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Vinyl Records Making Comeback

  • June Soh

Vinyl records were the main format for commercial music distribution in the 20th century. But the big black disks, called LPs, nearly disappeared after audio cassettes and then digital media, like CDs and MP3s, took their place. Music industry reports say vinyl's popularity has been soaring over the last few years.

To some people, vinyl records bring back memories of growing up in the 1960s and 70s when rock and roll was king.

Back then, music lovers listened to Elvis Presley and the Beatles on black disks spinning on a turntable. Today's younger generation didn't grow up with records. So for them, vinyl is cool.

Jack Lowenstein, 14, came to Crooked Beat Records in Washington, DC. "I prefer to buy vinyl records over CDs," he said.

Sarah Griffith, 19, is into vinyl too. "More recently I have started buying more, you know, like old punk records and stuff," she said.

Jonathon Oldmixon is in his 30s. For him, vinyl records are collectibles.

"I do not have a preference. However I will admit there are some things I want specifically on vinyl because they have a certain aesthetic appeal to them, the picture on the cover is really nice or the record itself is really nice," explained Oldmixon.

Nielsen SoundScan tracks audio sales in the United States. It says vinyl records, with almost 3 million sold, were the fastest growing music format last year. By June this year, the number of vinyl albums sold was 40 percent greater than the same period last year. But still, vinyl sales in the U.S. are tiny compared to overall CD and MP3 sales.

Bill Daly, the owner of Crooked Beat, is part of the trend.

"Since 2007, vinyl has grown to where it is now, 99 percent of our sales," Daly noted. "In 2007, when they started introducing new vinyl releases, a free MP3 download card with it, that is when the sales started surging."

Daly says his online sales of vinyl have also been growing.

"We ship all over the world almost every day," added Daly. "You name a country, we probably ship there because there are not very many record stores around the world anymore."

Furnace MFG in Virginia was mainly known for manufacturing CDs and DVDs. Now its core product is vinyl. Eric Astor, who heads the company, says boosting production of vinyl to meet growing demand has been a challenge.

"They haven't made new vinyl record pressing machines since the early 1980s, so you have to find the equipment that is available and there is not a lot of equipment available," Astor explained.

Astor has partnered with vinyl pressing plants in Germany and Holland. The pressed records are sent to Furnace's headquarters where they are packaged and shipped.

Astor says his company produces more than two million vinyl records a year.

For some people, vinyl is a reminder that, in a world of Internet downloads, the hands-on-feeling of records has been lost.

Joe Pollock has been collecting vinyl for seven years.

"I go through my collection, I pick out what I want to hear, I put it on, there is that, you are touching it, you are feeling it," said Pollock. "There is warmth to it. And you have to sit through a whole album."

Eric Astor, president of Furnace MFG, agrees.

"A record that is pressed well from start to finish can sound much better than anything digital because of the fact that it is not in compressed, whereas with any sort of CD or even high-res digital file there is always a little bit of compression," said Astor.

Astor says there's nothing like listening to a vinyl record. He says vinyl's popularity will continue to grow. He's banking on it.

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