Audiophiles getting their groove back with vinyl records
VINCENNES, Ind. (AP) – Amy Lane grew up listening to the sultry sounds of blues emanating from her parents’ record player, albums from the likes of The Moody Blues and Iron Butterfly producing soundtrack to her youth.
She carried those memories warmly into adulthood and with it a love of vinyl records even still.
“That’s all we played – records,” she said. “Of course, I grew up with cassettes, but we still always had vinyl at home.
“I remember, my mom had a big collection of Beatles albums in vinyl. So, yeah, records have just always been a part of my life.”
First introduced in the 1940s, vinyl records dominated the music industry for decades. But as technology changed, so too, did the way people listened.
Vinyl records turned into 8-track tapes and then cassette tapes. Then analog music was converted into a digital format.
CDs, for a long time, took over, but now music can be downloaded or streamed directly from a digital device in a matter of seconds.
But when Lane’s 20-year-old daughter, a student at Purdue University, asked recently for her own record player, she knew music had finally come full circle.
“Things just sound better on vinyl,” Lane said. “My daughter, her friends are starting to listen to records in their college dorm. It’s the new thing to do.
“I’ve always had an interest in that retro feel of vinyl,” she said, “and now this (young) generation does, too, it seems.”
Vinyl records accounted for 14 percent of all physical album sales in 2017, the highest in a steady 12-year climb, according to a report issued by Billboard Music. Vinyl sales totaled more than $14 million last year, up from $13 million the year before.
And the format continues to increase, year after year, especially as both new and classic albums are released on vinyl. Promotions from major retailers like Amazon, Urban Outfitters and Barnes & Noble have fueled growth as has vinyl-oriented celebrations like Record Store Day.
Celebrated on April 21 this year, Rick Patterson, owner of The Record Cellar at 427 Main St., said he had a line of about 70 people waiting to get in. Record companies released 500 specialty albums just for that day, Patterson said, some of them previously never sold on vinyl.
There was also a re-issue of The Rolling Stones’ “Satanic Majesties,” and a Tom Waits’ album not available on vinyl for more than 40 years.
There was “new stuff, old stuff,” Patterson said, even a scratch-and-sniff Cheech and Chong album released in celebration of Record Store Day.
“There was a lot of unique stuff that you won’t possibly find again – or maybe haven’t ever found – in 30 or 40 years,” he said.
The traffic through his store, he said, was steady throughout the day, resulting in one of his best revenue-producing days of the year. There were teenagers – even a 10-year-old – searching alongside adults and even the elderly.
“It was really cool to see that younger age group interested in vinyl,” Patterson said. “Because it’s those young kids that are stimulating vinyl’s growth again.
“And the quality now is superb to anything else out there.”
Once a rarity, there are now 13 vinyl pressing plants spread throughout the country.
“That’s the most plants we’ve ever had in the U.S. Period,” Patterson said.
And many of them, he said, are running months behind as new artists continually bump up the number of vinyl records they produce when releasing a new album.
Years ago, Patterson, an avid lover of vinyl himself, only had a crate full of old records for sale in his store. Today, he has an entire room dedicated to records and record players.
“It’s all about the quality and the idea of having something you can physically hold in your hand,” he said. “It’s the whole package, the recording process, the art on the inside covers.
“It’s just better.”
The reason vinyl records most often offer a better quality of sound, Patterson explained, is because the pressing of the record itself is the sound in its purest form. Sound, by very definition, is analog.
A digital recording, however, takes snapshots of the original analog signal. So the digital recording doesn’t capture the complete sound wave. Some sounds that have very quick transitions, such as a drum beat or a trumpet’s tone, will often be distorted because they change too quickly for the rate of recording.
“So when it comes off the press, it is what it is,” Patterson said of a vinyl record. “It’s of the best, highest quality. It’s not being converted to digital or transferred over the air.
“You lose part of the song content when downloaded digitally to a computer,” he said. “You don’t get all the instruments, the depth of the music.
“You only get whatever that narrow bandwidth is going to give you.”
Patterson likened analog’s transition into digital as that of holding a straw underneath a water facet and turning the water on full blast. The amount of water that comes through the straw is a fraction of what is coming out of the faucet above.
“So if you like music – really like music – vinyl is really the best way to listen.”
Jay Bolinger traveled to The Record Cellar for Record Store Day from his home in Sullivan. A collector of vinyl for more than 30 years, he has about 2,000 albums. His most prized, a copy of Duke Ellington’s Big 4 stamped to vinyl live in studio.
“If it’s done well, it sounds better than a CD,” he said as he sifted through wooden crates of album covers. “They’re going back to that original audiology and re-releasing it on vinyl. And done analog like that, it sounds fantastic.”
Bill Samm of Evansville also traveled to Vincennes for Record Store Day to search for treasures on vinyl.
“I have about 1,000 CDs, 300 records,” he said as he perused. “I grew up with albums and vinyl. And some stuff you can only get on vinyl these days.
“These hipsters are giving it a comeback.”
And the sound quality, Patterson said, just gets better and better as the popularity of vinyl continues to grow. Jack White, the lead singer and guitarist of The White Stripes, opened his own pressing plant in downtown Detroit last year to help keep up with demand.
“Even the first Record Store Day 11 years ago, I knew – I knew something was changing,” Patterson said. “And it’s just grown ever since.”