Newspapers are shrinking, flip phones are disappearing, and vinyl records are back.
Though they aren’t going to replace digital music, records are in hot enough demand for major electronics companies to have started making old-fashioned turntables again.
Adam Martin was recently scouring the record bins at the Grooves and Tubes shop in Centerville, Pa., searching for some rare finds.
“There is a much warmer sound with albums compared to digital downloads,” says Martin, 28, a paralegal who lives in Greenville, Pa. “It’s the sound that the artists intended when they recorded their music.”
Martin adds, “I think the way music has been consumed has been so instant and immediate that there is now a backlash by young people. … It’s about making music tangible, enjoying the whole experience.”
A quarter of a century ago, vinyl LPs began their decline in popularity as the general public crossed over to CDs. However, CDs have lost significant ground to digital downloads and the rising use of streaming services such as Pandora and Spotify. Meanwhile, vinyl is in vogue once again. About a dozen pressing plants have sprouted up across the country, servicing many recording companies that are releasing freshly pressed issues of all types of music. And many vinyl retailers are also doing well.
The Indie Experience
At Grooves and Tubes, some 2,000 albums are stacked floor to ceiling. You want it, owner Gerald Young either has it or will track it down. The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, Led Zeppelin, jazz, the blues, some classical music, the 1940s Big Bands and show tunes — all music on used, long-play (LP) records, tucked into their original jackets.
An electrical engineer at the former Chrysler plant in Newark, Young, 60, took an early buy-out in 2008 and, six months later, opened the record shop.
“I always dabbled in (music) electronics and collecting records, so I decided to give the shop a try,” says Young. “It took a while for the business to gain traction, but then it took off. Our biggest sellers are classic rock from the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, then jazz, R&B, and soul.”
Vinyl’s comeback is one of the few bright spots in music sales. According to the Recording Industry Association of America, total sales in physical formats like CDs (as opposed to downloads and streaming) plummeted to $898 million in the first half of 2014, a 14 percent drop when compared with the first half of the previous year. While vinyl records account for only 16 percent of that category, their sales shot up 43 percent to $146 million. Sales of vinyl LPs have grown each year since 2006. Unit sales in 2013 reached 6.1 million, the highest level since 1991, according to Nielsen Co.’s SoundScan.
Amazon.com reports that its vinyl sales have soared 745 percent since 2008. National retail chains like Best Buy, Urban Outfitters and even Whole Foods now carry vinyl in some of their stores across the country.
Young, whose personal record collection at his Chadds Ford, Pa., home hovers around 1,000, has never lost faith in vinyl records, or the accompanying turntables and accessories that he sells at his shop. When he first started the business, Young was regularly on the hunt at flea markets or digging through garages. With his business well established, he now acquires a majority of the inventory from people who bring their cache of records right to him, often due to downsizing.
Groove and Tubes’ records range in price from $5 to $35 for vintage albums, plus there are dollar bins where gems from long ago regularly turn up.
A part-time guitar teacher, Doug O’Donnell stops by the shop a couple of times a week.
“Over the last couple of years, I’ve become a bit obsessive, bought hundreds of records,” says O’Donnell, 37, of Coatesville, Pa. “I look for off-beat stuff, so I never know when something will catch my eye.”
A More Visceral Sound
Young says vinyl records produce a more natural sound that is warm and pleasing to the ear. “Digital downloads and CDs can produce listening fatigue. With records, there is a three-dimensional aspect to it. It’s an easier way to listen to music.”
Young adds, “I also think it’s a reflection of society and culture today where you see this interest in handmade crafts, microbreweries, the artisanal restaurants, the whole foodie culture. Records are another aspect people are experiencing today in the digital age. That’s why I think records are having a resurgence.”
A regular customer at Grooves and Tubes, Adam Martin says vinyl’s appeal is a more visceral sound — even the occasional pops and surface noise that lend themselves to the history of the record.
“I think the connection to the music is very much enhanced when you actually physically get up, pick up an album, place it on a turntable, and drop the needle on the vinyl,” Martin says. “You have to make the effort, so I think it’s a much more engaging process than launching a music-streaming program on your computer.”
When flipping through racks of LPs at Grooves and Tubes, Martin often gravitates toward album cover imagery that catches his eye. He says that playing the record and exploring the album package at home is a great stress reliever. He studies the artwork and reads the liner notes and lyrics.
“It’s really something of a storybook experience,” Martin explains. “By exploring the album in its entirety, you are immersing yourself in what the musicians intended when the record was first released. The iconic artwork, all the stories within the story. You can really appreciate the effort that went into producing not only the music, but the whole creative experience of these amazing albums. It’s all fantastic.”
While digital files satisfy the desire for a music lover’s convenience, true audiophiles want a bigger, better sound that only vinyl delivers. Young believes the current trend has legs.
“I think the popularity will continue to escalate,” he says. “I don’t believe vinyl is going anywhere.”