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Trending: Vinyl Records Are Cool Again

From iTunes to Spotify to illegal downloading, there’s no debate that digital music has taken over and transformed the music industry.

But for many, digital music leaves much to be desired.  Among certain circles in recent years, there has been a movement toward purchasing and collecting vinyl records.

“I think there are a lot of younger listeners and collectors who did not grow up with records, so it’s a new format to them,” says Christopher Connelly, manager of Reckless Records in Wicker Park.

The New York Times reported in Jan. 2012 that the sale of vinyl records rose 36 percent with 3.9 million copies sold. This was the highest number since Nielsen SoundScan, a company that tracks music sales in the U.S., opened in 1991.

The SoundScan Mid-Year 2012 Report backs this trend up as vinyl sales continued to rise 14.2 percent from the same time last year, growing from 1.9 million to 2.2 million.

Lifelong vinyl lover Dan Wallach, 26, founded Artistic Integrity Records primarily because he wanted a particular Mike Felumlee/Dan Andriano split CD to come out on vinyl—a format that it had not previously appeared on.

“Those are some of my favorite songs,” he says. “ I just wanted it to be out.”

But why?  Why vinyl and why now when digital music is omnipotent?  Read on to get different perspectives as to why vinyl is making a comeback and remains relevant today.

Understanding Vinyl

But before we get going, here’s a quick “Vinyl for Dummies” as told by Wallach:

  • The primary revolutions per minute (rpm) we see today are 45 and 33 1/3.  A record that spins at 45 rpm will burn through the physical space on a record faster than one at 33 1/3 rpm.
  • A 45 (7 inch) can about five minutes per side, but its sound quality is typically higher.
  • The flipside: A 33 1/3 (12 inch), also known as an LP, can fit about 21 minutes, but may slightly lack in quality compared to a 7 inch.
  • Pressing refers to the process of creating records.  Wallach explains that a puck of vinyl is pressed together by metal molds that leave the correct imprint on the album to create sound.
  • Gas prices are telling of vinyl costs.  “You are using oil in the vinyl, so if gas prices go up, the price of vinyl goes up.  Vinyl today is super expensive compared to what it was in the 90s,” Wallach says.


Listening Vs. Experiencing

Apart from the fact that it is a physical artifact, there seems to be something tangible about vinyl that music lovers can’t get from a digital download.  Wallach says that the nature of a vinyl record lends itself to being appreciated at a higher level.

“If you are buying an album on iTunes, it’s $14 and what do you have to show for it?  A couple of files on your computer?” Wallach says.  “I would rather have a physical product: 12 inches by 12 inches of artwork.”

Chicago musician and vinyl collector Mike Petruccelli takes this notion a step further, arguing that the difference lies in the “listening versus experiencing” dynamic.

“When I am listening to an iPod or something on my computer, I’m listening to music. It’s something I can manipulate or change easily,” he says.  “When I put on a record, it’s similar to when I put on a movie.  There is process of choosing what I want to be the focus, and I listen to it the whole way through.”

This relates back to the artist or band’s sequencing of songs on a record.  Wallach says it’s important to remember that these musicians work really hard out put out their records—the track order is not arbitrary.

However, Connelly, who has been with Reckless for almost 18 years, doesn’t think it’s important to keep these old media forms alive, but recognizes the consumers

“I think we keep alive what we collectively have interest in, and there is so much interest in vinyl whilst no one tried to force it down consumers throats—so it won’t go away,” he says.

For Connelly, it’s all about the music, be it digital, vinyl, CD or cassette.  He says the format or delivery of the music is irrelevant, the importance lies in whether he likes the music or not.

The Variations

Wallach, a lifetime collector of assorted items, enjoys vinyl as a medium because it can come in different options.

“That was all part of the game for me, collecting all different variants of the records,” Wallach said.

Some of these variants include:

  • Colors: This is just what it sounds like—vinyl or sleeves that come in different colors.  Artistic Integrity put out local Chicago band An Aesthetic Anaesthetic’s vinyl “NAMES” in black, gray and orange.
  • Test presses:  Before pressing a large number of records to sell, the record labels and artists want to be sure the molds are correct and the sound is perfect.  A label will send for a few test presses that the band and label will listen to and approve before sending off for the mass order.  These test presses are therefore very rare and make a special addition to a collector’s catalogue.
  • Tour presses: These can come about for a variety of reasons, but, typically, if a band winds up with more copies of a record than they have jackets for, they will try to think up creative ways to sell these extras on tour, Wallach says.  For example, a band may make one-of-a-kind jackets that can only be bought from a certain tour, making them a rarity.

For those looking for a place to start looking for a vinyl collection, click through the map icons to get a taste for some of Chicago’s most renown record stores.

View Chicago Record Stores in a larger map

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