Local record stores celebrate return of vinyl's popularity

When the Bee Gees’ Living Eyes became the first album ever manufactured for public demonstration of new compact disc (CD) technology in 1981, vinyl records looked as though they would soon be supplanted by new digital technology of the computer era. As the 1980s played on, vinyl would gradually disappear from music store shelves. 

For a little while, that is. 

Fast-forward to today, when aging CD technology is increasingly being outmoded by digital music downloads. 

Yet, vinyl fever is burning up once again. According to the most recent data from Nielsen SoundScan, sales of LPs (long-playing records) have mushroomed from 2.9 million in 2013 to 4 million in 2014 – that’s about a 35 percent increase. 

Who’s driving vinyl’s resurgence and why? For one, much of the push toward retro records comes from older adults who fondly remember the rich sound of music on vinyl. Audiophiles and record storeowners agree that vinyl records reproduce richer, warmer sounds than CDs.

Michelle Allen, co-owner of Banana’s Music in St. Petersburg, explains the rebounding popularity of vinyl records. “There have been many articles published on the sound differences between the [CD and vinyl] formats, and current vinyl buyers are very aware of it,” Allen says. She thinks the nostalgia factor is also at play, especially with older crowds who grew up listening to their music on vinyl.

But the growing movement toward vinyl goes beyond better sound or fond memories of the past. In many cases, vinyl is the only format on which one can find certain songs and performers. 

“Only five percent of the music catalog ever made it to compact disc, so there’s lots of music and artists waiting to be discovered on vinyl,” Allen adds. “Also, fewer ‘indie’ groups seem to be doing CDs and more vinyl, so it kind of forces you to purchase music on vinyl unless it’s available on download which, if you don’t like CDs, you are not going to like the sound of downloads.”

“Most people love music, and they want it to sound good, which is something that vinyl offers,” comments Manny Kool, owner of Daddy Kool Records in St. Petersburg. “Music sounds better on a record.”

Younger adults — Gen Xers and Millennials – also are fueling the vinyl industry. 

Tampa resident James Libengood, 28, owns more than 100 records and says “the raw, tangible recreation of analog sound” is one of the many reasons he loves collecting vinyl. “I would also say that the recent trend toward LP records reflects how truly ephemeral music is becoming in the 21st century,” he adds. 

Annual Record Store Day 

Every year on the third Saturday of April, vinyl fanatics come together to celebrate independent record stores across the United States. Record Store Day, an event that was first held in 2007 and is now recognized internationally, draws thousands to record stores throughout the Tampa Bay area each year.

In Tampa, Keith Ulrey of Microgroove at 4906 N. Florida Avenue anticipates huge crowds will show up at his popular store in the historic Seminole Heights neighborhood on Record Store Day. 

“We’ll be opening at 9 am – earlier than usual – to welcome crowds with special releases,” he says. Cappy’s Pizza, located next door, will be offering pizza by the slice and popular tricycle-based coffee entrepreneur Joel Davis, of Commune + Co coffee, will be pedaling his mobile brew to event goers. 

“We’re looking to turn Record Store Day into a one-day block party,” Ulrey says. 

Across the Bay, Allen at Banana’s Music hypothesizes why Record Store Day has become so popular. 

“I think Record Store Day has a lot to do with the resurgence of vinyl records among the Millennial age group,” she says. Banana’s Music, which has been in business for 38 years and has customers as far away as Estonia and the Falkland Islands, will offer an extravaganza with sales, giveaways and cuisine by the Maui Mama food truck. The record store at 2887 22nd Ave. N. in St. Petersburg will also host performances by surf rock band The Vultures, accordion artist Nick Boutwell and DJ Mike Blenda. 

A couple dozen blocks to the southeast, Daddy Kool Records will also mark Record Store Day with events and sales. Storeowner Kool says the booming affinity for vinyl is multifaceted. “The excitement around vinyl is driven by kids and older people who remember records, and this adds to the demand.” Daddy Kool Records, located at 666 Central Ave., has been serving local music lovers since 1985 – incidentally, when the compact disc was exploding on the commercial scene. 

Records make the charts

Over the last 30 years, Daddy Kool Records has been successful in drawing legions of devotees, including Jason Killingsworth, 35, of St. Petersburg. Not only did he and his alternative rock band, A Chance of Fireballs, once play at the adjacent Fubar when Daddy Kool Records hosted a Record Store Day event in 2011, but he loves vinyl, too. 

“Vinyl appeals to me because it begs for a deeper listen,” Killingsworth says. “It doesn’t have the impatience of the CD with constant skipping of tracks deemed less worthy and repeating desired tracks. It lacks the disjointed, out-of-context nature of the MP3 with single tracks added to playlists and offering only tiny, superficial glimpses into the overall piece of the work.”

He says he has “only” about 70 vinyl albums at this time. “I know people with thousands,” he adds. “The phrase ‘what’s your favorite album?’ lives on with vinyl.” His favorite albums are many and include David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars, Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, and Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks. 

Meanwhile, Libengood’s favorite albums include Boards of Canada’s Music Has the Right to Children, Death Grip’s The Powers That B, and Varg Vikernes’ Sôl Austan, Mâni Vestan (Old Norse for “East of the Sun, West of the Moon”). The University of South Florida graduate assistant plans to celebrate Record Store Day by picking up Oneohtrix Point Never’s special release for the annual holiday, Commissions II.  

“I remember buying Windhand’s self-titled debut LP Windhand in 2012 and thinking that their sound would be a good listen on vinyl,” he recalls. “It was cool that Garrett Morris, Windhand’s guitarist, provided me with an extra copy feeling that he was late in shipping the album with a personalized note. That’s yet another reason why I prefer the medium – the history and correspondences that one might find in a used record sleeve.”

“People want to experience their music in a different way than by simply clicking a button on a CD player or iPod,” Kool believes. “The experience of taking a record out from a sleeve, putting it on a turntable, and hearing the warmth of the sound is novel these days.” 

Killingsworth agrees: “Putting on a record is a commitment to fully immerse yourself into an artist’s world for half a record at a time,” the web designer and marketing professional says. “You choose to lower the needle and embark on a journey until the last crackle and the needle raising and gently resting where it began.” 

What: Record Store Day
When: April 18, 2015
Why: To promote local independent record stores 
Where: Independent record stores across the Tampa Bay area, including:

Banana’s Music -- 2887 22nd Avenue North St. Petersburg, FL (727) 321-6814

Daddy Kool Records -- 666 Central Avenue St. Petersburg, FL (727) 822-5665

Microgroove -- 4906 North Florida Avenue Tampa, FL (813) 667-7089

Mojo Books & Records -- 2540 East Fowler Avenue Tampa, FL (813) 971-9717

Sound Exchange -- 14246 North Nebraska Avenue Tampa, FL (813) 978-9316

Read more articles by Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez.

 Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez is a feature writer for 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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