Music fans pushed sales of vinyl albums higher, outpacing CDs, even as pandemic sidelined stadium tours


A visitor is seen looking for records during the XXVII International Record Fair.
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The coronavirus pandemic may have sidelined pop stars from live performances, but music fans' interest hasn't waned.

Music consumption in the first half of the year has remained robust even without the sold-out stadium tours, according to a new report. While on-demand audio streaming is up 15%, consumers are also looking to own more tangible collectibles like vinyl albums, which continue to surpass CD sales.

In the first six months of 2021, 19.2 million vinyl albums were sold, outpacing CD volume of 18.9 million, according to MRC, an analytics firm that specializes in collecting data from the entertainment and music industries.

Vinyl has slowly been making a comeback in recent years. In 2020, vinyl trumped annual revenue of CDs in the U.S. for the first time in 34 years, the Recording Industry Association of America reported.

That trend is continuing in 2021. The number of vinyl LPs sold rose 108% in the first six months of the year, up from 9.2 million during the same period in 2020.

“In these unprecedented times it is the labels' and artists' continued focus on the fan connection via collectible, bespoke offerings, the addition of incredibly strong hip-hop and pop releases that are converting new generations into vinyl fans and the never-ending reason for vinyl's ascendance: It's eternally cool,” said Billy Field, vice president of sales and a vinyl strategist at WEA, the artist and label services arm of Warner Music Group.

The top-selling vinyl albums at the midyear point are Taylor Swift's “Evermore,” Harry Styles' “Fine Line,” Kendrick Lamar's “Good Kid M.A.A.D. City” and Billie Eilish's “When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?”

Swift's “Evermore” had the highest single-week vinyl sales in MRC Data's 30-year history, selling more than 100,000 copies. The previous record holder was Jack White's “Lazaretto,” which sold 40,000 during its first week in 2014.

Growth in vinyl comes at a time when the music industry is struggling to keep up with demand, amid production setbacks from the pandemic.

As one example, MRC points to Ariana Grande's “Positions” album, which was released to streaming services on Oct. 30, 2020, but wasn't made available on vinyl until April 9, 2021. There was a 1,614% increase in sales that week, as 32,000 copies of the album were sold. That was the third-highest vinyl sales week for an album since MRC Data began tracking the format in 1991.

MRC expects a similar surge when Eilish's “Happier Than Ever” is released on vinyl in late July and when Swift's “Fearless (Taylor's Version)” is released in November.

The report also noted how NFTs, or nonfungible tokens, have become a new revenue stream for artists to distribute music and artwork. From Feb. 25 to April 25 of this year, musicians have tallied around $55.7 million from NFT sales, according to a report from Water & Music.

NFTs are just the latest music monetization trend, expanding the earning potential of artists beyond streaming, traditional music sales and concert ticket sales.

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