The Vinyl Revival

*Sing this* “You say you want a revolution, well, you know, we all want to change the world.” This year it’s all fire and brimstone politicking, mudslinging and how someone’s going to make us great again. I thought we were actually pretty good, police reform and ending the war on drugs aside. All that being said we get so caught up in progress, social, technological, hell if we don’t have the newest iWhatever with the iOS update, well it’s all going to come tumbling down isn’t it. Collectively we’re currently entertaining the notion that somethings may be worth hanging onto. As this next generation of Americans put down the Spotify and dust off Mom and Dad’s vinyl collection, the next great vinyl pandemic has occurred and it’s friggin awesome.

We’re hitting the record stores instead of thepiratebay.se and I think, it’s really about tangibility; and album art!!! On the cover of Queen’s 1977 release of News of the World, It’s the Frank Kelly Freas giant Robot holding up the limp body’s of the band members pleading  “Pleasefix it, Daddy?” It’s real! Hell you could frame it and put it on your wall!

Vinyl can connect us, Vinyl can heal us. In a fractured and disconnected world where social medial has reigned supreme and bolstered our inner narcissists. The cold sterile world of trading hard drives and sharing Soundcloud playlists is finally being challenged by that one contender that has never really left us; circa 1888 Emile Berliner and still running strong. The commercial introduction of the Long Play Record was in 1948 by Columbia Records. After an extended face off between them and RCA Victor starting in 1931 in regards to formats, Columbia reintroduces the 33 1/3 in 1948, RCA dumps the format for the 45, regrets it forever.

After Vinyl, media format innovations have been led entirely by the Dutch company Philips; cassettes in 1962, the CD in 1982, and the coding behind the MP3 in 1993.

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So during 60 years of innovation how have we not just discarded vinyl entirely? How has it survived? It has been the duty of the caretakers, the mom and pop stores, the loyal vinylists, the die-hard audiophiles, record sommeliers, diggers, sorters, hoarders, organizers, the gut instinct buyers. I decided to seek out some of these keepers of the faith for a first hand perspective. I had the immense pleasure of crashing Human Head Records (@humanheadnyc) over in Williamsburg, Travis Klein & Steve Smith, co-owners, were kind enough to host me. Oddly enough, the process reminded me of being back in Iraq, sans the war. I didn’t mention when I was coming over I was bringing nine cases of LP’s and a case of 45’s. Surprise! The aptitude and speed at which they assessed, filed and generally dispatched the multitude of records was almost frightening. They move volume and clearly are used to doing so. From Williamsburg to Croatia and everywhere else, thousands of LP’s a month ranging from the dollar bin upwards to those extremely rare $500 pieces. Human Head is a well-oiled Modelo’d machine. I can’t even keep my sock drawer organized.

[1200W] Nielsen data Vinyl sales 20 year - Allen Henson

The Numbers

The numbers vary from brick and mortar to online but they are consistent inasmuch as they have been rapidly climbing since 2007 even rivaling paid streaming services.

– Best sellers, Radiohead, Fleetwood Mac, The Beatles, Jack White, Daft Punk, Lana Del Rey, Bob Marley and you probably guessed it Adele.

– Vinyl sales increased by over 220 percent in 2014, 9.2 million (first time in 20 years) sales far exceeded earlier estimates of over 7 million.

– The vinyl revival reached a new highpoint, with 2015 sales passing the 10 million mark.

– Alongside the staggering 32% decline in revenues for CD sales according to RIAA’s 2015 mid-year stats, there is one striking figure: vinyl’s profits have grown 52.1% over the last year. (Time)

– Raking in $226 million in the first half of 2015. That’s more than ad-supported streaming services like Spotify, which took in $162.7 million in the first half of 2015. Paid streaming services like Spotify Premium still monetize better than both, taking in $477.9 million in revenue. (Mother Jones)

One slightly terrifying point of interest, surprisingly few record presses have been made since the mid 80’s. Machines made 30 years ago designed to run 10 hours a day are now running 24/7. The wear and tear has become increasingly noticeable. Presses aren’t cheap, as low as an estimated $130,000 apiece. United just last year invested 5.5 Million into 16 new presses.  Which would put the price at about $350,000 per press.

Of course supply and demand are a relevant factor, limit the product, the companies can justify $30 a record.

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Discogs

After speaking with a number of vinyl enthusiasts and record stores it would seem all roads lead to Discogs. I spoke with Ron Rich Jr. the Marketing Program Manager of the online database, It was birthed 15 years ago by Portland based programmer Kevin Lewandowsk, who at the time was working for Intel. Originally its purpose was to be an online catalogue, specifically cataloging various presses / releases; for instance there are over 160 releases of dark side of the moon. That range from a 1st release, U.S. release, copies from Japan and a number of reissues. So to electronically register and organize them is formidable to say the least.

Since its inception it has now evolved into a broker of sorts between its users who buy and sell vinyl, and even an invaluable resource for the physical record stores.

What could be perceived as another batch of ones and zeros taking over a tangible exchange (i.e. Grubhub, Uber, Fresh Direct, Drizly, do we ever really need to leave the house?) has actually grown into a symbiotic business model.

But doesn’t shopping online for records takes the nuance out of it? You really might as well be downloading from iTunes. That being said there’s the issue of selection and how competitive the prices are as opposed to your physical locations. The selection is staggering! Well over 23 Million options!

It’s a matter of personal preference. I’m much more partial to the tactile quality of searching for and purchasing records at a shop like Human Head (cue that old record smell.) But I’m also very inclined to buy online, you can find anything online.  I see a very real and very viable partnership between the traditional record store and Discogs. And that’s a win win for all of us.

In closing, I’d like to leave you with some words from His Majesty Freddy Mercury, and I quote.

“I see a little silhouetto of a man, Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango? Thunderbolt and lightning, Very, very frightening me. (Galileo) Galileo. (Galileo) Galileo, Galileo Figaro Magnifico”… etc.

*Special thanks to Human Head Records (Travis, sorry about the Midget), Discogs and Nielsen for letting me harass them for info. You can find me at allenhenson.nyc + EditorialOnTheRocks.com

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