Viva La Vinyl
Record collecting is enjoying a new renaissance; everyone's queuing up for vinyl. How about you?
Before there were streaming services, MP3s, CDs, or even the cassette player or the 8-track tape, vinyl was music’s common currency. Once ruling the music industry with its warm sounds that erupted from speakers at the drop of a needle, vinyl and the long-playing record (or LP for short) is making a comeback. So retro that it’s now hip, record collectors, shops, shows, players and clubs are springing up like mushrooms. Now you, too, can feel the groove (literally) that had music lovers spinning right ‘round for decades.
Some have called its return a revival, some call it a resurgence, others say it never left, but no matter the stance, one can agree that vinyl is ubiquitous. Even big name retailers such as Target, Urban Outfitters and Whole Foods are getting in on the action, carrying curated collections of records geared toward those interested in queuing up and creating their own memories.
Truth be told, vinyl never actually left. Before the spike in sales circa 2008 that had new collectors clamoring for records like re-pressings of The Beatles’ Abbey Road and Michael Jackson’s Thriller, as well as Radiohead’s pay-what-you-want 2008 release of In Rainbows, vinyl survived in the underground music world, living in the veins of niche collectors, DJs and the nostalgic.
In today’s digital world, records are fast becoming king. Some speculate it’s because we’re returning to the tangible and crafted, opting for the warmth, richness and nostalgia that comes with vinyl over the cold, narrow compression of CDs and digital files. According to Nielsen SoundScan, an information and sales tracking system, the interest in vinyl is steadily on the rise, having grown an impressive 260 percent in sales since 2009, making it the fastest growing form of media consumption since the attack of the CD in the 1980s.
And it doesn’t show signs of stopping. Last year, vinyl sales totaled 9.2 million, up from 6.1 million in 2013. Sales in just the first three months of 2015 alone are 53 percent higher than the same time last year. Although physical album sales are down with CDs suffering the most, vinyl, on the other hand, continues to thrive. The numbers might never reach what they were in its heyday, but the numbers still signal a change.
Here in Kansas City the record’s return is palpable. It’s been a slow, but steady resurgence, marked by the recent addition of record shops such as Records with Merritt and Boss Vintage Shop to the KC record store family, bringing the city’s total to seven. National events like Record Store Day, which was created in 2008, and pop-up record shops, which foster a sense of community that one can never get with Amazon or iTunes, are increasing in popularity.
Sherman Breneman at vinyl underground
In April, vinyl lovers young and old wrapped around KC’s record stores in anticipation of Record Store Day, camping out to get their hands on the newest and most exclusive releases and re-pressings. “Sales have definitely increased,” says Sherman Breneman, record collector and supervisor at the Vinyl Underground at 7th Heaven. “The record stores have never completely disappeared. But Record Store Day was the best day this store has had in 30 years. So as far as sales and people’s interests, that type of resurgence is definitely happening. I think people like having physical media. They like having the album covers, the artwork, the liner notes, just the feel of the record, of course the superior sound. But I think some of it is nostalgia; the people who had records are getting them again. Their kids remember their parents playing records. They want that same experience.”
Sure, Kansas City might have fewer record stores than it did in the golden age of vinyl (who could forget long gone, but not forgotten local gems like Caper’s Corner, The Music Exchange, and even franchises like Recycled Sounds and Peaches?), but there’s something to be said about the growing scene of the new generation brick-and-mortar stores in KC and their finger on the music pulse here.
Even Dallas-based record store Josey Records has noticed KC’s vinyl scene, choosing to open its second location in the Kansas City Crossroads District in June as opposed to opening another closer to home. The first of KC’s new generation of record stores to not be locally owned, Josey packs 60,000 records and CDs into the 6,500 square-foot building, where they’ll also host live music, local art and a curated selection of local beers.
Yes, indeed, vinyl is alive and well.
But just who is the driving force behind the vinyl resurgence? Surprisingly, a much younger crowd than one would expect. A study done by MusicWatch found that the face of vinyl is not that of a balding, middle-aged man, but listeners like me, who are 35 and younger. Just young enough to have been exposed to vinyl thanks to our parents, we new audiophiles are striking up our own love affair with vinyl and are responsible for 72 percent of all vinyl sales.
Some listeners, like Dustin Mott, 34, a music teacher and drummer for local bands The Lucky and the Waldo Jazz Collective, found their way to vinyl by way of friends. “When I was 19, I had friends that were record collectors from when they were ages 15 and 16, and they were inspired by some older punk guys they used to hang out with who collected records. So it’s this tradition of someone that you admire has a collection, and you like music too, so you start doing it.”
Another reason for the pique in vinyl interests is because records themselves have evolved. Far from the shellac black 12” and 7”s we remember, vinyl has essentially become an art form: from the intricate album and gatefold art, to the plethora of colors, designs and features found on the records themselves.
Renegade musician and former White Stripes band member Jack White produced Lazaretto on vinyl in 2014. It was not only the bestselling vinyl album of the year with 94,000 albums sold, but also broke the records for sales since Nielsen SoundScan last tracked sales in 1991. This is just one example of how far vinyl has come. Lazaretto’s ultra LP format entices listeners with “never-before done” features such as hand-etched holograms that float above the record, hidden tracks under the label, dual-groove technology that plays an acoustic or electric intro to the track “Just One Drink” and more.
