Record Stores Across Canada Break Down Their 2023 Year In Music
Records are still staying strong amongst the Canadian demographic, hitting both younger and older generations across the country.
Streaming continued to dominate in 2023, with over 139 billion listens in Canada alone, but vinyl still holds a special place in music consumers' hearts. With vinyl sales rising in the U.S., with over 41 million records sold in 2022, vinyl sales also saw a 25.8% rise in 2022 in Canada.
Billboard Canada spoke with representatives from record stores in Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto about vinyl's impact over the past year. According to staff and record store owners, a new generation of buyers have entered the scene, keen on collecting and learning about the music they're buying.
“I really appreciate when kids ask me, ‘may I use the turntable?’… or when they ask me questions," says Fion, a staff member at influential Toronto record store Play De Record. "It’s very exciting to know that the younger generations are interested,”.
In 2023, have you noticed a shift in the store's demographic?
Play De Record: There’s been a shift since COVID, but in terms of 2023, I would say younger generations are coming in to buy more now. They see the value of holding on to a tangible item. It’s pretty amazing. People [also] tend to buy to collect even when they don’t have a turntable.
Cheap Thrills: With the closure of larger stores, our focus has drifted along with expanding customer base. For example, we are stocking many more mainstream titles than we used to. We cater to our repeat customers by accepting special orders for artists, which helps us keep with [success] we may have overlooked otherwise. Also notable is the number of young women buying records.
Zulu Records: One thing I’ve always been happy about was having a mixed demographic. We were an alternative store [and] we’ve been around a long time, but if you come into our store now, we’re pretty well versed in many different areas.
Were there any stand-out genres this year or Canadian artists that you noticed pop off?
PDR: In terms of Canadian music, it’s been a lot more alternative. Before, mostly in terms of younger customers they tend to buy hip-hop or rock. But in recent years, they’ve been more alternative with new Canadian artists coming up like Debby Friday who [won] the Polaris Prize.
CT: For Canada, our best sellers would be Charlotte Cardin, Coeur de Pirate and Godspeed You! Black Emperor and underground metal from Quebec. The most notable genre for us in 2023 was the explosion of popular music. Phoebe Bridgers, Mitski, Olivia Rodrigo and obviously Taylor Swift along with lots of hip-hop artists have brought a much younger record buying clientele into the store.
ZR: Not so much a specific genre but…people are more inclined to buy what Stereogum or Pitchfork say are good records. This being Vancouver, as well, Carly Rae Jepson does pretty well. When it comes to consistency, there’s Joni Mitchell of course, an album like Blue will easily outsell so many new releases by Canadian artists. There are certain folky types of softer records that do well in Vancouver.
What has been the most popular record of the year?
PDR: Jungle was huge, we saw a lot of those [sell]. We’re selling a lot of reissues, [like] Bobby Caldwell. A very proud Toronto reissue is Main Source. They got the Japanese record label P-Vine to do their reissue on picture disc. Main Source is one of the '90s Toronto O.G. hip hop groups that does it right.
CT: Charlotte Cardin's 99 Nights was far and above our best-selling album by a Canadian artist.
What's a Canadian record that's been a personal staff favourite?
PDR: One of my favourite acts that came out of this year was Odonis Odonis. They're an alternative industrial noise rock kind of item.
CT: Staff favourites have mostly been local, with releases by Quebecois bands like Spectral Wound and Population II. [Internationally], one staff member picked Vidrio by Titanic as his 2023 overall pick. Another staff picked Dodheimsgard's Black Medium CurrentBlack Medium Current in the metal genre and was also smitten with Olivia Rodrigo's Guts in the pop category.
What do you anticipate for record stores and record buying in 2024?
PDR: I can see purchasing getting slower and records coming out being more. It all matters on the context of the artist. It doesn’t have to be if the music is good, [that] doesn’t help it sell. It has to have a story to add context behind it.
CT: For 2024, we anticipate much of the same. I think popular music and classic rock and heavy metal and hip-hop will continue to dominate in terms of sales.
ZR: We have to not lose new young members of the public because prices are too high. We’re in danger of losing new buyers. You've got to have things at different price points.