Record Comeback

Vinyl, long written off as a dinosaur of the music industry, makes a surprising comeback across generations.

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    David Konow

To some, it’s been nothing short of flabbergasting. Who could imagine that something most people tossed in the trash decades ago has returned with a vengeance? Vinyl records or “LPs”—with current music—are now being sold at stores ranging from Best Buy to Fry’s … spurring retail chains like Urban Outfitters to sell turntables.

For a time, Freakbeat Records in Sherman Oaks was one of the only places to buy vinyl in the Valley. “There were few options in town, which made us look pretty good,” says store clerk Seth Casselman.

Even though a new vinyl pressing can cost double the price of a compact disc, customers seem undaunted. As Freakbeat owner Bob Say explains it, fans who grew up downloading music are now discovering the experiential package that comes with LPs, the album art and the wonderful analog sound. (Not to mention a younger generation of fans is also starting to understand albums as a whole artistic piece, the way a lot of bands used to compose them, instead of a single song downloaded on the net.)

At first, rappers played a big hand in keeping vinyl alive because they used vinyl for “scratching” (ironically, they’re now doing scratching digitally), as well as metal fans, who have always been big collectors of LPs their favorite bands put out. But these days almost every genre of music is available on vinyl with the exception of mainstream pop, where fans don’t seem interested in a warmer analog sound or buying anything that’s album length.

Another reason for the comeback: In the digital age, some music fans feel vinyl represents an overt rejection
of the corporate music business. “There was definitely the punk attitude of ‘You won’t tell me what format I’ll use,’” Seth says.

CD Trader in Reseda is another vinyl hotspot. The shop carries a decent selection of new acts as well as a large collection of used albums. Among some recent offerings: the latest LPs from the bands Haim, Mumford & Sons, the metal joke band Steel Panther and a double-album edition of the Hunger Games soundtrack. At least one album promised “180 Gram Pure Virgin Vinyl” on the cover, which is the highest level of vinyl and sound quality available.

While vinyl is still a niche market, sales have progres-sively gone up over the last five years. As a result, more music genres are being offered, expanding the market to a wide variety of music fans who are either nostalgic for the format or are just getting turned on to it for the first time.

For Ken McCullogh, who also works at CD Trader, it simply boils down to sound. “Listen to the difference (with vinyl). You’ll become a fan.”