New Age vinyl offers the best of both worlds, often packaged with not only the record, but also a digital download of the album (and sometimes a 45 of B-sides), enabling the owner to put it on their phone, burn it to a CD or even share it with others.
It’s not uncommon, though, for records to have special features. Take The Beatles’ iconic 1967 Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, for example, which features a locked groove on the inside edge of the record, or even new wave New Zealand band Split Enz’s True Colours from 1980, which glints like a CD when played, full of geometric shapes and rainbow colors. Bands have been doing adding personal touches for years, which makes records not only collectible, but also an experience.
Mott, who owns between 1,300 to 1,500 records, recalls, “This great band that I love from Canada, called Godspeed You! Black Emperor (F Sharp A Sharp Infinity), they include…this cool art that looks like blueprints to make something. You can’t get this stuff when you get a CD because it won’t fit in the packaging. And when you get records, it’s large enough that it can contain posters and neat stuff like that.”
There are classical albums, Mott recounts, that contain booklets filled with history of what was going on when the music was composed, giving the listener a glimpse into the life of the composer and ultimately a better listening experience and an appreciation for what they hear.
Even in its inconvenience, vinyl is convenient. It requires listeners who are always on the go and tethered to the portability of audio files to slow down, experience the music, experience the personality each record has and immerse themselves in all its trappings.
But the biggest change in vinyl, according to Breneman, who has been collecting records since he was 8, is the availability of current music in a vinyl format again. “I know that the new Modest Mouse is coming out on Tuesday. I can go to a record store, and I can pick it up on vinyl that day,” he says. “And I can take it home, and I can listen to it just like everybody else and hear it the way it was meant to be heard. I think that’s a big change.”
In addition to these new albums being released on vinyl, some classics and first presses are being re-pressed so newcomers can get their hands on albums they might have missed, and record companies can get in on the sales.
For those interested in starting a record collection, but unsure where to start, there’s a subscription for that. Not your mom’s record club, subscription clubs like the Boulder, Colorado-based Vinyl Me, Please; and the new VNYL (funded by KickStarter) take the hassle out of the search for a price. Newcomer VNYL, dubbed the “Netflix of vinyl” is a record club where members choose a vibe like #rainyday or #danceparty, and a member of the VNYL team curates three records they best feel represents each vibe. Vinyl Me, Please sends subscribers a personally curated album they deem “essential to any vinyl collection” once a month, along with a paired drink recipe, original artwork, and a write-up about the album. Record labels like Feedbands and Jack White’s Third Man Records offer subscriptions so listeners can be introduced to new or independent artists. But if you’re looking for the cheaper route, try the dollar bins at your neighborhood record store. There’s a gem just waiting to be plucked.
Hot Vinyl Picks
Dustin Mott, record collector, music teacher and drummer for local bands The Lucky and the Waldo Jazz Collective
On his first albums:
“The first three records I purchased were from Recycled Sounds, where Clint’s Comics is now. They were Marvin Gaye’s Anthology, the Rolling Stones’ greatest hits called Hot Rocks 1964-1971, and Curtis Mayfield’s Super Fly. I remember buying all three, and the cashier looked at them and looked at me and said, ‘What are you trying to do? Court a woman?’”
On the perfect albums:
“Basie Straight Ahead by Count Basie Big Band, Aenima by Tool and OK Computer by Radiohead. I listened to these albums enough to wear down the grooves on them.”
Sherman Breneman, record collector and supervisor of Vinyl Underground at 7th Heaven
On his first albums:
“The very first record that I bought was Hall & Oates’ Rich Girl 45, a picture sleeve. And I still have it. I don’t have a lot of 45s, but I stuck with that one.”
On the perfect albums:
“Ryan Adams’ Heartbreaker, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, and The Who, Who’s Next. Those are ones you could listen to every single day and never get tired of.”
On life-changing albums:
“I bought Patti Smith’s Horses at a flea market just because I like Robert Mapplethorpe the photographer, and I recognized that that was his work. I was like, ‘Oh, he took the cover picture. I’m going to take that home.’ So I took it home, put it on, and the second the needle dropped it changed everything for me. I went back and bought all the rest of her albums. It was definitely a complete game changer for everything that I listen to still to this day.”
Spin This! Where to Score Vinyl in KC
1415 W. 39th St., Kansas City, Mo.
7932 Santa Fe Drive, Overland Park, Kan.
1208 W. 39th St., Kansas City, Mo.
Love Garden Sounds
822 Massachusetts St., Lawrence, Kan.
Mills Record Company
314 Westport Road, Kansas City, Mo.
The Vinyl Underground at 7th Heaven
7621 Troost Ave., Kansas City, Mo.
Records with Merritt
1614 Westport Road, Kansas City, Mo.
Boss Vintage Shop
1214 McGee St., Kansas City, Mo.
1814 Oak St., Kansas City, Mo.