Vinyl: A fleeting trend or lasting comeback?
Some things are acceptable to chuck out on council clean up day; old cassette mix tapes, a punctured inflatable boat, bum bags (fanny packs), your ex’s underpants that you forgot were still hanging out in the bottom drawer. These things will conceivably never be useful again. Once upon a time vinyl records were a part of this catalogue but they have been silently creeping back into the mainstream market. Just when record stores were about to disappear into our memories, the past few years have seen about a 100% increase in the sale of vinyl.
Call it what you want – nostalgia of 30+ year olds, wistfulness of a younger crowd who wish they grew up in the 60s, vintage cool, hipster (that tag offers no concrete definition), superior quality sound or a response to cold-hearted computer files – just when they about to be written off, vinyl’s are back and while they will probably never revisit their full glory days it looks like they’re here to stay. Adam Fisher, co-owner of Red Eye Records, Sydney’s oldest record store (where Beck played live in ’95) sheds some light on why the recent ‘vinyl revival’ isn’t just a music embodiment of the high-waisted jeans and denim jacket comeback to fashion.
So, you started at Red Eye Records in 1984 doing work experience?
I was 16. I wanted to be in a band. I loved the Cure and Suzie and the Banshees and I was a little Goth. I was interested in music and I wanted to see how it all worked. I never thought about working in a studio or anything, I just wanted to see how a record store worked. I just got hooked. I’ve been here ever since.
What was it like then?
It was all vinyl back then - all LP’s and a few cassettes. We had about 3 CD’s when we started.
It’s a thrill for collectors and music enthusiasts to find a rare record and you enjoy sourcing second hand ones – what’s the most exciting one you’ve come across?
Well we’ve got a pretty exciting one at the moment from The Beatles, ‘Yesterday And Today’. It’s a fairly distasteful cover. It’s an American release from the mid 60s and was very quickly withdrawn – they called it the Butchered Baby cover.
The price on that is almost $2k. Please explain.
It is actually a sheet of paper that they glue to the cover (that’s how all records were made back then) – when that big drama happened they [The Beatles] withdrew this quickly and made a new cover and just pasted it straight over the top. So that made this a very rare record. There are different ways you can find it now as a collectable. There’s one where it’s got the new cover but if you look hard you can see this cover underneath it. Then there are others where people bought the one with the new cover and then peeled it off. And most of those have tear marks somewhere in it. The price is dependent on how badly they’ve been torn. A mint condition one of those – sealed – sells for about $40k US.
There seems to be a significant comeback with vinyl sales. When did that begin?
It started slowly maybe 3 or 4 years ago – we noticed an increase in record sales – and then in the last couple of years it’s just gone way up. It’s been a 100% increase. We’re selling double the amount of vinyl we were selling 3 years ago.
What do you put that down to?
I think the thing that really kicked it off – that changed it from being a slow uptake to being a bigger one - was the way that you buy LP’s with download codes now. That has kind of made the CD irrelevant.
Do you think that vinyl records are a passing trend or a serious revival?
A tether that keeps me up at night, that question. I think there’s a trend factor involved but like all trends, some people stay with it and from the people I see coming through buying stuff there are some really serious young people. We lost a lot of young people from 2000, for ten years our clientele increased in age. Before that we used to have a lot of kids and now those kids have come back. Now we see kids coming into the shop and starting at the A’s and going through to the Z’s just looking at what we’ve got and rather than ‘I want this particular thing’, they just want to see everything. Some of those kids will stay with it as they grow up.
I think it will re-adjust a little bit. I hope it keeps going. A lot of it is what you can get too. If we couldn’t order new records it would be very hard to sell them but the companies are all behind it and they’re all making records again now.
Some people would argue that an .mp3 doesn’t sound as good as music coming from a record turntable. Can most people tell?
If someone was standing in here and we played a record and the next thing we played was a CD I don’t think anyone would be able to tell the difference. When I was collecting LP’s in the 90s, I’d have a CD of the same thing that had come out in the late 80s and you could easily tell the difference – the record sounded much, much better. Much louder, much warmer, much more bass.
I think a really nice LP on a really nice turntable definitely nothing beats it. But you’ve really got to go to some effort to get all of that lined up for a really nice sound.
So what do you think the obsession is with vinyl?
I think partly with the record it’s the ritual. It’s one side. You sit there and you put it on, you listen to it and then it finishes and you turn it over. It’s not as big a chunk of time [as a CD] and you have to turn it over to play the other side so there’s a bit more of a journey involved. You could put on a CD [or playlist] and it could go for an hour and 20 minutes and you go and do the dishes or something and you don’t have to worry. That convenience factor – it is background.
With records you get why – you look at the cover and you go, ‘What are they thinking? What were they doing? What happens on side A?’ and then you go ‘Oh wow, ok, what happens on side B?’ It’s a bit more of a ritual sort of thing.
Alright, enough on vinyl. Tell us about Beck.
We had Beck play here in ’95. He’d had that one big runaway hit and the store was absolutely packed. I think he was shocked. It was great.
We tend to have lesser-known bands play in store. We like to do that because it gives them another little outlet. I’ve been overseas in record shops and seen in shop bands that I know and thought, ‘oh wow’ and stayed and watched a couple of songs. I think it’s just a good thing to do.
By Lauren Della Marta