Post by CKCU-FM volunteer Matija Stojanovic.
30 years ago, vinyl began to fade away as it was replaced with cassettes. 20 years ago those cassettes went out of style in favor of CDs, which only a decade ago began to be replaced by digital media. And now in 2015, we’ve come full circle as vinyl has made a resurgence. But what caused this sudden surge in popularity? It may seem odd for our digital generation to adopt such a classic analog medium, but today’s teenagers are overwhelmingly choosing records over everything else. The Nielsen Journal recorded recent vinyl sales in the US as the highest in 20 years, with over 9 million records sold in the first quarter of 2015. A similar trend can be found in Canada’s biggest cities; a walk through downtown Montreal or Toronto will show dozens of booming music shops, which were facing extinction only 10 years ago. Despite its modest size, Ottawa has been one of the main sites for this vinyl revival with downtown record stores attracting a constant crowd of crate diggers. I spoke to Dan Gamble, who has been the owner of the Ottawa music store Turning Point since 1999, and discussed his opinions on the recent trend, where he sees it going in the future, and the Ottawa record scene.
Apt613: When did the recent vinyl trend start?
Dan: I think it started about three or four years ago; we always sold a small amount of vinyl very consistently, then the sales suddenly started to go up. It wasn’t as if there was anything different in our stock, it was just a change of interest. We weren’t expecting it at all so we were pleasantly surprised.
What do you think is the appeal of records that helped start the recent trend?
I think its having something tactile in your hands; the artwork, the covers, it’s a lot more attractive than downloading. I think it’s also the concept of a full album, especially when you’re going back to stuff from the 60s and 70s. Albums were produced to have a concept to them, they were meant to flow in a certain sequence, and I think people are beginning to pick up on that again. I also always thought that there was a different sound from vinyl than from digital. The difference is a warmer feeling and a lot of people have picked up on it and appreciated it.
If having a physical medium is part of the appeal, how come we aren’t seeing such a comeback with CDs?
The difference is in the sound, as I mentioned, as well as in the price. CDs are still going strong and they haven’t gone down, but they’re not growing. We’re a second hand store so we sell CDs for 8-10 bucks, but if you’re buying them new from HMV it’s 18 dollars for a new CD. I think iTunes has attracted people from that, but not from second hand ones, because if you get 15 tracks for 8 bucks then that’s a better deal. So I think it’s economics’s fault for CDs staying stagnant.
What demographic is picking up vinyl the most?
A lot of people over 50 are going back to it, rediscovering it. Then you have this young generation from 15-35 who have just discovered it. I think it’s that middle generation of 35-50 who aren’t into it, so it’s both ends of the spectrum but not the middle of it.
What are your opinions on the Ottawa scene for record stores?
I think the Ottawa stores are really on top of the game. I had a guy come in from Calgary who owns his own store, I think it’s called Hot Wax, and he said it’s the only store left in Calgary that’s selling second hand records. The only store in a city with a million people! That’s incredible. He said he’s lucky if he gets twelve people in the store on a Saturday. So Ottawa, for some reason, is a lot more progressive in terms of this recent vinyl thing. I think we’re really highly represented by the number of stores compared to the number of people in the city- a lot of people here really love music. There are a number of stores like us, Vertigo, and Record Center, that are in very busy environments like marketplace-type streets and you can’t do that in other cities’ downtown because you’d be in a little plaza or something.
Was there ever a point where you thought all physical music was on its way out?
We were really worried that when we bought the store in 1999, because music was starting to be downloaded and everything was free. We just started and we thought “Are we crazy?”. We just bought the business, and in 2 years people will have downloaded all they’d ever want to have and nothing else would ever sell. So we did have that fear initially about 15 years ago. We began to realize that having something tactile along with the reasons I mentioned earlier are really important to people, a lot of people.
How long do you see this trend lasting?
Every generation likes to do something different from the generation before. So now you have this generation who has discovered vinyl, much to their parent’s chagrin, who had grown up with tapes and CDs. So it’ll probably last another generation, 10 or 15 years, until those teenagers pick up the next technology. For supply, I think there’s a finite amount of second hand records around, but there’s a huge number within that finite amount. We’ve been getting more, better records in the last few years, more than ever before. People are looking through their garages and taking out those boxes and saying “Jeez, I’ll keep some of these and get rid of the other ones.” Maybe when my generation of 50+ uses up everything we’ve got, then the trend will switch to something else.
Overall, it’s easy to see a hopeful future for Ottawa’s vinyl scene. Along with Dan’s insight, there are other signs that records will be sticking around for a while this time. The introduction of a Vinyl Album Chart to track record sales show the new commercial value of the medium. They’ve even spread to boutique stores such as Urban Outfitters, which have begun selling overpriced records in an attempt to cater to their young market. In addition to the sales, there are also events such as Record Store Day, an annual celebration of music stores which started in 2007, which help show a growing community dedicated to LPs. Although their sudden spike in popularity may have surprised long time music lovers such as Dan, vinyl’s tangible form and warm charm have gotten a new generation in Ottawa and elsewhere to discover music’s most classic form.