Vinyl destination: who is actually buying records?

YouGov says middle-aged men – not bushy-eyed millenials – are fuelling the record renaissance. We hit the stores of Soho to test their data.

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Lonely, middle-aged men love vinyl. Before you rush to litter the comments section with gnarly insults under the pseudonym NotAllLonelyMiddleAgedMen, this statement derives from actual data. According to YouGov, the much talked-about record resurgence is driven not by a boom in millennials who want to embrace the novelty of a physical item, but by midlife nostalgia. Those who have recently purchased a vinyl album are most likely to be aged between 45 and 54, apparently. In fact, those in the 18-24 age group are the least likely. It is not just an act of hoarding by hobbyists, either – it has emotional significance: older vinyl buyers are slightly more likely to keep their feelings to themselves (56% of vinyl buyers versus 53% of all UK adults) and enjoy being alone (69% of vinyl buyers versus 66% all UK adults).

But are YouGov’s results true? If this blog was a televised news report, the camera would follow me as I walked down the middle of a busy Soho street, wearing a modest grey suit and gesturing wildly before stopping, cupping my hands and saying something authoritative like: “So, let’s take a look.”

So, let’s take a look.

While the heart of Soho is slowly being drained of its charm and grot – hotels, Eats, Prets and Paperchases now fill the buildings once occupied by independent sellers – a handful of fantastic specialist record shops still remain. (I’d probably ask the camera to stop rolling for the next bit, in which I stand very close to various men in some of these stores and attempt to gauge their age and emotional disposition via observation.)

Glaswegian Stuart, 55, whom I follow from Sister Ray (data count: two young women, three middle-aged men) into Reckless Records (data count: eight middle-aged men, one woman, probably in her 20s) is in London for the afternoon for a meeting and is perusing the shops to fill a few hours. Is he a collector, I ask?

Stuart’s vinyl
Stuart’s vinyl collection, which runs to ‘about 3,000 or 4,000 records’. Photograph: Record collector Stuart

“I suppose I am,” he says. “I have about 3,000 or 4,000 records.”

These records, pictured above (he emailed me the snap, I didn’t follow him home), line his living room walls. His reason for acquiring such a vast number of albums and singles is partly a result of his disposable income: he is now able to buy records he couldn’t afford when they originally came out, and to repurchase items he sold when he was young and skint.

“A lot of the stuff I get is late 60s, early 70s, things that came out when I was 11 or 12, things I was probably a bit too young to get,” he says.

He agrees that those who purchase records are more likely to be introverts who like their own company, adding: “I don’t smoke, I don’t drink very much. It’s my vice.”

Wez, 25, who works at Sister Ray, also believes that many of the customers he encounters fit the YouGov profile. He has, however, noticed a new wave of people influenced by the media hype, people who heard about the comeback and felt compelled to buy back their old records.

“From conversations I’ve had, people have got rid of their collection, normally around 1998 or 1999. Customers who once sold their vinyl to buy CDs are now selling their CDs to buy their records back,” he says.

That may explain a boom in vinyl revivalists of a certain age. But what about the alleged emotional importance of records? It takes a few seconds in a shop such as Phonica to realise that record stores offer a comforting community of likeminded types. According to Wez, some older customers have taken umbrage with the contactless payment system in particular. Some vinyl fans may feel overwhelmed by the digital world and choose to retreat to the stability of the familiar record sleeve, of items that recall halcyon teenage memories.

“I think sometimes it can be filling a void or having material possessions as some kind of comfort,” Wez says. “As a collector myself, I have that, and I think a lot of people do. It’s an easy way to occupy your headspace.”

“We’re like their social workers!” pipes up a co-worker from a stack of records.

An ICM poll in April revealed that almost 50% of people who bought a vinyl album the previous month had yet to listen to it. The poll also found that 41% have a turntable they never use, while 7% of those who purchase vinyl don’t own a record player. (At this stage of the news report, I would probably be looking gravely concerned while flicking through a stack of bossa nova compilations.)

The “trophy” aspect of the revival is something that Jonny, 42, who works in Sounds of the Universe (data count: three midde-aged men) has noticed. “Someone came in recently and said: ‘I don’t have a record player, but I want to buy a Radiohead record so we can put it on our shelf,’” he says.

“That’s not a large percentage, but it’s definitely happening. More of the product side, less of the music. We have people saying: ‘I don’t have a record player.’ That’s younger people, not older ones, late teens who are just getting into it.”

Fopp, which now dedicates almost an entire floor to vinyl, has a far more varied audience when I arrive. There are couples in their 70s, tourists taking photos, teenage boys and middle-aged women. While the atmosphere is less at ease than the aforementioned stores – Wild Beast’s latest synth- and sex-fuelled pop, rather than noodling jazz, is blasting from the speakers – it is good to see diversity in its customers. None of them look particularly lonely, but nagging psychological trauma is hard to ascertain by standing next to someone for 30 seconds.

Originally from The Guardian, read more here

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