Vinyl revival: More buyers into records

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Dennis Hines | May 22, 2016

LAKE GENEVA — Enjoying records isn't new to Tim Townsend, owner of Black Circle Records in Lake Geneva.

Now an increasing number of music fans are joining Townsend in discovering the joys of vinyl.

In 2015, 12 million records were sold — a 20 percent increase — while sales of CDs decrease year after year, according to Forbes.

Townsend started his business about four years ago.

“That was about the same time vinyl record sales started to climb again,” Townsend said. “Vinyl records had been high sellers during the 1980s. They're starting to outsell CDs. Most bands record for vinyl or download. CDs are becoming obsolete.”

The artwork on the album covers is part of the reason for the resurgence of records, he said.

“I think customers want the whole experience,” Townsend said. “I think they like the artwork on the cover and the liner notes. It tells a story.”

Townsend said bands began producing vinyl records again when they realized that they could be sold cheaper than CDs.

“I think Pearl Jam kind of brought back the vinyl craze during the 1990s. I think they had issues with their management, and they felt the prices of CDs were too high,” Townsend said. “So, they found out if they recorded on vinyl, they could sell albums cheaper for their fans, and other bands started to pick up on it.”

People of all ages are purchasing records, he said.

“At my shop, there's a lot of high school age and junior high school age kids coming in. Buying records is a whole new world to them,” Townsend said. “They want to listen to music from the '60s, '70s and '80s. It's the next generation, and they're carrying it on, which I love to see. I opened my shop because of my passion for music.”

Some of the more popular artists for vinyl records include Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and the Grateful Dead.

“A lot of kids know those bands from what they heard on the radio,” Townsend said. “They will come in and ask if there's bands that have a similar sound.”

Whether that sound is better on vinyl or CD is a source of ongoing debate.

“That's an argument you can have all day long. The difference between the two is that albums have a better pure sound and CDs have a better digital sound,” Townsend said. “The bottom line is people's preferences.

“Personally, I prefer vinyl. Back in the day, what they recorded in the studio is what you got on vinyl.”

The value of an album usually depends on its condition and when it was printed.

“If it's scratched or beat up, it will have no value,” Townsend said. “You also have to look at the album's print number. It goes by when the album was originally printed. The further you get from the original print date, the further away you get from the value.”

Townsend advises record collectors to listen to different styles of music and to take care of their albums.

“Don't stick with one genre. If you just stick with one genre, you're missing a world of stuff … ” Townsend said. “The more you clean them, the better shape they will be in; also keep them in their original sleeve. The better you care for an album, the longer it's going to last you.”

At one time, Townsend had about 4,000 records in his collection. That number decreased to about 500 after he opened his business.

“When I opened my store, I used a lot of albums from my personal collection,” Townsend said. “I collected a lot of obscure and rare albums.”

The one album Townsend would like to add to his collection is the Beatles' original “Yesterday and Today,” which also is known as “the butcher album.”

“It was recorded back in 1964, and the cover had a picture of all four members with butcher coats, decapitated baby dolls, blood and meat. Back then, that was a big no-no,” Townsend said. “The Beatles were considered the good boys, and the Rolling Stones were considered the bad boys, so they wanted to keep that image. So, they recalled that album, and they only released 300 copies to the public. Most of the albums with that cover go for about $3,000.”

The sound of nostalgia

Album artwork and a fondness for yesteryear bring in a variety of vinyl enthusiasts at The Exclusive Company in Janesville.

“I definitely think (the album artwork) is what a lot of kids want to buy. They think it's cool with the colors on the vinyl,” said Drew Metter, a manager at The Exclusive Company. “(Older people) always like the sound of vinyl as opposed to CDs. I think there's a lot of people who like it for the nostalgia.”

The sound quality of vinyl records compared to CDs usually depends on the music genre, said Metter, who owns about a thousand records.

“I think blues and jazz sound better on vinyl, whereas rock and metal sort of have a better sound on CD,” Metter said. “Plus, (listeners) don't have to flip a CD when they're jamming out to it.”

The value of a record usually depends on how many copies were released, with limited edition albums usually having more value, Metter said.

“I don't think there's any band that sells better than any other particular band on vinyl. If it's limited or colored, that's sort of what sells well,” Metter said. “45s you can get a good price for because they're such a hard find, and most people disregard 45s because they're harder to listen to…

“A lot of people will come in and say, 'Hey, I got this Michael Jackson 'Thriller' album. How much is it worth?' I usually say about 5 cents because 10 million of them were sold. A lot of people think just because it's old, it's worth money. Old 45s are the most sought-after things for collections, which I find interesting because you can't play them unless you have an adapter.”

Metter advised new record collectors to invest in a quality turntable and to know what type of records they want to purchase.

“You should pick and choose what you want because vinyl has become expensive. You can look for used records, but be sure to look for scratches and pops and things like that … ” he said. “You definitely want to put them in sleeves. You don't want to leave them in the sun or in warm or cold weather. Make sure there's less static on them, just general maintenance. They will last forever if you take good care of them.”

All-ages attraction

Richard Harkrider has seen the resurgence of records since taking over ownership of Tin Dog Records in Beloit more than a year ago.

Sound quality is a key for vinyl buyers.

 “With vinyl records, you hear the difference, especially compared with digital,” Harkrider said. “Digital music is more compressed. Downloads work faster, so they're compressed and lose quality.

“There's not much difference between CDs and vinyl. The sound is more raw on vinyl.”

Records are popular among high school and college students and among older people who are rebuilding a record collection, he said.

 “Younger people seem to buy everything, old and new,” Harkrider said. “Most older people got rid of their collection when they were teenagers, so they're trying to get the collection back that they had when they were younger.”



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