One of these things is not like the others
EUGENE, Ore. - Over the years, stores have sold music in a variety of formats, 8-tracks, cassettes, compact discs, and the vinyl record.
The long-playing record was introduced in the 1930s, but dropped from prominence in the 1990s. Recently, the record is making a comeback.
Many people store records in their attic where they collect dust, or they try to get rid of them in garage sales. Little do they know, these items are a hot commodity at music shops.
"Vinyl really never went away. It was just, we were sort of forced out of vinyl because the record industry stopped making it. There's still a lot of old guys like me that listened to it all through then," said Skip Hermens, owner of Skip's Record & CD World.
When Hermens originally opened his store, he sold only CDs. But now, records take up more floor space because of renewed interest in the format.
"They started making a comeback about ten years ago. That's when I put vinyl back in the store. We were just back in this little corner, and now, it's like a third of the business and about twenty percent of the floor space," he said.
While vinyl makes up a small fraction of music sales, it is the only format that has seen double digit growth since 2008. According to Nielsen SoundScan, 9.2 million units were sold in the U.S. in 2014 and that number jumped to nearly 12 million last year. Many in the industry believe those numbers could be higher.
So why are we seeing a return to vinyl in a digital age? Sound is a big factor.
"A CD or an mp3 is like a photograph of you. A record is like you, with all your dimensions with all your skin and bones and everything from all sides," said Greg Sutherland, manager of House of Records.
Sutherland has a good crowd at his shop on Mondays for the latest used vinyl the store displays. Gabe Gomez is one of his customers and prefers the sound of vinyl.
"And for analog, I feel there's a specific sound that you cannot get digitally. This resurgence of physical music, it's popular with young people because we never really had that. We grew up on digital music," Gomez said.
For some people, it's the element of the hunt. Digital music puts everything at your fingertips. Record shopping can yield many surprises.
"That's the fun of digging through bins, finding something you are just discovering of you haven't seen in 20 or 30 years and it sparks a memory," Hermens said.
The younger generation is discovering the joys of spending a Saturday in a record store, combing through bin after bin. And they're not just looking for the new releases.
"I hunt for originals. I love originals. I'm not really that big of a reissue fan. I like originals because they hold their own old past; they have their own spiritual energy of the past owners," said vinyl enthusiast Faern Enright.
The annual Record Store Day plays a key role in the resurgence. Created in 2007, the day has grown to a massive list of vinyl released specifically for that day and available only at independent record stores. Record store operators see an increase in traffic for that day.
"The last few have been just incredible. I mean, there's a line all the way out to the alley and around. I mean people are waiting to get in and look at records. There's like 50 people in here at the beginning of every Record Store Day now," Sutherland said.
Given the new excitement for vinyl, the number of pressing plants is relatively small. Even though companies are doing smaller runs of records, it's difficult to keep up with demand. The latest David Bowie album "Blackstar" is a prime example.
"It came out on a Friday. David Bowie died on a Sunday, and Monday morning, we didn't have any. We were out. A lot of record stores across the country were out. And now, we're all waiting for the vinyl to get repressed," Sutherland said.
Another reason for vinyl's popularity is the tangible aspect. Unlike digital downloads, there's a physical quality. Listeners can connect with the artwork, the lyric sheet, and the process of playing a record.
"This is an investment, a possession, something that they own now. And I think that a record is a good value still," Sutherland said.
"I feel that it's almost like a ritual, of like dropping the needle on the wax. And you have to sit down and listen to the whole thing rather than listen to one song at a time. I personally like putting a record on and listening to the whole thing at a time. It's the whole album experience," Gomez said.
So how long will this trend last? No one seems to have an answer. Perhaps the comeback will be complete with the return of the Columbia Record Club.