Why It Seems Everyone You Know Buys Vinyl and Record Players
Today, the store is experiencing a revival in its vinyl sales. “Young people come for everything from the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, to Miles Davis,” Freedman says. “Thanks to them, for the first time in a long time, I order newer products like Adele.”
Nuggets is not alone. Across the country, vinyl sales, which have been on the rise since 2006, have exploded in recent years. Folders Out of print CDs in 2020, for the first time since 1986, according to the Recording Industry Association of America. Last year, sales soared 61%, topping $1 billion for the first time in more than 35 years. To put that into perspective, more than one in three albums sold in 2021 were vinyl records.
The fact that the boom happened during a global pandemic, fueled largely not by baby boomers with disposable income or even nostalgic Gen Xers, but by millennials and Gen Zers, makes vinyl’s resurgence all the more compelling. fascinating.
It’s a remarkable turnaround for a medium that by the mid-1990s had become a niche market nurtured by collectors, music purists eager to relive their younger years, audiophiles who preferred listening to albums such as they had originally been mastered, and the -hop trend, which had long relied on records as part of the music-making process.
Although the explosion in popularity presents unexpected challenges for the industry, it is widely seen as a boon to recording artists, who get the end of the stick when it comes to streaming royalties. As for me, a Gen Xer who stuck with vinyl thanks to the advent of cassette tapes, CDs and Spotify, it’s gratifying to see the younger generations of digital natives discovering all the things they’ve been missing.
As a hip-hop-obsessed teenager in the 90s, I often spent my weekends criss-crossing the Boston area and diving into the bins of my favorite record stores, some of which wouldn’t survive the fall. vinyl. I would take the red line at Downtown Crossing and take it to Harvard Square, where my hunts usually started.
At the age of 16, my love affair with vinyl was well underway. Growing up on the border of the South End and Lower Roxbury, I had spent hours as a child – from the age of 3 – poring over the soul and funk albums the older kids in the neighborhood had purchased at stores such as the since-closed Skippy White’s and A Nubian notion. That’s how I discovered Rick James, Prince, Teena Marie and other artists who shaped my taste in music.
But my craze really took off in high school, thanks to a landmark 1991 court ruling that made illegal for sampling music without permission and led to the list of samples in the album credits.
Suddenly I could buy a tape, unroll the paper insert hidden inside, and discover the musicians behind the drum breaks, horn hits, piano riffs, and bass lines I was hearing. It sparked a new wave of musical discovery, introducing me to gospel, blues, jazz, soul/R&B, funk, and Latin artists I had never heard of before.
I usually started with the now defunct In Your Ear on Mt. Auburn Street, home to a collection of rare and obscure psychedelic rock, R&B/soul and funk records curated by local experts like famed collector “Boston” Bob Gibson. I knew these were the same records my favorite rap producers had been looking for. Then I’d go to the Garage in the heart of Harvard Square and browse Newbury Comics for indie rap releases and instrumental hip-hop or break beat albums. This is also where I would pick up records imported from the UK like Caron Wheeler, Soul II Soul, Massive Attack or anything on Gilles Peterson’s Acid Jazz label.
From there it was a short walk to Cheapo Records in Central Square, where I looked for anything from The Beatles to Mandrill, BT Express, Brass Construction, Herbie Hancock, Donald Byrd, to Miles Davis. Then I’d be back on the T, heading towards Boston University West, to hit the In Your Ear’s Commonwealth Street location in search of music from The Sylvers to singer-songwriter Laura Nyro.
Back home with my finds, I would select a record and carefully remove it from the sleeve, aligning it with the spindle in the middle of the platter and dropping the needle onto the record.
To me, there’s nothing quite like that moment, when the crackle of vinyl rolls through the speakers as the needle skims the grooves and the music begins to fill the air. I skimmed through the liner notes and album credits, learning the names of the band members and the gear they used.
Listening to vinyl is a ritual, a listening experience shaped by the records themselves. Taking the time to carefully flip the record to hear the B-side engages you directly in the listening experience. Holding a record, you are aware that you have an album in your hands – something continuous and flowing, the sum of which is greater than its parts. If you want to listen to a song again, you have to carefully drop the needle at the beginning of it, an advanced technique that takes a lot of experience to perfect.
