in the last two years and the music got her through a lot of hard situations.”


Local record collector, Trevor Kelly, said, “Record collecting is part of what defines me and how

people know me.” Kelly has over 400 vinyl records and has been collecting since 2014. He

added that most of the records in his collection have sentimental value. “There are several that

remind me of shows I have seen with my family or trips we have taken. They bring back

memories when I play them.”


When someone buys an expensive record from an artist even when they can listen to the same

songs for free on a streaming platform, Thompson believes that to be significant, saying, “People

buy records on vinyl that really mean a lot to them.”


There is also a certain “meditative aspect” of listening to an album on vinyl rather than on a

streaming platform, according to Kelly. “When streaming, I can just choose a random playlist

and let it go,” he said. “But I like the ritualistic aspect of listening to records: choosing the

record, looking at the artwork, flipping the record... I find the process more engaging. Listening

to records is more than just background noise.”


Vinyl encourages a delayed gratification style of listening that many find appealing. Kelly

mentioned the charm of deliberation that is found in selecting an album to spin and listening to it

all the way through. “We tend to forget how many great tracks are on an album when we create

playlists and cherry-pick songs from different albums and artists,” Kelly said. “Many artists use

an album to tell a story, and you don't get the whole experience without listening to the album in

its entirety.”


Thompson echoed this sentiment. “When we write our albums, we take a lot of time to think

about the track order, but listeners on streaming don't normally listen in order at all, so it's really

cool to sell and release our album that is recorded in a way where you have to listen to it in

order,” she said.


Even for older listeners like Kelly who grew up with vinyl as the main format for purchasing and

listening to music, he believes that there is a future for vinyl records. “Vinyl records are

mainstream,” he said. “Record stores are everywhere. Younger generations are collecting and

listening.” The largest age group demographic purchasing vinyl records is, in fact, Gen Z.


According to the Recording Industry Association of America, approximately 8% of people aged

13-28 purchased at least one new vinyl album in 2022, compared to 6% of millennials (aged 29-

43), 7% of Gen-X (aged 44-57), and 5% of baby boomers (aged 58-77). Especially with stores

like Target and Urban Outfitters selling records and record players, as well as artists releasing

special, colored variants exclusive to these stores, vinyl is more accessible than ever, according

to Kelly.


“That means the industry is growing. Young people need to carry the ball for the next generation

to keep it going,” Kelly said. “I love to see a touch of analog in our digital world.”


 

*This article was written as an assignment for COM-240-001: Intro to Newswriting (Fall 2023)

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