In an effort to start out 2016 with a positive, forward looking attitude towards music listening, we thought we should address some of the concerns we’ve heard from others regarding the recent resurgence of vinyl sales. There has been a very clear shift towards vinyl records in the past couple years, and we feel it has finally reached a fever pitch. This would all seem like a positive for music and music lovers, but we know there are a lot of long time vinyl shoppers that are scratching their heads about all of this. So, we’re going to address some of the more common complaints and concerns we’ve heard from others, as well as offer some reassuring words about the positive aspects to this new/old trend.
Why Is Everyone All Of A Sudden Into Vinyl?! I’ve Been Into It For Years!
There is something frustrating about having an interest that is often met with jokes, sneers and even some hostility, only for that interest to become de rigueur, with little to no credit being given for your foresight. This is how trends work. Trends change with rising tides of self awareness. We’ll all jump on board for the next big thing, until we look around the room and realize that everyone is now into that thing, and we have lost our sense of individuality. So we go looking for some other form of uniqueness to incorporate. This uniqueness is often found on the fringes of social society, in the far reaches of high school lunch time parking lot gangs, dirty bars and clubs and record stores. Even though we borrow and re-appropriate these styles and customs, our egos often won’t allow us to give credit where credit is due. We jump into our wagons and claim we’ve been there all along. If you’re one of the few who actually has been there all along, I see no problem in silently enjoying a little pride in your interest taking hold of the general public. Sure, you’re not getting credit, but good on you for being ahead of the curve. I can’t tell you why vinyl is trending, but let’s just chalk it up to you being right all along.
If Vinyl Is Now A “Trend,” Doesn’t That Mean It Will Die Off?
To address this, in regards to vinyl, it is just as important to examine the concept of timelessness as it is the idea of trends. Trends do come and go, but often only the ones that lack quality and substance. Things like denim jeans, asian food and democracy all started out as trends, but they have held their own for many years, and will probably continue to for many to come. People listen to vinyl for a number of reasons, and yes, some of those reasons might be based more on social pressures, but as anyone who has listened to vinyl for some time can tell you, you get so much more out of your listening experience than the sense of identity or “cool points” that come along with it. It’s about an experience and often one that is personal and positive. This is what makes something timeless.
Won’t It Be Harder For Me To Find What I’m Looking For?
Remember when you used to go the thrift store and find Beatles records? Or when you could buy a box of records for $5 bucks and it was full of gems? This was a good time for record shoppers. However, much of your shopping was left to chance. If you had something you were looking for, you just had to search high and low till you found it. This is all about supply and demand. There wasn’t much demand for used vinyl after the advent of CDs and MP3s, so the supply was a bit scattered. As demand rises, you find more and more record stores working to supply you with quality records that are treated with care and not thrown into a box on a sidewalk. Sure, more people are buying records now, but the supply is being replenished by people realizing their records might be worth a few bucks. From our end, it seems to be balancing itself out. We just came out of one of our busiest seasons yet, and we were surprised with how we were able to keep stock on so many popular used titles. It seemed for every person who came in to buy a certain artist, we were met with someone selling an album by that artist.
Isn’t This Driving Up The Cost Of Vinyl?
I recently read an article in LA Weekly about how the popularity of vinyl is raising the price of some of your favorite albums and how that’s taking all the fun out of shopping for vinyl. Yes, it is true that some records will cost you a bit more than they used to, but let’s examine the reason behind this. I stated before that record shopping was more a game of chance in the past. People with vinyl didn’t see the value that you saw, so they priced it to move. Now that all the news stations and publications are running stories about the resurgence of vinyl, everyone thinks they have a goldmine in their attic. So from our end (as a record store), we see a lot of collections come through in various conditions. The upside to this is that we get to hold out for good quality. We can pass on a scratched up copy of the White Album, because we’re sure to see one in great condition in the near future, and we’re going to pay a little bit more for this record. Now, we try to keep our prices as low as possible. The challenge is in pricing it so we’re not constantly bought out by private sellers and other stores, where they will be able to hike up the price. This is basically how a free market works. So, how is this better for you? Well, the record stores are doing all the leg work. You’re paying that little bit extra to walk into a store FILLED with exceptional music in great condition. You no longer have to listen to scratched up records because they were the only ones you could find. Because the market is flooded with used records, many of those albums you were looking for are still priced very low. Our used vinyl is still priced, on average, between $3.99 and $6.99. We haven’t had to raise the price of everything because so much of it is now easy to find. I don’t see records as costing more than they should. I just think we were so spoiled for so long. I’ll use the analogy of the Wurlitzer Electric Piano in the 80s. Stay with me. In the 80s when synths were all the rage, you could buy an old Wurlitzer Electric Piano for $100, because no one was using them. Now that same keyboard will cost you over six hundred bucks. I don’t think anyone who appreciates this instrument would argue that this is too much to pay for this instrument. It’s just more popular now. There is a sense that we were getting away with something when we could buy it for so cheap. Now it just costs what it should cost.