But even as my obsession with records grew, vinyl’s popularity had been declining for years, following the advent of the cassette tape and, later, the portable cassette player. These technologies, of course, had their advantages: you could fast forward or rewind songs on a double-sided tape – and fit more songs into it. Then came the CD, which never needed to be turned over to access the B-side, and eliminated the need to fast-forward to the next song. It was enough to press a button.
When CD sales exploded in the early 90s, it seemed to spell the end of records. According to Recording Industry Association of America.
My favorite record stores have changed over time, expanding their space for CDs and shrinking their vinyl sections to just classic rock records and indie and major label rap singles and albums. In the late 90s, local spots like Looney Tunes, Mystery Train, Biscuithead and Satellite Records became some of the last bastions for record hunters – or so they felt like it. Unfortunately, two of those stores – Biscuithead and Satellite – eventually closed.
The contraction of the vinyl market has not discouraged my obsession with records. In the mid-2000s, as digital downloads grew in popularity and the first streaming services began to affect the market, I spent endless hours on music blogs and message boards discovering obscure and out-of-print records and to exchange information with like-minded record researchers.
These spaces were inhabited both by old people who grew up with records and by young people who became fascinated after discovering blog posts – which included shoddy vinyl rips – on out-of-print albums. Forums were a community where music lovers could rediscover the thrill of discovery. They were also a harbinger of things to come: In 2006, vinyl sales began to grow.
On a recent weekend, I went to town to see who was behind this surge in vinyl sales. I saw young people coming out en masse in record stores. Groups of teenagers and young adults flipped through the vast selection of vinyl in the basement of Newbury Comics in Back Bay as well as at Nuggets in Kenmore. The same was true at Vinyl Index at the Bow Market in Somerville.
The figures confirm this trend. According to a February study by Luminate, the company that provides sales data for the Billboard music charts, Gen Z and Millennials were 25% more likely than the average music listener in the United States to have purchased vinyl over the past year. By comparison, Gen Xers were only 7% more likely to have done so. In 2021, the best selling vinyl albums were from Adele, Olivia Rodrigo, Taylor Swift, Harry Styles and Billie Eilish, according to Luminate, formerly known as MRC Data.
Erik “Loman” Sarno, producer and owner of Union Sound studio in Cambridge, says younger generations are increasingly seeing music as an investment. “Young people want to invest in their favorite music,” he says. “Streaming just removed the need. Unlike CDs and digital downloads, vinyl offers something unique in terms of listening experience and sound quality.
Millennials and Zoomers also have one thing in common when it comes to music: a shared sense of responsibility to support the artists they love. They read about the unfair royalties paid to musicians by streaming services, and want to buy physical copies of albums to do their part. According to Luminate’s study this year, Zoomers also cited building their music collection and improving an artist’s chart position as reasons for buying records.
While the idea of younger generations getting into vinyl – and entering a new realm of music – sounds like heaven to a Gen Xer like me, it comes at a price: the few existing record pressing factories are being pushed to their limits. This is having a negative effect on indie artists, especially in rap, who have relied on vinyl for live performance, scratching, sampling and retail, but now have long lead times. waiting that have only lengthened during the pandemic. The massive demand for vinyl is even negative impact on record stores nationwide in terms of stocking shelves and appeasing a rabid fan base.
But when I think of records, I think of how they fascinated me 45 years ago. I remember being a 4 year old kid in Boston and my family allowing me to put a record on the turntable for the first time. I chose Michael Jackson On the wall, pressed a button and watched the tonearm lower, dropping the needle into the spinning record. I felt like I was on top of the world.
So it warms my heart to know that young people are discovering the charm of vinyl for similar reasons, even though they have Wi-Fi and have never had to use a rotary phone. Ultimately, nothing beats reading the album credits and liner notes of a record cover while listening to a record — and hopefully, we can still do that.
Dart Adams is the author of “Best Fucking Hip-Hop Writing: The Book of Dart» and co-author of the next book «Instead, We Got Bad: A True Story of Survival and Perseverance.” Send your comments to [email protected]