The Return of Vinyl

Luke Dickens, owner of Vinyl Cup Records in Beaverdale and Marv’s Music in the East Village. Photos by Taylor Thomas.

It may be hard, if not impossible, to find a Blockbuster store around, but finding a record store has become easier and easier in recent years.

Des Moines is seeing them pop up just about everywhere. With seven stores across the metro, people young and old are ditching, or at least complementing their digital collection, and introducing a layer of purpose to their music listening.

Of course, there are people out there who never lost touch with vinyl, but for the rest of the world, the comeback started in 2014. Record sales hit a low in 2005, but have been increasing since then. In 2018, vinyl record sales were up to nearly $420 million from roughly $244 million in 2014, and $89 million in 2010 according to the RIAA.

The real question is: why? For some, the answer is nostalgia. People miss the real, original, analog sound that they grew up listening to.

That, however, doesn’t explain those who grew up in the era of CDs and iPods. Those people can’t have nostalgia for something they never experienced growing up. Music journalist and author Simon Reynolds calls this phenomenon “retromania,” and thinks the resurgence could be due to the “antithesis of digital streaming.” Essentially, people want to get away from the digital age of music and get back to where it all started.

DMACC student Seth Morgan, 19, from Madrid, says he has between 60 and 70 records. His love for vinyl started with his dad’s collection in 2016, and since then he has started his own collection as a hobby.

“I like the organic sound,”  he says.

He also enjoys having the physical copy as opposed to streaming, with the added benefit giving more financial support to the artist. Morgan says that he has a diverse collection of records, ranging from first edition AC/DC and The Beatles, to his favorite, “The Impossible Kid” by Aesop Rock, a hip-hop record released in 2016.

Ratt’s Underground, located in Merle Hay Mall, sells records as well as a variety of vintage items.

Steve “Ratt” Ratcliff, owner of “Ratt’s Underground Rock Shop,” located in Merle Hay Mall, has owned his store for 10 years. Ratcliff is not only here for the comeback, but he lived through the era of punk rock, which he claims has the fans who kept vinyl alive all these years. He’s been listening to records since he was a young boy, so he never knew a life without them.

Ratcliff’s store consists of vintage goods, with the exception of a few newer patches and local band CDs. He has vintage clothing, CDs, cassettes, 8-tracks, posters, autographs, buttons, and most importantly a huge selection of vintage vinyl records. Not having newly-pressed records is important to Ratcliff because original pressings “have the best sound, an authentic sound. New vinyl doesn’t have that original sound.”

Because remastered versions of old records and modern records are pressed using digital audio, the sound isn’t quite the same as the original pressings. In the book “Vinyl: The Analogue Record in the Digital Age,” Andreas Lubich, a renowned sound engineer, describes this unique noise as “distortion, and in the best case, harmonic distortion.”

He also makes the point that vinyl makes you listen to tracks which you might normally skip when listening in a digital format: “As we all are a bit lazy you don’t skip the needle from A1 to A3; you let it run and after several times you discover that track A2 you always wanted to skip is the best on the record.”

Tad Guy, manager at Marv’s Music in the East Village, says his initial interest was the physical aspect. He thinks younger people are interested because we’re “moving away from everything being at the touch of your fingertips.”

He explains that streaming services and downloaded music are great for certain situations, but that, “Everything is so accessible now, it’s kind of nice to have something that requires a little more intent.”

He also expresses that new records are important to keep in stock, because it keeps younger people interested. They can walk into Marv’s and find a record that they might be more familiar with, which is good for someone who is just starting out.

Owner of Marv’s Music and Vinyl Cup Records, Luke Dickens, says he started the business from the basement of his house. When he moved his store to Vinyl Cup in Beaverdale in 2018, he wanted to keep the same vibe going. His store has no counter, offers refreshments, and provides a listening room.

Inventory in Vinyl Cup Records.

Dickens wanted the store to “feel like you’re in somebody’s house, which is where we started, so we wanted to keep it that way.”

Dickens’s collection of records for sale at Vinyl Cup are almost always from collectors, because they’re harder to buy and harder to find, which in turn makes them more appealing. He estimates around 3 percent of records in the store are brand new.

Marv’s, on the other hand, is mostly new vinyl. Dickens has the benefit of seeing records from the perspective of new and old alike, and knows the importance of both.

In regards to the comeback, Dickens explains, “I don’t think it’s a resurgence as much as it is a realization of what music is about. Vinyl keeps us grounded to the history of music.”

As for business, he says the rise in sales has everything to do with the customer. “The customer is changing. They’re getting younger, there are more women.” Dickens also noted that “stores are adapting to the times that are changing,” to paraphrase Bob Dylan.

There is sort of a ritualistic aspect to vinyl as well. Pulling the record out of the sleeve, carefully placing it onto the record player, dropping the needle ever so cautiously. It gives the act of listening to music more meaning.

“I think when you see it spinning and you feel it, you actually hear the voice coming out of the studio, and I think that that’s important,” says Dickens.

He adds, “Music always brings us back to the story of our life, that’s why it’s back. New vinyl means creating a new story.”

The future of vinyl records looks promising. While the audience is still a niche one, sales are expected to continue increasing. Although times are always changing, records might be here to stay for quite a while.

TIPS FOR FIRST-TIME BUYERS

• Newly-pressed records and vintage records are not the same. Aim for older records that were made before the days of digital technology.

• Watch out for scratches on the surface.

• Sick of a record? Some stores will trade it in.

• Expensive isn’t always better when starting.

• Ask for help! That’s why the staff is there.

• Don’t buy a cheap, portable record player. Be prepared to spend a couple hundred dollars on a good player.

• Buy a cleaning kit to ensure better sound and protect the needle.

• Inventory changes frequently. If you don’t find anything you like, wait a couple days and come back.

• Build a relationship with the staff. Let them know what you’re looking for.

• Know the value of the record you are searching for. You might be on the search for a vintage “Abbey Road,” and knowing the going rate will make you a smarter shopper.

• Always know the return policy of the store.

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