VINYL VICTORIOUS

April 26, 2009 at 9:21 pm (Uncategorized)

On Craigslist earlier this week, a high-school student from Burnaby, B.C., solicited a relic from this parents’ glory days: ‘im looking to buy or trade for a record player and some vinyl records to go with it!’ he wrote.

He offered to swap some of his generation’s survival tools – Nintendo 360 games, electronic equipment, a cellphone – then explained: ‘i hate how stereos and ipods n all that jazz wrecks the quality of music! its so terrible!’

The 18-year-old, who did not want to be identified, is no Luddite: He texts in class, e-mails at all hours, and plans to study computer animation or robotics.

But when it comes to music, ‘old-school’ is cool among a growing number of youth – and that’s driving a vinyl revival.

Merchants and collectors say the surge in record sales, both new and used, is mostly due to people in their teens, 20s and early 30s stumbling across dusty boxes of records in their parents’ basement – then scouring shops and garage sales for more.

While many grew up with the convenience of stereos, iPods and free pirated downloads – and never experienced vinyl during its original heyday – they appreciate its innate qualities, such as large multi-panel artwork, and the warm, intimate sound that wax provides.

‘It’s a softer sound. The CD is shrill,’ says Brian Lipsin of Brian’s Record Option, an independent shop packed floor-to-ceiling with albums in Kingston, Ont. ‘The kids have noticed that. They’ve seen the artwork. A lot of people are buying records just for the covers.’

Last year, Mr. Lipsin sold more records than any other year in 30-years of business, and says sales continue to climb. Used records are particularly hot and he has a waiting list for record players, which he sells on consignment. ‘It’s sort of embarrassing,’ Mr. Lipsin said of his recent good fortune in this harsh economic climate.

To his amusement, Mr. Lipsin has become a minor celebrity among young locals eager to pick up a Led Zeppelin album for under $10. Queen’s University students made two videos about his store and posted them on YouTube. High-school students made a Brian Lipsin fan club on Face book (‘Brian Lipsin is THE MAN! lol,’ wrote the moderator). This Christmas, parents came into his shop with lists. ‘This is for my crazy daughter,’ one mother quipped.

Nielsen SoundScan reported digital downloads were up 32 per cent between 2007 and 2008, which some predict spells the death of CDs. But in a strange way, the digital age has helped his business, Mr. Lipsin says, because youth are more free to explore and experiment with music.

‘They don’t have much money, but with downloading, they’re more intelligent,’ he says. ‘If they’re going buy anything, they’ll buy it on vinyl.’

Sales of new records has also increased as contemporary artists like Radiohead and 50-Cent respond to the vinyl craze by releasing their new albums on vinyl as well as other modern formats, said Steve Lebitschnig of Fascinating Rhythm, a 20-year-old music store in Nanaimo, B.C.

Still, to see young people scrambling for LPs has him scratching his head.

‘Some people just think they’re cool – whereas 10 years ago, it was definitely not cool to have records,’ Mr. Lebitschnig said. ‘What’s with that?’

Sheena Sherwood, 25-year-old from Ottawa, prefers the sound quality on her 300 records compared to her iPod, which she still uses while on the move. She enjoys poking around record stores and flea markets in Ottawa, where she’s noticed more young faces in recent years. ‘It’s just so easy to download something,’ she said. ‘I feel like there’s a challenge [with vinyl]. It’s sort of like a scavenger hunt.’

Thomas Wade-West, a 19-year-old political-science student in Kingston, collects old albums to decorate his bedroom. He feels like he gets added value with the $3 to $20 he forks out for an album. ‘I’ve purchased off iTunes before. I didn’t feel like I got anything. When I purchase vinyl, I have it in my hands, and it has artwork.’

Still, Mr. Wade-West says it’s impractical to lug around hundreds of albums when he DJ’s at local gigs. So instead, he uses digital equipment that allows him to manipulate MP3s when he does shows.

He believes vinyl is a fad like any other. Most of his friends are hipsters, he says, so vinyl comes part and parcel with aviator shades, tight jeans and headbands. ‘I think it’s sort of like a fashion thing. Like, ‘I’m buying vinyl, I’m old-school or whatever,’ he said.

The Burnaby high-school student, who began collecting records as diverse as jazz and Metallica at age 11, hopes his peers move on to something else – soon.

‘They’re using it like a fad,’ he says. ‘Then the people like me, who use them all the time, will be considered douche bags who just use it as a trend, too.’

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