Record Store Day: Vinyl Is Back
Why you might want to hold onto your old albums
(This piece was originally published in 2013. This year's Record Store Day, with many exclusives released on vinyl, is Saturday, April 18.)
My dad died three years ago, leaving behind a sizable collection of vinyl records. A serious audiophile, he acquired multiple renditions of the same classical works, built his own stereo equipment and endlessly experimented with the combination and placement of audio components.
He pursued a number of other hobbies over the years but none with more gusto than his passion for listening to music.
I spent many hours during my youth watching my father deep-clean his albums and tinker with turntables, needles and amps. He’d move his speakers a few inches, replay a piece and see if we could detect distinctions in the sound. “Did you catch that? Hear the difference?” he’d ask. Sometimes I did, sometimes I didn’t, but I definitely learned to listen intently and, today, I count the time we spent together appreciating the world’s greatest musical artists and their recordings among my most cherished memories.
In my mind’s eye, I can still see the stereo tube amplifier my dad built when I was 4 years old. What I wouldn’t do now to own that mini "skyline" of sheer cylindrical towers — to me, those transparent tubes perched atop a gleaming brass base epitomized the beauty, precision and clarity of the music they rendered.
The device is long gone, but the albums are still there for the taking. When my step-sister recently asked if I wanted anything from the house my dad shared with her mother, I began thinking about shipping those perfectly arrayed jackets to New York. But how would I fit them into my small apartment, I wondered. And why should I even try when I have an iPod and a vast digital music library?
My Record History
As soon as I began earning money, I applied myself to building my own collection of timeless recordings — one that was far more minimal but also more eclectic than my father’s. They included Genesis; Emerson, Lake and Palmer; Erik Satie and John Coltrane. The cover artwork was almost as important to me as the music within and I would stare at it as I listened.
These albums and the turntable on which I had spent large sums of babysitting money followed me to my college dorm room, a series of apartments and, eventually, to my first house, where they joined my ex-husband's Andres Segovia, Gordon Lightfoot and John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra albums to become the soundtracks of a young adult life increasingly dedicated to rocking babies to sleep.
But my shifting musical tastes, along with the advent of cassette tapes, compact discs and the various portable devices created to play them, eventually put an end to the disk spinning. Just as the recording industry forced vinyl to take a backstage, I began commuting and my kids’ possessions starting taking over my home. Portable, space-saving music that was also touted to be superior to records seemed not only convenient but essential. I parted ways with vinyl and began buying CDs, progressing to digital downloads as soon as they became an option.
The Tables Are Turning
It now appears that I (and many millions of my peers) acted too hastily when making the decision to toss my vinyl albums.
Through the years, they continued to hold their own among audiophiles (including Gen Yers and Xers), who valued the sound for its rich, smooth depth and warmth even as the popularity of digital music exploded. But a couple of years ago, I noticed that a prime retail haven for the young — Urban Outfitters had started selling affordable turntables as well as vinyl LPs (long-playing records) by new artists, like Adele, and older ones, like the Beatles. This suggested to me that we were poised to witness a resurgence of vinyl.
Music bloggers began bemoaning the vacuum that had opened up when vinyl was shunted aside and enthusiastically celebrating its return and the uptick in sales.
Availability of and demand for vinyl records have been steadily gaining ground. Formerly relegated to boutique music stores, the albums now seem to be cropping up everywhere, including such online destinations as Acoustic Sounds and Recordsbymail.com.
More artists are insisting that their work be made available on vinyl and their labels and vinyl pressing companies are rising to the occasion, stamping out the albums in escalating numbers.
Take the Old Records for a Spin
It seems now would be a good time to dig out, clean and spin the old albums stashed on shelves or boxed up in your garage and attic. You’ll likely need to spruce them up some. You can get new sleeves from Mofi and styluses from Jerry Raskins Needle Doctor. And eBay is a good place to search out a turntable.
Lately, I’ve been listening to friends’ vinyl albums, which have made me realize they’re worth your undivided attention. Rather than playing the music when you’re immersed in other activities try focusing on it exclusively — along with the memories they spark. They're a nostalgia gold mine.
Speaking of treasure, vinyl is also a huge collecting field; it’s quite possible that your old albums have value beyond the music that’s on them. But don’t count on getting rich — as always, price is determined by rarity, demand and condition. Check out expert sources for guidance.
Record Store Day (yep — there’s a “day” for everything) is coming, bringing musicians from Steve Earl, the Dresden Dolls and Foo Fighters to stores to celebrate. Shirley Manson, the lead singer of Garbage, wrote the following about the event:
It's a day that honours the mystery, the romance and the dying art of record making. A day that celebrates the notion that something as seemingly insignificant as a song or a piece of music can stand up against something very big and powerful. And it promotes the belief that time spent exploring a small, lovingly curated record store, discovering artists, music and ideas can arm you against anything that ever threatens to overwhelm or engulf you.
Special new releases mark the occasion, further underscoring the vinyl boon.
By that time, I hope to have some of my dad’s old albums on hand so I can begin immersing myself in those wonderful old sounds and memories. While I definitely won’t be moving any speakers around, I will be asking my sons to join me in listening.