NORFOLK — In a world where younger generations recycle the things from the past, it would appear that vinyl records have risen from the ashes of their successors and made it into the homes of millennials.
While some may see the new interest as a passing fad, the numbers suggest otherwise, showing a steady growth of sales dating back to 2008.
According to revenue data from the Recording Industry Association of America, record sales have been on a steady incline, making almost $430 million last year, which hasn’t happened since the late 1980s.
Don’t call it a comeback
At 31, Justin Schwimmer considers himself a “music nerd” and, while he admits he never listened to records in his teen years, his love for hip-hop led him to the vintage format.
“Early on in hip-hop there was a lot of sampling, so I love finding the records that the hip-hop music I liked was based off of,” he said. “Finding old samples has been something that has kind of driven me, and it has also encouraged me to listen to artists that I probably would not have listened to without searching for the samples.”
About a year and a half ago, Schwimmer took over the Norfolk Vinyl Record Swap, a swap meet style gathering where music lovers can buy, trade, and talk about music.
While vendors sell memorabilia and other musical formats, the main focus of the events is just as its name suggests: records.
Since taking over the record swap, Schwimmer said he has organized five events, with his sixth scheduled for July 29, at Toast on Colonial Avenue in Norfolk.
Despite the many streaming options available now, Schwimmer feels that records have stood the test of time.
“It’s an interesting trend,” he said. “Vinyl has no competition anymore as far as physical [formats] go. Nobody’s really buying CDs or cassettes or anything like that. As streaming has become the main way people consume their music, it really helps vinyl sales because they compliment each other very well.”
While portability serves as an advantage for music streaming, Schwimmer added, vinyl offers a more robust experience with the music and artists you like.
Not just for your grandparents anymore
Record dealer Howard ReNardo Biggs agreed with Schwimmer, adding that the younger people he sells to enjoy the sound quality on vinyl.
According to Biggs, many of his buyers attribute a deeper and more authentic sound to their interest in records.
“When they changed over to CDs, it was more crisp, and you lost certain instrumental sounds in there,” he said.”Certain instruments you don’t get when they converted them over to CDs.”
Biggs’ love for vinyl — particularly jazz and soul — stems from his family. His father, Noah Biggs founded Shiptown Records in Norfolk during the 60s and 70s.
Biggs focuses on finding rare and original albums for his personal collection, along with his inventory to sell.
Younger customers getting into collecting records are picking up albums that their parents used to listen to at the same age, according to Biggs.
“I think it’s more of a hipster thing,” he said “It’s a new fad for them. Here [in the states], I sell a lot of rock. That’s basically one of the number one things that people collect here is rock.”
Prices for the reproduced albums showing up in the stores range from $20 to around $70, but some can cost much more depending on when the record was made.
Bigg’s clientele doesn’t just reside in the U.S., however. A large portion of his sales comes from the United Kingdom, France, and Japan.
When and where a record was produced — and how many exist — determine the difference between a price tag of a few bucks or a small fortune, adding to the appeal for certain collectors.
While new vinyl fans in the U.S. who are just getting familiar may settle for whatever is on the shelves, Biggs said, his international clients only want original copies of vinyl records and are willing to pay hundreds or even thousands to get them.
“Let’s say the [Rolling] Stones’ repress one of their greatest albums,” he said. “If they repress it, they’re going to get about 10 or 15 bucks for it, but if you go out and find the original that’s the same album, then you’re going to get two or three times as much.”
What year is it again?
Popular retailers like Urban Outfitters and Hot Topic have capitalized on the resurging market, carrying newly pressed records in their stores.
Companies like Sony, which was a part of the previous rise and fall of vinyl albums, reportedly is planning to produce new records in Japan by spring 2018, according to NPR.
Even Amazon has gotten in on the action, accounting for 12.3 percent of the vinyl retail market back in 2014, according to Forbes.
Although it is trendy and financially savvy for franchises and corporations to jump on board with the latest wave of vinyl fans, there are still reasons to walk into a local record store.
For record store owners like Paul Levine, who has a long-standing history and love for the vinyl era, the current market reminds him of “the old days.”
Levine re-opened the Groove Record Shop in downtown Norfolk three years ago. The original shop, which was owned by his parents, opened back in 1949 and operated for more than 30 years before Levine sold it in the 80s.
“When I got back in the business, I didn’t know if it was 1949 all over again,” he said. “It turns out that it’s almost 1949 again because it’s a whole new [cycle] which is not unusual for product cycles and life cycles. Every generation or so, some stuff comes back because the kids discover when they are 17 what their parents discovered when they were 17.”
While the music changed during his 30-year hiatus, Levine still gets the same demographic of customers he saw back in the 70s.
“They are not buying the same records,” he said. “Somebody today buying A Tribe Called Quest might have been buying James Brown or the Temptations in the 70s.”
Along with musical interests, Levine added, the atmosphere of his record shop is reminiscent of the 70s and 80s.
The age-old bond between a record store owner and the customer continues to live on in The Groove, as Levine and his staff work to rebuild a community around the vintage format like back in the day.
“It was so much interaction with your customers,” he said. “We had customers where we could take roll because I knew you were coming in every Thursday at 3:00. When a customer came into the store, you’d come in on a Saturday, and I would pick out five albums and say ‘hey check these out,’ because I knew what you liked.”
While sound quality often draws many of his new customers to the shop, Levine added that there is a ritualistic aspect that adds to the enjoyment of listening to a vinyl album.
From the reviews and liner notes to the cover artwork, vinyl offers a physical appeal, and as CDs, cassettes, and the 8-track have fallen by the wayside, vinyl albums are proving to be timeless.
“That’s what drew me back to the business because it was so much fun,” said Levine.
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