Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Groove Only Vinyl Provides

In digital age, LP sales stage big comeback

You can find 25-year-old Brandon Roth at the Wooden Nickel on North Anthony Boulevard about once a week, thumbing through the rows of brightly colored vinyl records stacked neatly throughout the store.

Usually, he scours the bins for newer vinyl – re-released classics or LPs by current artists such as the Black Keys. But he’s not above searching for lightly used Black Sabbath albums, either, he says.

“I’ve been buying vinyl for about a year,” Roth says. “I started with lots of hand-me-down stuff, mostly. Nothing I was really interested in. My mom had a bunch – country stuff from the ’70s – she said I could have but I passed on that. My thing is, I want to buy albums I can listen to the whole way through.”

There’s nothing unusual about Roth’s story – a man in his 20s buying new LPs at a record store – except that it’s taking place in 2008. In the digital age, even CDs are beginning to seem cumbersome. But young people like Roth are embracing vinyl in increasing numbers these days. And it’s the sound – not the size – they’re after.

“I used to like the popping and crackling sounds of vinyl,” Roth says. “But then I started buying newer vinyl. The new stuff sounds like a CD but better. MP3s – which I hate – sound like a car stereo with the treble all the way up and the bass all the way down. Good vinyl has a really warm sound.”

Bob Roets, owner of Wooden Nickel, says he began stocking vinyl in all of the company’s three stores several months ago after receiving a number of requests from customers. On some days, half of the sales at the North Anthony location – which houses about 8,000 vinyl titles – are from vinyl, Roets says.

Megastores such as Best Buy are also jumping on the bandwagon, offering thousands of vinyl titles online. Best Buy stores in 26 states – but not Indiana – also sell vinyl in-store.

“You’ll see a lot of stores selling new vinyl online, but not in the stores,” Roets says. “I’m more reckless. I see a trend, and I jump all over it. There’s definitely a resurgence right now.”

Roets has seen “dozens and dozens” of re-released and new vinyl come through his stores in the past year, from offerings by local bands such as Left Lane Cruiser to re-released Beach Boys albums.

Requests for vinyl were so high this summer that Roets began selling turntables in his stores. Currently, Wooden Nickel stores sell two kinds of turntables – the traditional variety that hooks up to a stereo and one that allows records to be recorded and stored in a digital format on a computer.

“I don’t know if it’s nostalgia or considered hip or cool or what,” Roets says. “But my son Andy started at Ball State (University) this year, and the one thing he wanted to take with him was a turntable. Records are really capturing young people’s imaginations right now.”

But why? Why records? Why not 8-track tapes or rotary telephones? Proponents of vinyl say the sound of a high-quality vinyl record is just better. And recording artists are taking note of this – including local artists. Streetlamps For Spotlights released a vinyl album this year, and the Swingin’ Angels and Key of Skeletons plan to in the future.

“You’re going to see a lot more of that in the near future,” says Jason Davis, owner of all-analog recording studio Off The Cuff Sound and member of Streetlamps For Spotlights. “It’s evident now that the CD is a transfer medium. But releasing an album on vinyl is like releasing the first edition hardcover copy of a book.”

Local band Graverobber also recently released a four-track EP on CD and vinyl – red vinyl, no less – recorded at local recording studio The Ensomberoom, which also offers analog mixing. The idea was the brainchild of the band’s former bassist Morrison Agen, who started buying new vinyl about two years ago.

“I think one of the primary reasons CD sales have suffered – despite MP3s – is because of the compression, which reduces the dynamic range and really takes away the life of the music. On vinyl, the sound recreation is more realistic, more natural and more dynamic, especially when you have a great sound system.”

Agen, 33, bought his first album – “Private Eyes” by Hall & Oates – at age 7. But during the mid-1990s, new vinyl releases were few and far between. Two years ago, after attending a record show in Chicago and realizing how many vinyl titles were available, he began replacing CDs with records. Last week, he purchased Elliott Smith’s posthumously released double album “New Moon” at Wooden Nickel.

“The thing people don’t realize is that CDs never replaced records,” he says. “They replaced cassettes. They were portable, convenient, hard to break. When Graverobber put out our vinyl album, we wanted people to get back into habit of buying vinyl – to support new vinyl pressings.”

But a new pressing of an album by a local band can also end up a collector’s item, Agen says.

When Memphis artist Jay Reatard played at The Brass Rail in October, a few of Agen’s friends drove from Chicago just to see the show and buy vinyl albums – full length and 7-inch – from Reatard himself.

“I bought three of his full-length records directly from him,” Agen says. “Bands aren’t just carrying around CDs now. They’re selling vinyl at shows. It’s been so long since I’ve seen that.”

[Journal Gazette]

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