The Vinyl Boom: Real Dynamite?

words / DAVID MONK pictures / KEEGAN HUGHES

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We’ve all been there. Head down, smiling, furiously flickering through a stack of records at your local shop. You finally find the one LP you have been looking for. A euphoric wave of enjoyment followed by a rapid double take on the steepened price tag results in a quick realization.

Vinyl is fucking expensive.

You put it back solemnly swearing that maybe next time you’ll work up enough courage to purchase it. You put your headphones on, pop on a Spotify playlist and walk away defeated, yet again.

The apparent rejuvenation of vinyl that may have brought record collecting back into the spotlight may be fading out – becoming more of a romanticized pain, than a sound reality.

Vinyl, once a defeated medium has made a triumphant comeback within the ever-evolving music world. The Record Industry Association of America has marked the revenue of vinyl at $416 million in 2015, the highest it has been since the year 1989.

At the forefront of vinyl’s comeback stands the young, eagerly curious generation. They are dusting off their parents old turntables, purchasing records and giving life to the old shops that are fuming with excitement. At least that’s what the statistics say, anyway.

Long time independent record storeowner, John Westhaver begs to differ.

“Way back when I first opened in the 90’s. I had people lining up outside the door coming in from Glebe High, now I have literally zero high school students in here.”

“…I find that totally weird,” he added.

Westhaver, who has owned Birdman Sound, an independent record store on Bank Street, for almost three decades now has indubitably seen it all. Westhaver admittedly finds the rejuvenation statistics humorous, as the younger crowd has not yet breached his store.

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A problem he mainly attributes to the exponentially increasing price of buying records.

“When I was a teenager, the actual list price for a record was under five bucks…Although everything is a lot cheaper back then, all of the sudden there is a recession every two years and people just don’t have money left.”

Westhaver admitted that they are still some younger people who grew up in the right household that are continuing to purchase records. Though for the most part, the youth led comeback is just not applicable for him.

“Students don’t have any money, let alone records,” he concluded.

For the “lucky few” as Westhaver would put it, that are continuing to buy records despite the increased price, the willingness to purchase them, is slowly dwindling.

A trend that is quite noticeable down the street at Compact Music, a store much like Birdman Sound that has been around in the community for decades.

Tyler Clarke has been the store manager at Compact Music for the last ten years. He has witnessed vinyl’s mighty comeback and the unforeseen popularity that has come with it.

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Though, in the last two years the popularity he said is starting to slow down.

“We’re levelling out because the prices have gone up while the dollar has gone down… paying $40 for a record, it’s getting kind of ridiculous.”

“Vinyl’s own demise could be its very own price,” he added.

The storeowners aren’t the only ones to note the sudden drawback in sales, as the once eager crowd of vinyl-goers have also started to take notice.

Twenty-year-old Max Nease has been collecting records for the past four years. Max and the many others in his generation haven’t experienced the price increase; rather they have always associated vinyl with the considerable price tag. A trend that he is still has not become comfortable with.

“The price they are at now is already substantial enough to hinder me from buying new vinyl” he said.

Max and many others who are unimpressed with the increasingly harsh price tag on records stand on one hand of the spectrum. On the other, stand the corporations who have seen the increase in popularity as a golden opportunity to make money.

Vinyl was once a medium dominated by independent record stores across the country however, that may not be the case anymore.

Large corporations such as the clothing franchise, Urban Outfitters have jumped in on the new wave, selling records for a very demanding price. As a result, they are proving tough competition for the independent shops, only adding to the frustrations of storeowners in Ottawa.

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New vinyl from retailers like Urban Outfitters is often upwards of $30.

“Records are getting even more expensive, the cost is getting ridiculously high, and it’s being fuelled by the greedy bastards from music label,” stated owner John Westhaver.

“Why is Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of The Moon sixty fucking dollars at a clothing store?” He jokingly added.

According to Jason Vaughn, who works alongside Westhaver at Birdman Sound, the true culprit behind the lack of vinyl sales is not the large corporations but rather, popular culture itself.

Vaughn stems from the theory that popular music represents a lack of creative thinking. He believes that younger people don’t have the time of day to buy records outside their comfort zone. Resulting in more downloading, and less needle dropping.

“Our difficulty is getting younger people that want to use critical thinking to participate on a level that is not their own.”

“…Our culture is easy,” he added.

Despite the global increase in sales, and the recurring theme of optimism amongst the multitude of news coverage, many independent record shops still haven’t recovered from the digital takeover.

With independent stores like Birdman and Compact battling the increasing prices and decreasing customers, for the record, these shops have seen better days.

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