Coffee – Enjoy a single, instantaneous cup at the push of a button. Grocery shopping – Tap the computer screen and a store employee is gathering, bagging and delivering ingredients to the house. Music – Stop swiping the phone screen when a favored selection appears.
Most daily experiences lack a sense of process they once required. Stirring a pot of coffee on the stove or writing a grocery list (with an actual pen and paper) and driving to the store. Music however, though constantly evolving distribution outlets, is being met with an increased consumer demand to resuscitate a particular platform that requires a process to experience it: vinyl records.
According to the Recording Industry Association of America, the vinyl record industry sold 430 million dollars in 2016, a 15 million dollar increase from 2015 and the highest the statistic has been since 1988. The cause of such resurgence is likely due to the general tangibility of records – the experience.
“You get something you can have and hold. If it’s got really cool artwork or cool packaging, it’s something you can stare at and analyze because you’re forced to sit down and listen to your record as opposed to skipping from track to track with just the touch of a button or a screen,” said Scott Hagen, general manager at UHF Music in Royal Oak.
Vinyl is no groundbreaking comeback in 2017. It’s been slowly gaining traction back in popular culture and the economy. Although the last few years of business have shown vinyl vendors that the trend’s current strength is in young consumers.
“If I were to put an age range on it I would say anywhere from 13-60 years old seems to be the average age of everyone coming in but in the last four to five years we have had a steady increase of teenagers and young adults coming in,” Hagen said.
Hagen, who opened the store with its owner nearly seven years ago, remembers when only a small percentage of music was pressed to vinyl during that time.
“Now almost every title that comes out seems to come out on vinyl as well,” Hagen said.
It took quite a while for new, mainstream releases to get pressed to vinyl, though manufacturing never ceased completely. With the help of cult music cultures, consumer interest remained on a small-scale basis.
“Small, independent labels have been pressing up [12-inch records] in certain genres, specifically electronic dance music and hardcore music, since before cassettes and CDs started to gain popularity,” said Andrey Douthard, owner of Paramita Sound in Detroit.
“So that’s like a whole sub-industry, in a way, of vinyl records. A culture that hasn’t stopped and won’t stop. The things that had been. Now everything’s getting pressed. New artists, unknown artists that aren’t on labels, everyone knows how important it is to have tangible product to sell and people connect with vinyl,” Douthard said.
Douthard, who opened Paramita Sound in October 2014, said margins on new releases are “really low” (a.k.a. expensive for shops and consumers). Thus he uncovers another culture of vinyl that never expired: used records.
“With the up-swinging trend of new records being pressed and sold, there’s a whole other world of trade with records that doesn’t even hit the Neilson ratings. I mean … millions of used records that trade hands,” Douthard said.
At the corner of Woodward and Nine Mile in Ferndale sits The Rust Belt Market – an art market with several gallery-like stations occupied by local artists, crafters, and hobbyists. Sitting in the center-most station of the large industrial space is used-record vendor Mike Trombley.
Trombley has been selling records at Rust Belt for five years and opened and operated a record shop in Philadelphia for four years before that. Although he sells a small variety of new records, Trombley sources his used records from estate sales and newspaper ads.
“During the week I make house calls and buy up collections,” Trombley said.
Trombley has been in record retail since the mid-90s and has also noticed an increase of young consumers in recent years.
“In terms of my business, I’ve certainly seen a lot more younger people buying vinyl, buying players, buying receivers, which I think is awesome,” Trombley said.
After decades of personal interest in vinyl, Trombley credits the experience it requires for his perpetual passion.
“I like the whole experience of playing a record; having to put it on, having to flip it over, checking out the art work, checking out the liner notes. It’s just a much more personal experience. Streaming is a very disconnected experience,” Trombley said.
When vinyl started to fade out in the late 80s, so did the pressing plants. Until this year, Detroit housed one – Archer Record Pressing Co. in Hamtramck. On February 25th, Third Man Records in Detroit’s Cass Corridor opened the city’s second pressing plant, which utilizes the newest presses in thirty-five years. The plant also occupies eight presses as opposed to Archer’s two.
The storefront opened in November 2015 after the brand was started by native rock legend Jack White in 2001. TMR is a brand and a label, and though the new pressing plant presses music releases respective to the label, they manufacture outside orders for bands not on the label as well.
Aside from records and books under the brand’s publishing wing, the store is filled with an abundance of ancillary trinkets with the brand’s logo: socks, matches, coffee mugs, pocket knives… The main draw though, is the music that can be touched.
“Being on the sales floor, it is easy to see that records are sold much more than our apparel,” Jessica Artt said, Third Man Records sales team member.
“Its something that you can actually interact with, which I think is what interests people the most,” Artt said.
For record retailers, April in particular is a month that doesn’t stop spinning. The international holiday, Record Store Day, falls on the 22nd every year. This year will be the tenth. RSD is a chance for music artists to release songs never previously released on vinyl, fresh vinyl color variations, re-mastered editions; records that are rare in some way either pertaining to the track list or physical look/packaging. Record stores that participate in RSD will carry these exclusive releases. Some stores also have live, in-shop entertainment.
According to Douthard, the RSD environment in a record store is the equivalent to St. Patrick’s Day at an Irish Pub.
“Record Store Day is a whole world of things but for the most part it’s a very positive thing for all record stores, whether they’re participating officially or not,” Douthard said.