(Written January 2014)
Disc Jockey Emily Scholle has a passion for vinyl records, one that began with a pair of tiny, dirty toddler hands and a sense of rebellion.
“Vinyl always did have a little something extra for me,” Scholle said. “We had a couple of records when I was really little growing up, and I was never allowed to touch them, because when you’re little your hands are all grubby and stuff. It was this big forbidden thing, so that’s part of what the draw was for me.”
Scholle has DJed for KJHK in Lawrence and plays various gigs under the moniker DJ Modrey Hepburn, but you won’t find her simply plugging in her computer and watching two people on the dance floor do the electric slide; Scholle is a rare breed of DJ who plays exclusively vinyl at her shows, mostly from the 1950s and ’60s.
Scholle’s infatuation with vinyl is indicative of a larger trend in the music industry over the last five years in which sales of vinyl LPs have increased from 1.9 million in 2008 to 6 million in 2013, according to Digital Music News.
Kelly Corcoran, who owns Love Garden Sounds on Eighth and Massachusetts Streets and has over 2,500 records, says this vinyl revival isn’t the result of middle-aged people reliving their youth through old Rod Stewart albums, but young 20-somethings looking to rebel through music, just as Scholle was.
“A whole generation of people have been taught their culture is irrelevant and has no value because baby-boomers always say, ‘Well, The Beatles are the best,’ and that gets annoying,” Corcoran said. “Young people are buying records because they’re thinking, ‘This physical thing reinforces my taste and it means my taste has value. Look, they made a record, and it must be a big deal if they made a record.’”
To see how big of an influence young adults are having on vinyl sales, just look at Billboard’s top 10 best selling vinyl albums of 2013, a list that includes Daft Punk (“Random Access Memories”), Arcade Fire (“Reflektor”) and Vampire Weekend (“Modern Vampires of the City”), among other contemporary bands.
But there’s more at play here than just musical revolt when it comes to the increase in vinyl sales. From the light thud a needle makes when it’s dropped onto a record to having to physically flip it to continue to hear the music, Corcoran says listening to vinyl is a process people simply enjoy.
“It’s a learned process and requires an appreciation for stopping for a minute, that’s what people like about it,” Corcoran said. “I’ll literally sit there like some hippie in ’72 and look inside the gatefold and just gawk at the pictures and be really curious.”
In a time when sales of typical music mediums like CDs and digital albums are dropping, vinyl LPs are experiencing such unprecedented growth that the music industry is being forced to accommodate it. According to Nielsen SoundScan, 2013 saw CD sales dropped by 14.5 percent, and for the first time since the creation of iTunes, digital album sales dipped into the negative, declining by .01 percent. Juxtaposed to that are the sales of vinyl LPs, which grew by 32 percent in the past year.
“You definitely don’t run into any artists who aren’t on vinyl,” said Franklin Fantini, an employee at Love Garden Sounds. “Anybody that’s on a decently sized label is going to be releasing everything on CD, digital and vinyl, so there’s rarely anything new that you can’t find on vinyl now.”
However, as vinyl records continue their inevitable ascension from hipster niche to mainstream, they could face the same issue as the popular indie bands on their covers: Sellin’ out and losing the fans that were there from the beginning, man.
“There was a time when new music on vinyl was a rare thing,” Scholle said. “Maybe some indie bands would put out a vinyl just for the heck of it, but as it gets more popular, the price of vinyl has gone up too, and that really sucks.”