The Vinyl Record Comes Round Again
As a child born in the eighties, I didn’t have time for much of a love affair with the vinyl record. A few years laid out on our brown shag carpet listening to the soft whir and tick of the record needle – gone in a flash with the appearance of the compact disc player. With its built-in lasers and shiny discs that occupied less space on cramped apartment shelves, the new device easily charmed our family. The records were quickly scuttled away in pine boxes to the dank recesses of our storage space. There was no looking back.
Now almost three decades later, armed with an iPod, a BlackBerry and a lovely home network of Macintosh computers, I find myself happily rediscovering vinyl. And I’m not alone.
Dal Basi, buyer at R5 Records is noticing a shift. “A few years ago, you couldn’t find a lot of new titles on vinyl,” he says. “Now more than 50% of new albums are coupled with a vinyl release. There’s just more product out there.”
Anyone who’s frequented Russ Solomon’s year-old record shop may have noticed the change too. A handful of months ago, vinyl shoppers had a small shelf portion at the back of the store to wade through. Now the vinyl section occupies a massive row up front.
“We are selling 60 to 70 records a week,” Basi says. “That’s double what we did last year.” Over the next year, R5 plans to devote even more shelf space to vinyl, brining in a used section and more turntables for sale.
Who is to account for the sales bump? With most retail product marketed to a younger demographic, are kids taking up the vinyl mantle for the first time?
“That’s the funny thing. Kids have always been interested in vinyl,” says The Beat owner Rob Fauble. “Really, anyone who buys a physical copy of music wants it to have value.”
Fauble sees a wide mix of customers visiting his store, some looking for new material and others searching for old titles not available on CD or online. “Records are a great way to mine the past,” he says.
The Beat has always devoted a respectable chunk of their square footage to vinyl, offering a seemingly endless supply of used and new records. Fauble is noticing a rise in sales as well.
“Our vinyl sales are up 5 to 10%, when nationally CD sales are down 20%,” he says. “It’s pretty interesting.” As far as expanding new vinyl inventory, he chalks it up to major labels trying anything to create a revenue stream.
With major labels becoming an increasingly outperformed commodity in the music world, it’s no surprise they are trying to latch onto anything trending in an upward direction. As an enticement, new vinyl is often coupled with a CD version of the album, or with a coupon for a free digital download.
With a marriage of the vinyl record and digital download technology, the customer can experience the best of both worlds – the convenience of digital audio and the tangible, interactive nature of vinyl. And if the record doesn’t contain the download coupon, the information can still be shot to a computer through a USB turntable – an item that both The Beat and R5 either do or plan to carry.
Anyone can dump their entire CD collection into an iPod playlist and run it until their lithium ion batteries are dead. And many songs available on iTunes can be transferred straight to cell phones as a catchy, identity-affirming ring tone.
“That’s why vinyl is cool,” says R5’s Basi, “It requires more physical interaction. You have to pay attention, stop cooking breakfast and remember to flip the record over.”
And with a surface area quadruple the size of a CD case and loads larger than the tiny, eye strain-inducing screen of any iPod, a vinyl record displays album artwork like no other format. It is a reminder that music, before being a testament to the genius of handheld phones and media players, is first and foremost a piece of art.
It does seem somewhat odd that amidst a proliferation of cool, sleek, portable devices like the iPod that the record would become a viable commodity again. But it’s happening. After years of not looking back, many consumers realize that records are still an enjoyable way to bring music into their homes
It’s also comforting to know that vinyl, a once-dwindling entity on many record store shelves, is again providing local shops with revenue.
For those interested in vinyl shopping, visit any of these superb local stores:
The Beat – 1700 J St. Sacramento, CA 95811 – (916) 446-4402
Dimple Records – 2433 Arden Way Sacramento, CA 95825 – (916) 925-2600
Esoteric Records – 3413 El Camino Ave Sacramento, CA 95821 – (916) 488-8966
R5 Records – 2500 16th St. Sacramento, CA 95818 – (916) 441-2500
Records – 1618 Broadway Sacramento, CA 95818 – (916) 446-3973