Reviving Vinyl Records


By Michele Bacigalupo

Photo courtesy of Kenny Louie.

Within the past year alone, the vinyl record industry has declared a major revival with tremendous leaps in sales. Data collected by Nielsen Soundscan reports over 9.2 million vinyl records sold in the US in 2014–a 52 percent increase from the year before. Both Jack White’s Lazaretto and the Arctic Monkey’s AM surpassed The Beatles’ Abbey Road in terms of revenue earned from a single-title vinyl album release.

One day of the year where vinyl sales are sure to soar is Record Store Day, celebrated annually on the third Saturday of April. The event first began in 2008 at Rasputin Music in San Francisco. Since its inauguration, Record Store Day has spread rapidly around the globe. There are now participating record stores on every continent except Antarctica.

Fans expect Record Store Day to be packed with goodies–including special releases, live performances, and other promotions. Last year Jack White made headlines by turning out the “world’s fastest released record.” In the early hours of April 19, 2014, White recorded a live version of the title track off his album Lazaretto in Nashville. The pressed seven-inch was then delivered to the store Third Man Records ready to be sold three hours and 55 minutes after being recorded.

The marketing ploy proved successful for sales. When the full Lazaretto LP was released in June, more than 40,000 copies were sold within the first week.

Among its year end reports, Billboard released a graph detailing the five biggest vinyl retailers in the US for 2014. Amazon held the top spot, with 12.3 percent of vinyl sales. Urban Outfitters, with 8.1 percent, didn’t fall far behind.

While these statistics certainly bode well for the future of records, it has become necessary for manufacturers to expand in order to meet the influx of demand. In the US, there are only 16 vinyl press plants currently in operation. Many are forced to use outdated machinery to turn out product as quickly as possible. United Record Pressing–which pressed White’s Lazaretto–plans to open a second pressing plant later this year.

BTR spoke with Jon Lambert, general manager of Princeton Record Exchange in New Jersey, about the revival of the vinyl industry. He expresses satisfaction with the dramatic change in customer base.

Photo courtesy of Szapucki.

“Our age demographic has been shifting downwards, which is really exciting,” Lambert explains. “Five or 10 years ago, it was mostly guys ages 25-50 buying vinyl. We’re seeing a lot of young folk, a lot of females in stores. It’s a lot more evenly distributed audience now. We’re finding teenagers and people in their early 20s shopping for new vinyl. It’s a new generation of customers.”

He mentions the biggest draw in making a vinyl purchase is the sound quality: “There’s an argument to be made that vinyl has a richer tone to it. It more closely mimics the way music actually sounds.”

The physical presentation of a record also holds great appeal for customers.

“A vinyl album is more a piece of art or an artifact. There’s also the ritualistic aspect. When you’re playing a record, it’s almost like a tea ceremony. It’s a more involved experience,” Lambert says.

Additionally, he remarks that Record Store Day is “an incredible phenomenon.”

“If you had told me 10 years ago that I was going to have 300 people waiting in line to come into the store, I would have laughed in your face. I never thought crowd control would be part of my job.”

He says that preparation for the annual event is a “challenging, labor-intensive process.”

“We have a committee go through each title and try to anticipate what the demand will be for each year.”

In terms of how vinyl has managed to survive all the cultural shifts in the music industry over the years, Lambert states, “Vinyl reproduction of music–if you have a quality needle and take care of your records–will sound good forever. It will stand the test of time.”