Why Should I Be Excited?
Let’s explore this idea of the Wurlitzer Electric piano a bit more. (For those of you who may not be familiar with this instrument, listen to the intro to Ray Charles’ “What I Say,” or Grizzly Bear’s “Two Weeks” and you’ll recognize it right away.) So, it used to be that you could buy this instrument for next to nothing. The reason for this is that nobody was using them! Mostly everyone had switched to synths and digital sounds. Now, if you were a Wurlitzer enthusiast in the 80s, you may enjoy the benefits of a lower price tag, but chances are, you’re not finding much in the way of new and exciting music that fits your taste. If bands aren’t using this instrument and the sounds it produces, they will most likely not be hitting that aesthetic you enjoy. Cut to the late 90s/early 2000s and the resurgence of 60s and 70s rock and soul, with bands like the White Stripes, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, The Flaming Lips, and a whole slew of bands rocking that garage, psyched out sound, often played through a Wurlitzer or other vintage instruments. The price of that Wurlitzer just went up a few hundred dollars. But you know what else grew exponentially? Your music collection! You now have a community of musicians and music lovers that share your enthusiasm for a certain sound. You can’t put a price on that.
So how does this apply to vinyl records? I strongly believe that the way we collectively experience music affects the music that is created in our time. If you are not a musician, pretend for a moment that you are. Much of your inspiration comes from listening to other artists. You will pull ideas from the music you enjoy and create something new from those ideas. Now, how much you get from the music you listen to depends a lot on how much attention you are giving it. This has always been my problem with digital music. The inherent convenience of it all doesn’t lend itself to attentive listening. We can have our music at anytime and anyplace. Since it’s so available, we then rely on the convenience of streaming services to choose our music for us. We can now go about our business without a thought to the things that are being fed to us. This isn’t the case for the vinyl listener. Listening to a record requires so much from you, that you have already programmed your mind and body to sit and listen, attentively. Naturally, you are going to get so much more out of this listening experience, and as a musician, you will then put that much more into your own work. I won’t name any names, but I strongly feel that the trends in music have been rapidly moving towards “white noise” for some time now. I’m not implying that this music is bad in any way. I believe that if someone finds something good, it is…good. But, instead of art being influenced by art, it is being influenced by convenience. When we associate music with something that accompanies our day to day activities, we have essentially turned it into background noise. If the trend is turning towards vinyl over digital music, I feel very strongly that more people will engage in active, attentive listening. Many of these people may go on to create their own music, and if they have absorbed that much more from their albums, it certainly could serve to yield some amazing results. Like the Wurlitzer enthusiast, wouldn’t you trade this sense of obscurity for a world in which your interests can be shared with others and you can all share in the fruits of a collective interest?
I, for one, am excited that people are turning towards vinyl records. Sure, many people may just be jumping on the bandwagon, but if that serves to create more people who truly care for their music, all the better. Music is a very personal thing and it can seem a bit strange when others seem to be moving into your territory. However, music is also the one language we can all speak. The more people speaking that language, the more we can find in common with each other.
I hope this year is full of amazing tunes and a growing collection of records you can enjoy alone and with others. Maybe you and your friends can throw some listening parties and let us know how they go!
Happy New Year!