Record Stores Cash in on Victoria’s Vinyl Resurgence
By Owen Hann
Underneath Victoria, the sleepy island city known best for its plethora of all-day brunch spots, its thriving beer and medical marijuana industries, and its booming tech sector, there is a new trend bubbling up that is a little, er… less progressive. The 2000s are over, CDs are dead—and people are buying used records again.
Records have been coming back for a few years now. Particularly in smaller cities, people take life a little slower, and tend to have more time for their hobbies and collections. Most importantly, people actually want a physical form to listen to music, whether its CDs or old cassettes to play in their car or a slab of vinyl on the record player at home. With the majority of music going to online streaming services, more people are turning to vinyl because they want a tangible form to enhance the experience of listening to music—and to have their own collections to show off and share with family and friends.
Michael Cline is the owner of Vinyl Envy, Victoria’s newest record store, opening one year ago on April 1st, 2015. Cline has capitalized on the upward trend of record sales, opening a niche-market store in a year where people were once seemingly all going to go digital. “There’s people that gave it up, and sold all their vinyl or gave it away 20 years ago because they weren’t playing it and [the industry] changed over to CDs, and now they go, ‘I kind of miss the whole vinyl thing and I want to get back to where I was before,’” he says. “And so they come into the store buying their old collection all over again.” In fact, 2015 might have been the biggest year for record sales since its resurgence, with more people buying used records than ever before.
Gary Anderson is the owner of The Turntable in Fan Tan Alley, a local vinyl institution that will have been in the same location for 30 years this September. “I’d say [record sales] have gone up 15 or 20 percent for me in the last year,” he says. “What we’ve seen is basically the demise of vinyl through the 80s and 90s, watching that die out, and then watching CDs grow, the popularity of that, and now watching records [come] back, watching vinyl, so that’s pretty big in the industry to be around long enough to see those items go in and out of favour,” he says. Anderson reckons that last year was the biggest peak he’s seen in 20 years of selling records. “From 7 years ago we started noticing a slight increase in people buying [records], he says. “I think last year could have been a peak, because this year’s not the same as last year.”
Ernie Brach is Anderson’s right-hand man, and handles most of the sales, and he disagrees. “I can’t say it has [levelled off], it is at the moment,” he says. “Last year was busier than this year was, but it’s also this time of year. I’ll be able to say later in the summer, but I don’t think it has,” he says. The vinyl craze sweeping the city is evident in The Turntable’s small store, which is packed with customers browsing the impressive collection on a Thursday afternoon.
The vinyl resurgence is further exemplified by record events such as International Record Store Day, which happens every year on April 16th, and features specialty releases and one-offs. A more locally-focused event is the semi-annual Vinyl Supernova record fair at the Fernwood Community Centre, which draws stores like The Turntable and private collectors alike from all over the island. I caught up with the event’s organizer Ryan Wugalter ahead of this year’s first event on March 26th to discuss some of the changes he’s made this year in response to its increase in popularity in 2015.
“The vintage market was an idea I’d had for a while as a way to attract even more people to the event,” he says. “I’m not sure if it’ll be a permanent change, but I wanted to try it at least once because I have a bunch of contacts in the vintage world. Next time, instead of the vintage market, I might fill the upstairs space with records too and see how that goes,” he says. Hundreds of people flooded the Fernwood Community Centre on the Easter long weekend to browse the predominantly classic rock vendor collections, or to search out specific rarities missing from their own collections.
As Michael Cline says of the experience of opening a brand new store, “that’s the fun of the store, is getting people the collections that they want.” Cline says he’ll often do research and hunt down specific records for regular customers if they can’t find what they’re looking for in the store. “My niche is kind of being able to get people what they want in a collection, but also turn them onto things that they might not have heard of before,” he says. Though he carries many genres including indie, hip-hop, and electronic, he says he tries to buy based on his own knowledge, and carries a lot of classic rock and deep catalogue jazz and blues.
Even with newer records, there aren’t nearly as many being made as there were back in the 1960s and 70s. “Led Zeppelin records, they made millions of them,” says Brach, “so a certain number have survived to be in good shape, [but] now they’re only making thousands of [popular new records].”
“The industry is very healthy, as long as the major record labels don’t get too greedy,” says Cline. “At this point its being done in about 25 or 30 presses around the world, and they’re running at probably 85 or 90 percent capacity,” he says. “There’s also no new equipment being made—[so] they’re making their own machine shops inside of their pressing plants because they have to make new parts. It’s crazy,” he says.
Anderson agrees that the prices of new records are at a point of becoming dangerously high. “It’s greed,” he says. “Unfortunately the record companies seem to be hell bent on blowing up the industry again.”
“As long as vinyl has been around, people have been collecting it,” says Wugalter. “Digital music is more convenient but it definitely isn’t as fun as vinyl. People of a certain generation like “things,” they like to hold them and look at them and buy them. I think that as time goes on and that generation dies out, less people will be interested in vinyl, but not because it’s vinyl, but because it’s a “thing,”” he says. “This is sort of a hey-day for people who never stopped collecting LPs through the years of cassettes and compact discs. They are cashing in big-time and I’m pleased to have created an event that can help them along in that.”
“Last year we were in uncharted territory monetarily,” says Anderson. “I actually have a bank account now. I’ve never had one before, because I just fly by the seat of my pants,” he says. “Sometimes you have to think outside of the box in order to stay alive.” But what he says he doesn’t understand is how new reissues of old records are now being sold for more than the originals themselves.
“Actually the money’s in the old records,” says Cline, who sells both new and used records in his store. “We all make roughly the same margin on the new stuff, it’s all in the same ballpark because we have to be competitive,” he says. “Everybody knows their records well enough and there’s not that many [record stores] in town.”
“We can’t tell what this year’s going to be like because unfortunately more stores have opened up that are selling vinyl,” says Anderson, referring to Cline’s Vinyl Envy and the vintage clothing stores that have started selling records in the past year. He says it will be fine “as long as the big box stores don’t start threatening to sell vinyl,” though.
“Whatever gets more people talking about [vinyl], thinking about it, and doing it more is beneficial to all,” says Brach. “It’s the hot thing right now, and we’ve been through good years, bad years, all sorts of years,” he says. “Last year was a very good year for us, and if this year’s even just 90 percent of that it will be a good year again.”
“I started [Vinyl Supernova] in November 2013 and I’ve just seen bigger and bigger crowds attending,” says Wugalter. He says that the resurgence of vinyl in Victoria has only helped to get more people interested in the event.
Cline, who’s relatively new to the industry by comparison, is just having fun with it. “I’m lucky that I can purchase what I want and play it in the store,” he says. “I don’t see it as a sales job at all, it’s more like, you need to hear this, this is really good!”
The vinyl resurgence in Victoria is having an impact on everything from used record sales, which are up by more than 15 percent, according to Anderson, to independent live music in the city, which is showcased at weekly concerts in Cline’s Vinyl Envy store on Quadra. And while a few major record labels currently control the production of vinyl, the future looks promising with new technology being developed that could allow bands to press their own records cheaply at home. “I think we can see another 8 or 10 years here of records being sold,” says Anderson.
Certainly, the vinyl craze in Victoria doesn’t seem to be showing any signs of slowing down.
“By doing this, I’ve learned that it isn’t really that complex,” says Wugalter. “The people who come to record fairs want one thing: records, lots of records, more records than they can possibly browse through! I’ve learned that as long as I continue to fill the room with records, the people will continue to come. At least for now…”
– Owen Hann
CLICK HERE for more info about Record Store Day 2016