Another year marks another high note struck by vinyl album sales.
Vinyl sales in the U.S. increased from 21.5 million units in 2020 to 41.7 million units last year, according to a 2021 report from MRC Data-Billboard, a media consumption company formerly know as Nielsen-SoundScan.
Last year, vinyl albums — once considered an niche format sidelined by streaming services and digital downloads — accounted for more than half of all physical music sales in the U.S. for the first time since MRC-SoundScan began tracking data in 1991. According to the report, vinyl moved enough units last year to surpass 2020 sales totals by late September, weeks before Adele released her chart-topping album “30” and holiday shopping took center stage.
To boil down the year-by-year increase into one week: In late December 2021, vinyl hit a weekly high in the MRC-SoundScan era with the organization reporting 2.11 million units sold. That week eclipses a seven-day total that previously peaked in late December 2020 at 1.842 million.
Still, at risk of sounding like a broken record, the vinyl album sales boom isn’t new. Roughly a decade ago, LPs began an upward swing largely due to popularity among indie retailors and artists. Now — as part of a tsunami of popularity that has created growing pains for the format — music fans can find major label bellwethers and chain retailors selling 12-inch discs at a rate unseen in this century.
Unlike past years, when repressed albums from the Beatles, Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac and other legacy artists largely dominated year-end vinyl sales, MRC reports modern artists led in 2021. Adele’s “30,” Olivia Rodrigo’s “Sour” and Taylor Swift’s “Red (Taylor’s Version)” topped vinyl sales for the year, according to MRC.
But, heading into 2022, aforementioned growing pains persist.
Booming demand mixed with supply chain issues and an increased competition for shelf space can create a juggling game for labels who believe vinyl to be an essential product with each release. Production delays may stretch out months to a year, causing gatekeepers to weigh what new music takes vinyl priority and which may face a digital-first debut.
How much pressure may there be to get wax discs spinning on turntables? As of November 2021, pressing plants globally could produce around 180 million albums a year, according to Making Vinyl, an annual record manufacturing conference; however, demand reaches roughly 360 million albums, doubling production capacity.
Read more on the obstacles facing vinyl music in this Tennessean report from late 2021.