Thursday, August 7, 2008

Buyers still taking vinyl records for a spin

More buyers and musicians are returning to LPs

Tom Smith, general manager of The Exclusive Co., holds vinyl LPs for sale at the Green Bay store. LPs are making something of a comeback in an era of CDs and MP3s because of their perceived sound quality and nostalgia.

But dig through a stack of vinyl LPs and you may find a vintage copy of the Rolling Stones' "Sticky Fingers," complete with a metal zipper incorporated into the cover art.

LPs — that means vinyl records to all of you kiddies out there who have known nothing other than cassettes, CDs and downloads — are seeing a resurgence.

Some buyers say they get a truer sound, while others are drawn by the lure of full-sized album art and the history of the now 60-year-old format.

Anyway you cut it, vinyl is seeing a spike in popularity.

A variety of re-issue and current vinyl LPs are available at The Exclusive Co.

While records — real, honest-to-goodness records — never really went away, The Exclusive Co. in Green Bay has seen a surge in the number of people buying — and musicians producing — music on vinyl.

"A lot of younger kids are discovering it, and it just blows away the sound of MP3, especially if it's really compressed," said Tom Smith, general manager at The Exclusive Co., 423 Dousman St.

"And vinyl is romantic. It's a connection to the history of recorded music … it's tangible and in your hands," he said. "You can smell a record."

Last year, manufacturers shipped 1.3 million vinyl LPs and EPs, a 36 percent increase from 2006, when fewer than 1 million were shipped, according to the Recording Industry Association of America. The dollar value of LPs shipped last year was just shy of $23 million, according to that organization.

Nearly 450 million CDs were sold last year, versus just less than 1 million LPs, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Based on the first three months of this year, Nielsen says vinyl album sales could reach 1.6 million for 2008.

"We never gave up on vinyl here," Smith said. "For a long time punk rock, garage rock and underground stuff really helped keep vinyl alive. Now it seems like everything is catching up with that, where people would rather buy it in vinyl."

Fox Music Co. in Watertown has been selling vinyl for the last 20 years and has an established base of collectors.

Like others, they've seen a resurgence of interest in the LP in the last year; some younger buyers who have embraced the sonic qualities of LPs, and others after full–sized cover art.

"We get a lot of people that come in to buy … the covers for framing," said owner Tina Nelson. "They just want something that looks cool on their wall."

Fox Music sells new and used LPs and CDs.

"I see a lot more people buying vinyl and of the new releases are coming out on vinyl," Nelson said. "A lot of the vinyl wasn't pressed on CD, so if you want it… that's the only way to get it."

Topping the list of artists selling in vinyl at The Exclusive Co. are The Byrds, Smith said. A glance at one of the store's displays yields a rack of Metallica's first three albums, all re-released in the form they came out in the first time: vinyl.

The Exclusive Co. carries about 700 new albums — including a Lucinda Williams album with two tracks not on the CD and a limited-edition pressing by Iggy Pop.

Vinyl fans can express their format affinity with a selection of T-shirts at The Exclusive Co.

About 5.5 percent of their music sales are vinyl. Smith said he would like to see that number increase to around 8 percent by this time next year.

"A lot of older people, everybody got swept up in the CD thing, are coming back" to LPs, he said. "We stock replacement needles and cartridges and we see a lot of people pulling their turntable out of the attic or basement and refurbishing it."

Smith said the vinyl market is helping bolster business.

"It's great to have something that's going up," he said.


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