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The Vinyl Comeback: Young Buyers Make an Old Product New Again

Shweta Saraswat |
April 23, 2012 | 9:25 a.m. PDT



Vinyl sales are on the rise. (Schweta Saraswat/ Neon Tommy)
Vinyl sales are on the rise. (Schweta Saraswat/ Neon Tommy)
In his San Fernando Valley home, 70-year-old Ranjit Sitlani has a small but packed shelf of old vinyl records dating back to the 1950s. The melancholic melodies of Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald fill his study, creating a mood of languid lounges and swirling scotch despite the blaring sounds of a bail bonds advertisement playing on the television downstairs.

“Before I left India to come to the U.S., my dad went to Europe and he had brought an LP that we didn’t get in India in the early ‘50s, and I was the only person in my group who had that kind of record,” he said. “So my friends and I used to listen to it over and over and over again. They are still a  nostalgic link back to my college days.”

However, vinyl records are no longer a thing of that past. The Nielsen Company has recorded a 37 percent increase in vinyl record sales in 2011.

According to vinyl retailers, the sales aren’t being pushed by Sitlani’s generation of record consumers. A much younger crop of music lovers have recently taken interest in the old medium.

“It’s definitely a younger crowd looking for younger music,” said Javier Johnston-Marquez of Amoeba Music in Hollywood. “We sell a lot of record players, and the ones that sell the best are the small portable ones that are ideal for dorm rooms and such. It is clunky and it does take up space, but I think that’s good. It makes you respect it more.”

Portability and convenience have never been a plus point of vinyl records. Though some old records could be bought for a just a few dollars, record players range in price from just under $100 to close to a $1000.

Still, the novelty and physicality of the vinyl record has held the interest of consumers who want to be able to hold their music in their hands.

“When you start to fall in love with music that way, having on iPod or computer is not enough,” said Johnston-Marquez. “You want something more tactile. You want something you can smell and touch.”

Newly produced records are often sold now with mp3 files, allowing the buyer to have both the novelty of the vinyl record and the convenience of the digital music file.

Neil Schield, owner of Origami Vinyl in Echo Park, said the artwork that is part of vinyl packaging is another attraction of the medium.

“The art and liner notes are really interesting,” he said, “especially for kids who grew up with CDs who’ve never played with a record before, only ever had an iPod.”

Origami Vinyl customer Carrie Miller,  24,compared the store to an art gallery, and said that even though her job working in theater keeps her on the road, she makes a point of traveling with her record player.   

 “There’s something to be said about the sound of vinyl,” she said. “It just has a warmer sound, something so physical about it. I do have an iPod, and I do like to download, but there is something more raw about holding something in your hand.”

Even though vinyl fans say the sound of music playing on a record is higher quality than it is on CDs or mp3s, it is the experience of playing a record that is the biggest selling point.

“It sounds better, but the experience of listening to vinyl is more sincere and genuine than a lot of other ways you can listen to music,” said Origami Vinyl customer Nicholas Shuminsky.

In a time when mp3 players and earphones have allowed people to isolate themselves, Schield said the shared experience of listening to a record is appealing to music consumers.

“I think it’s more social. At home, putting on a record when you have friends over is more interesting than throwing on your iTunes and hitting random,” he said. “It’s like having a nice glass of wine with dinner.”

It’s not just music consumers who want to take part in the sophistication of vinyl records.

“It’s a band’s dream to have their music on vinyl,” he said. “You look at it, and it’s so cool. For a band to actually hold that record and put a needle on themselves, it’s much more satisfying.”

Indie rock has always been a big seller in the vinyl market, but Soundcheck Hollywood in West Hollywood specializes in metal and punk rock. Some of their best sellers include music from bands like Mӧtley Crue and Suicide Silence.

Even though the music he sells is a far cry from Ella Fitzgerald, manager Gabriel Monteiro also finds the “warmth” of vinyl to be uniquely appealing.

“It’s something that’s very classic, and something I think can be super timeless,” he said. “It’s one of the first forms of portable music, and it definitely became the most popular early form of portable music, so I definitely think it’s something that’s going to be sought after.”

Monteiro said that vinyl records are now in direct competition with CDs as more than just a fashionable collector’s item.

“It’s a trend, kind of, but at the same time people realize that how classic and timeless that medium is, so that’s something that they are interested in going back to.”

According to Johnston-Marquez, the comeback of records suggests something beyond a temporary trend.

“The hip kids were always into vinyl…and the mainstream always borrows from that sort of counterculture. It’s sort of a natural thing,” he said. “But vinyl was declared dead, and then it came back, so hopefully that implies some sort of longevity.”

But for Sitlani, the life, death and rebirth of the vinyl record is of little interest. For him, it’s about the music.

“To listen to music on an LP is still a lot of fun,” he said. “I don’t have a particular thing that if I’m going to listen to Sinatra or Mozart and if I listen to it on an LP or a CD I’m going to be disappointed either way. I just enjoy the music part of it.”

Reach reporter Shweta here.



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