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Columns > Mike Gruenberg - In My Life

Published: 2013/10/30
by Mike Gruenberg

Vinyl Sales Continue To Defy Gravity

In My Life

For those of us who have continually bought music on vinyl over these many years, the current resurgence of music available for sale on records is no surprise. As a matter of fact, it’s been expected. My only comment is wondering why it took so long for people to realize that listening to music on vinyl is far better than listening to music on most any other media.

Let’s examine the history of listening to modern day recorded music in our homes and automobiles. The first music that I received as a kid to play and hear was a few 78’s of Elvis Presley. My father, clearly not an Elvis fan had operatic records in his collection on 78’s. Our two sets of records had a few things in common. They were both black and shiny, had poor sound quality, a small hole in the middle, wore out the needles on the record player far too quickly and since they were heavy, made a terrible noise when they dropped to the floor (and inevitably broke on contact with said surface).

78’s inevitably gave way to the more convenient, easy to play and more economically priced 45’s. These little gems had a big hole in the middle, eventually were developed to have better than average sound quality, but were not able to be played in your car. Keith Richards had a 45’s player in his Bentley in the 70’s but not many of us could afford that luxury. The need of hearing pre-recorded music in everyone’s car was a dream that would be soon fulfilled by automobile manufacturers with the advent of the 8-Track.

In the summer of 1966, I had the distinct pleasure to be in Los Angeles with my friend Bobby. His cousin had the good fortune to have a wealthy father who had wisely purchased a Thunderbird convertible equipped with a Lear 8-Track tape player. As teenagers would do, we cruised up and down the Sunset Strip blasting the Mamas & Papas “California Dreamin” on this incredible tape machine.

The 45’s were supposed to be replaced by the 8-Track player which was eventually installed as optional equipment in most new vehicles purchased in the 70’s. This engineering marvel claimed great sound that was produced on a continuous loop inside the 8-Track case. The tape was divided into four segments, so your favorite album was portioned in quarters. Since the partitioning schema was based strictly on minutes, some 8-Tracks cut off songs in the middle of playing them with an unceremonious click only to hear another click a few moments later to finish the song that was interrupted by this incredible engineering feat. Moreover, since the music was on a continuous loop, excessive playing of your 8-Track contributed to a stretching of the tape which resulted in a sound that was reminiscent of being underwater. I had the Paul Simon “Rhymin’ Simon” 8-Track in my car and played it all the time until it sounded like Paul was singing his tunes in the water under the Tappan Zee Bridge in an Octopuses Garden.

Mercifully, 8-Tracks gave way to cassettes that were pretty much mini reel-to-reel tape players. The tapes on these little beauties were about ¼ the size of the 8-Track tapes and made a good sound especially when the record companies started using higher quality chrome tape instead of the poorer quality brown in color tapes. The cassettes lasted longer than the 8-Tracks, but they too would stretch out after continuous playing and since they were skinny little tapes, had a tendency to easily break. Many of the highways and byways throughout the world were often littered with the remains of broken cassette tapes thrown out of car windows by frustrated teenagers when their Kansas’ “Dust in the Wind” tape broke and started streaming out the air vent or any other part of the dashboard.

Cassettes finally gave way to the current mass media music listening preference of CD’s. Not a bad sound, easy to use and relatively inexpensive. But now the CD’s have given way to the on-line environment of ordering a song through an outlet like Amazon or Apple and having whatever song(s) delivered directly to your computer or i-Tunes. Very efficient, but somewhat antiseptic for my taste.

And all along, LP’s and 45’s on vinyl have been patiently waiting in the background for the music buying public to come to their collective musical senses. Guess what? The vinyl never went away.

In 2008, Record Store Day was established to support independent record stores and to bring to the forefront the wonderful collections of vinyl those stores have on their shelves to sell. Since Record Store Day was established in 2008, vinyl sales have steadily increased.

The numbers, of vinyl sold as reported by Nielsen Soundscan are as follows:

2008 – 1.9 million units (Start of Record Store Day)
2009 – 2.6 million units
2010 – 2.8 million units
2011 – 3.9 million units
2012 – 4.6 million units.

“Since the advent of Record Store Day in 2008, the growth of the format (vinyl) has been both rapid and steady”. 1

Things are going so well for vinyl that major stores other than just for music are getting on the bandwagon to try and make some money from these records. Whole Foods in Los Angeles is experimenting on bringing in a limited collection of vinyl to be sold initially at five of their 340 locations. Target already is selling vinyl and so is Barnes & Noble. To publicize the addition of vinyl to the Whole Foods in West Hollywood, DJ’s were brought in to play music, pizza was given away and a festive atmosphere was created to lure in customers.

Of course the reality is that even with its newly re-found popularity, vinyl contributes to a very small portion of total revenues for the music business. Moreover, vinyl is a petrochemical derivative which means that it is made from oil. We all know how the price per barrel of crude oil can mysteriously rise for no apparent reason other than a few sheiks in the Middle East have nothing better to do with their time. In essence, vinyl costs roughly ten times more to produce than CD’s at the current crude oil barrel rate.

No matter, thanks to vinyl aficionados and the good people who organized Record Store Day, music on vinyl is a successful entity once again. In 2013, we already had Record Store Day in April and next year, it will be back stronger than ever. But, wait! There’s more. The organizers of Record Store Day have organized “Black Friday” for the day after Thanksgiving as another Record Store day. So while everyone is recovering from the turkey meal and you don’t have the courage to be manhandled by the crowds at the mall, go to a record store on Friday, 11/29.

According to STEREOGUM, “…..the organizers of Record Store Day are running their Black Friday special again this year, selling a ton of exclusives to those who show up at independent vinyl emporiums this 11/29. The Record Store Day people just announced this year’s exclusives, which include the Flaming Lips’ Ender’s Game-inspired Peace Sword EP, Low and Shearwater’s “Stay” b/w “Novacane” split 7″, Elvis Costello & The Roots’ Wise Up: Thought remix collection, Foals’ CCTV Sessions LP, Duran Duran’s No Ordinary EP, Band Of Horses Live At The Ryman 7″, the black-on-black vinyl edition of the Queens Of The Stone Age album …Like Clockwork, and a whole ton of other stuff.”

Meet you all at the record store on Black Friday in November.

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