Photo by Linda Read Deeds
Vintage vinyl at the Juke Box.
Photo by George Lauby
Photo by Linda Read Deeds
Max Contreras looks over the selection at the Juke Box.
Just take those old records off the shelf. Vinyl recordings are staging a comeback in the iPod age.Generation Y has discovered what vinyl purists have claimed all along – “today’s music ain’t got the same soul.” Recorded in analog, vinyl has a “warmer,” more resonant sound than compressed digital CDs and downloads, enthusiasts say.
Old LPs, until recently favored only by indie music collectors and diehard audiophiles, are suddenly looking good again.
Turntables are turning up in stores or being dug out of dusty boxes in Dad’s garage. Classic rock bands such as Black Flag and Metallica have re-issued vinyl albums for a new generation.
The vinyl revival is sweet music to the ears of some diehard boomers, who have held on for years.
Phil Contreras, owner of Golden Creations in North Platte, still has his old vinyl records, but “not as many as I’d like,” he said.
Years ago, Contreras had to rescue his treasured albums from his wife’s garage sale. Like others, he cites the “warmer” sound of vinyl. “I even like a little static,” he said. And now his son Max, 11, has become a collector, too.
Contreras isn’t alone. Mention vinyl and someone will be sure to confess their closet collection.
“I have all our original records,” LynnDee Nielson of North Platte said, “probably a couple of hundred.” Nielson, too, likes “the pops and crackles.”
“The sound is real, not synthesized,” she said. “It seems closer.”
Experts agree. In a 2007 Wired interview, Chris Ashworth, owner of United Records Pressing, said analog data would always be superior.
“The digital world will never get there,” he said.
And sound isn’t the only attraction for Generation Y, as Nielson, an artist, pointed out.
“Half the reason I still have the albums is the great artwork on the covers,” Nielson said. Long liner notes and posters with the albums also connect the artist to the fans.
And, unlike plugged-in iPods, the music can be shared. Over and over. Nielson remembered coddling worn records. “We would take a dime or a nickel to weight the arm so the needle wouldn’t skip,” she said, smiling at the memory.
The vinyl bandwagon
Not to be left on the shelf themselves, hundreds of current artists such as U2, Gnarls Barkley and Coldplay are releasing vinyl 7- and 12-inch formats simultaneously with CDs. Some include coupons that allow downloading MP3 versions.
In a business where sales of CDs have fallen faster than you can say “illegal download,” it’s a hopeful trend. Almost 1 million vinyl albums were reported sold in 2007, and sales are increasing.
Although vinyl is considered about two percent of the market to date, with unreported sales at small independent record shops, flea markets and garage sales, the numbers are hard to tally.
A quick check of North Platte turned up only one source for vinyl records. The Juke Box, an independent record shop downtown on Fifth Street, has been in business since 1991. Owner Michael Paul buys and sells vintage vinyl, as well as CDs and cassette tapes.
“Vinyl is picking up,” he said, “both adults and young kids buy it.”
Paul said sales would increase if he could keep longer hours. “I try to be open from 4-6 p.m., if I’m not working my other job,” he said. “I need a partner.”
Interest spurs industry
Responding to the demand, last October Amazon.com created a vinyl-only section online, stocked with new cuts of titles, re-issues and a selection of turntables. The biggest sellers are alternative rock, with classic rock close behind.
And when Warner Brothers’ vinyl reissue of the first two Metallica albums sold thousands of copies, Warner’s took heed. Their Web site, becausesoundmatters.com, is devoted to vinyl.
Collectors also weigh in. Browsing eBay turned up a 40-piece, sealed, analog collection of Bob Dylan albums pressed in 200-gram vinyl – 180-gram is high grade -- with an asking price of $1,799.
And if you have an autographed copy of Beck’s “Steve Threw Up,” around, you might start a college fund for the kids. It is offered at a reported $2,400.
With the younger generation reviving vinyl, there’s no need to “sit and listen to ‘em by myself,” as Bob Seger once sang. In the age of iPod earplugs, what could be more revolutionary that gathering around a turntable, sharing the music?
As an area classic rock station says, “This is not your parents’ rock and roll -- oh, wait a minute! Yes, it is!” And it’s even on vinyl.
“That’s a joy to us,” Bunnell said. Independent record shops have an edge on authentic old LPs, which chain stores can’t carry.
It’s a competitive industry, and indie stores have to stock thousands of titles. That requires an intimate knowledge of the music catalog by buyers. There were 28,000 releases in 2007 alone, Bunnell said.
Trend for vinyl good for indie stores
“Young people are buying a lot of vinyl, and it’s selling a lot at indie stores,” music writer Michael Deeds said. “At The Record Exchange, they originally took vinyl racks and converted them to CD racks. Now they are taking the same racks and converting them back to vinyl.” He laughed. “It’s crazy.”
The trend for vinyl is especially good for independent record stores, according to Michael Deeds. A 1986 NPHS grad and the son of this writer, Deeds is the senior entertainment writer and pop music critic at the Idaho Statesman in Boise. His work has also been printed in the Washington (D.C.) Post.
Deeds said record shops were nearly wiped out, first by the big box stores, which played a leading role in reducing sales in the industry, and then the Internet.
“The big electronic chains really hurt indie stories by stocking all the CDs, using them as a loss leader,” Deeds said. “They trained a generation that the music was not worth the money. Now they are phasing down their selections, and turning their backs on the industry.”
Deeds’ comments came during a radio show called “The Other Studio,” which he co-hosts in Boise. The show is sponsored by The Record Exchange, a 7,000-square-foot independent record shop, founded 30 years ago by owner Michael Bunnell.
The shop has seen vinyl come and go -- and come again.
(This report was published Aug. 6 in the Bulletin print edition.)