Never-say-die format rebounds
By Laura McFarland
Rocky Mount Telegram
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
They were challenged by eight-tracks, eclipsed by tapes and compact discs and almost completely overshadowed by digital downloads.
Vinyl records have had a tough last four decades, said Eric Parson, manager of Gravity Records in Wilmington. Despite the hard times, vinyl has been experiencing a resurgence in popularity prompted by nostalgic baby boomers and teens “discovering” the old technology.
“There is a reason that, since it was introduced in the ’40s, it has never stopped being made. The sound is so good. Eight-tracks went away, cassettes went away, minidiscs went away. Vinyl is the only thing that has stuck around besides CDs, and they are definitely making less and less of those,” Parson said.
Records have been such an important part of audio history that fans nationwide will honor them today by celebrating Vinyl Record Day, said Gary Freiberg, who created the event in 2002 in California. The event was designed to honor the influence that vinyl records and their cover art have had on American culture, preserving everything from music to historic speeches to radio broadcasts.
Though buying a new or used record to enjoy would be a great way to mark Vinyl Record Day, the event is more about preservation than commerce, Freiberg said. His idea was for family and friends to gather to share the music they loved and that was important to them.
It not only would draw people closer but remind them of why records need to be preserved to be enjoyed now and by future generations, he said.
“People honor their old books, put them in a bookcase and take care of them but have their old records down in the garage getting musty,” Freiberg said.
Record sales continue to be only a small part of the music business’ overall profits, but the industry has taken notice, said Ric Culross, manager of Schoolkids Records in Raleigh. In August, music companies are publishing 403 12-inch records, either new or rereleases, compared to 3,214 CDs.
“We probably have close to $60,000 worth of new vinyl inside our store now. It ranges from Bob Dylan and Tom Waits to current groups like Sleigh Bells or M.I.A.,” Culross said.
In Rocky Mount, record fans are limited on choice. Many thrift stores offer a limited older selection to choose from.
For new music, Best Buy has been carrying about 10 to 12 albums at a time for more than a year, said Chris Combs, operations manager.
“I know that a lot of people like the feel of vinyl. Everything that was old is new again,” Combs said.
This is especially true for younger people were born during the CD and MP3 eras who have discovered vinyl and think it is cool, Freiberg said. Many became hooked by one or two records and now are finding music that is not available on any other format.
“Every record collection I believe is unique. ... Within every record collection are recordings that will never be put on a digital or downloadable format. It is just economically not feasible for companies to go back and do that,” Freiberg said.
The advent of CDs in the 1980s was a dark time for vinyl because everyone who grew up with record collections ditched them to buy CDs, which were revolutionary at the time, Freiberg said. Now, the different forms of technology can enhance each other.
Many new releases will include either a code so the buyer can download the album online or a CD copy of the album in the sleeve, Freiberg said. Some bands also offer a free 7-inch record containing extra songs with a CD purchase.
“With the new artists that are putting albums out on vinyl that appeal to younger people, potentially, younger people will be more apt to go to a record store and start discovering older releases. I think it bodes very well for the future for preservation,” he said.
Since the manufacturers had sold off or destroyed most of their vinyl presses when the medium started to wane in popularity, the only way they could have them manufactured was through custom firms, Culross said. So there is a huge amount of vinyl waiting to be pressed, he said.
“They are releasing a gauntlet of titles. The problem is, since there are so few presses now, if they don’t order enough initially for the first month’s sales, it might take weeks before you get a piece back in. There is a limited quantity of this stuff when it comes out on the street,” Culross said.