Are vinyl records making a comeback?
The popularity of electronic music devices such as the iPod has created an unexpected backlash – vinyl records can’t stay on the shelves. Local record stores have seen increases in sales and some Boston University students have admitted that they prefer to listen to their favorite music on records rather than on their MP3s.
The sound quality and aesthetic value of records, as well as the simple appeal of collecting them, are contributing factors to the renewed interest in vinyl, according to students. But despite the newfound interest, the question remains as to whether or not analog has an advantage over digital recordings. Will this new record trend stand the test of time?
With blues artist Hound Dog Taylor playing on the store’s vinyl record player in the background, Looney Tunes Records employee Bill, who wished to keep his last name anonymous, said that listening to a record is like being transported back in time. He said that during the past couple of years, Looney Tunes Records has observed a slight increase in sales.
“There is a mild backlash to the sound quality against digital recordings and a tangible aspect of having a record in your hand,” he said. “A lot of kids, even though they still download songs, want music that they can hold.”
Bill credits the increase in sales to the 18- to 22-year-old age group. Although most of his customers are male, he said that in recent years there has been an increase in women coming into the store and buying records.
“The records are becoming popular with younger kids,” said Bill. “A couple of years ago I knew something was up when there were about three or four young girls who were not together, shopping for records in the store. I haven’t seen that in years.”
Located at 1106 Boylston St., Looney Tunes Records opened its doors in 1979, when records were the only options for people who wanted to listen to music.
Stuart Freedman of Nugget Records, which opened in 1978 and is located at 486 Commonwealth Ave., said he agrees that records are making a comeback with the younger crowd. He credits increases in sales to collectors.
“We usually have people come into the store as collectors,” he said. “But younger crowds are coming in as well because they are realizing that records are a cooler thing to collect because visually they are a better medium.”
Bill and Freedman both admit that they have never downloaded a song in their life – and both said that at one point, they had upwards of one thousand records in their personal collections.
RECORDS VS. MP3S
The average record sells for about $4 to $10, in comparison to 99 cents or $1.99 per song on iTunes. Some BU students said the price of records is too high.
College of Arts and Sciences Senior Anna Lukacs said that the high price of records is a major factor in determining how she buys music.
“I don’t want to pay the price,” she said. “I’m completely content with just playing my songs for free on Pandora and downloading them for a dollar on iTunes.”
Freedman admitted that records are not for everybody.
“Some people don’t care,” he said. “If you can put a thousand songs on a little MP3, people would rather just do that.”
Still, Bill said that the listening experience is better via records.
“A lot of music that is on iTunes nowadays is being released on vinyl which is kind of amusing because it’s recorded digitally,” said Bill. “So with MP3s you don’t have that analog taste, even though there are digital programs which can actually do a pretty good job with imitating that sound.”
On the other hand, some people collect records simply because of their aesthetic value. In College of Communication sophomore Sam Dutra’s opinion, records, along with their covers, are aesthetically pleasing.
“A lot of different places are starting to sell records now,” Dutra, who owns more than 100 records, said. “It’s kind-of hip to have one. I think the artwork of the records is awesome. I have some hanging on the walls of my room.”
THE OLD NEW
At Looney Tunes Records, the majority of the customers are looking to purchase jazz and classical records. Bill said that some older musicians are becoming popular again.
“A lot of stuff that we couldn’t get rid of 15 years ago is coming full circle, such as the band The Sticks,” Bill said. “Fleetwood Mac album[s] also flies out of here. A lot of kids with tattoos and piercings are buying Fleetwood Mac.”
Bryan Sih, a sophomore in COM, said he would only purchase specific types of vinyl music.
“I wouldn’t buy a pop record at a record store,” he said. “I would only buy a classical music record or a really old jazz album.”
Dutra said that she owns a Jack Johnson record as well as one from classic rock band Pink Floyd.
“On the record, [Pink Floyd has] these really cool transitions that you couldn’t hear if you downloaded different songs,” she said. “It’s definitely easier to download songs but I feel like by listening to it on a record, you kind of get a better experience because you hear the songs in order.”
But according to a 2010 study done by the NPD Market Research Group, iTunes was the country’s leading music retailer. The group concluded U.S. consumers purchased 28 percent of all music through iTunes that year. With technological advancements to come, will record stores be able to compete against digital recordings?
Ultimately, Bill said he believes that the fad of purchasing and collecting records is here to stay.
“Record stores are a niche. There is always going to be a market for it,” Jordan said. “It’s always going to be a collector’s thing because there’s an aesthetic to it. Collecting records is just a nice appeal to living your life.”