A small but growing chunk of music listeners prefer to get their music the analog way. Sales of vinyl records sold during Record Store Day 2015 increased from last year, cementing the promotion as a buzzy and effective way to build interest in both new and catalog titles.
Exclusive releases from the White Stripes and rap outfit Run the Jewels dominated vinyl sales on Saturday, when about 2,000 record stores around the world celebrated RSD with special releases and in-store events (see chart below for the most popular titles).
Sales were measured by BuzzAngle Music, a service of Border City Media, which tracked the sales data from RSD for the first time last year. BuzzAngle’s data from 2015 revealed a 3.3% year-over-year increase from 2014, fueled by fan fervor for exclusive presses from the likes of Father John Misty and the Black Keys. Even cassette tapes fared well; Metallica’s “No Life Til Leather” tape was the day’s second-most popular release.
Founded in 2007 by a group of record store owners including Michael Kurtz to counteract their businesses’ struggles in the face of digital alternatives, the event has grown every year since its inception. Kurtz says the inaugural event was celebrated by about a hundred stores, and grew out of the question, “‘How do we change the impression people have about music stores?’ Because Tower [Records] had just closed and everything was negative,” said Kurtz, who runs RSD as the topper of the Department of Record Stores coalition.
In the years since Tower’s closing, smaller stores continue to cultivate an important niche in many communities. “Record stores have gone from struggling to surviving to thriving,” Kurtz said.
Bryan Burkert, owner of the Sound Garden record store in Baltimore, knows this firsthand — he expanded Sound Garden’s square footage earlier this month. “I’m excited that I could build a huge addition to my record store in 2015,” Burkert says.
Nielsen reports vinyl album sales have increased by 260% in the U.S. since 2009, helped by a resurgence in small stores and especially by chain retailers Urban Outfitters and Barnes & Noble peddling new and old titles among their other wares.
Dave Grohl, ambassador of this year’s RSD, attributes the interest in vinyl to tech fatigue. “Now you can have 10,000 songs on your watch, and download them when you’re walking down the street from a satellite, or whatever,” says the Foo Fighters founder. “So that convenience, as amazing and almighty as it is, is overshadowed by the emotional experience of sitting down and opening up a record from your childhood, smelling it, thinking of your childhood bedroom, or staring at John Lennon’s face as you listen to ‘Imagine.’”
While Grohl emphasizes the personal feelings associated with listening to a vinyl album, Kurtz and Burkert agree that the social aspect of visiting a record store can be much more meaningful than quietly browsing the iTunes store. “It’s more of a communal experience,” Kurtz says, citing recommendations he’s received from record store employees.
Burkert concurs. “If you do everything digital, it’s such a lonely world.”
The yearly sales surge of some 600% on RSD — many shops do about a month’s worth of business on the day, with store owners agreeing that it’s “bigger than Christmas” — doesn’t just come from the stereotypical music collectors, as vinyl has become big with younger listeners.
“I have a 17-year-old daughter, and she buys vinyl all the time,” Burkert says.
Grohl’s oldest daughter, age 9, is even getting into the vinyl game. Grohl rediscovered the significance of records through introducing them to her. After showing his daughter how to operate a turntable, Grohl said, “she was so blown away. I left the room and came back half an hour later, and she was sitting on the floor with all these records scattered everywhere. She was reading the lyrics and she was having this tangible experience, which I think becomes an emotional experience.”
At a time when the music industry is facing diminished sales of downloads, perhaps it’s time for a little less .mp3 and a little more RPM.
See chart below or at BuzzAngleMusic for the event’s most popular titles.