Vinyl records aren’t just a novelty. To some, they’re tools used to produce art.edroom near campus.
Joey Larko’s fingers shuffle through the blue and black crates that lie at his feet under his desk. Just above them sit two turntables and a couple of two-foot-tall speakers where a college student would typically keep books. He lands on a bright yellow twelve-inch cardboard case with italicized Helvetica print on the cover and pulls out the album contained inside: Dutch Flowers by Skream. He switches the turntable to forty-five rotations per minute and drops the needle. A bas-filled beat follows the scratchy sound of the needle running across the album’s surface.
“I pretty much always choose vinyl if given a choice,” Larko says. “The bass is so much warmer, so much heavier. There’s nothing like it.”
“I call it black crack,” Larko says. He spends roughly fifteen dollars a week on new vinyl. “I just party less so I can afford it, which is better I suppose.”
Record enthusiasts like Larko are finding their way into music stores more often. According to a study conducted by the Nielson Company, 3.6 million vinyl albums were sold in the United States in 2011, a 37 percent increase from the previous year, and an increase that has since 2006. This is in stark contrast to 1993, when only 300,000 vinyl albums were sold nationwide.
In a music industry dominated by digital files, vinyl growth is unexpected. Eight-tracks, an early form of cassette tape, gained popularity in the late 1960s and early 1970s but were completely phased out of the market by 1982. Cassettes peaked in popularity during the late 1980s, but have become so obsolete that last year the term was removed from the Concise Oxford English Dictionary. Compact discs dominated the market until recently, when p3swhich could be acquired almost effortlessly and often for free from file-sharing programs—took over.
André Sirois, a disk jockey who goes by the stage name DJ oodtamp, refuses to “sell his soul” and use his computer when he at a party or club. While many DJs use the latest technology in their work, Sirois still scratches “wax meaning he uses a traditional turntable.
“[Records] are my tools, you know?” says Sirois, who DJs for University of Oregon campus radio station KWVA various clubs and parties in Eugene. “I buy records to share on the radio or to cut up a gig or to practice with. If you’re a carpenter you have a power saw and a hammer and stuff like that to do your job. For me, the more tools I have in my kit, the better the work I can do.”
Sirois says the reason vinyl has stuck around this long can be credited to DJs. In the ’80s and ’90s, record distribution dropped dramatically due to the introduction of tapes, and later CDs. During that time, Sirois says record jukebox DJs.
, while sacrificing the finesse and effort associated with the creation of albums. Records had to be perfected before they were printed and distributed because printing was expensive. In turn, bands that printed on records had an incentive to create high-quality music.
“There are discs from the late 1800s that still play,” Sirois says. “Show me a CD from 1985 that will work in 2035. Tell me that our dominant format now, p3s, will be able to be read by computers in twenty or thirty years. A vinyl record is a record of musical history that will always be played.”
Jake Pavlak has been making music since high school. His bands have so far produced two vinyl records, and Pavlak plans to produce a seven-inch cooperative vinyl record with another band this year.
While it hasn’t always been easy for Pavlak to “make it” in the music world, he believes in the power of vinyl and its effect on the music contained within it.
“As an artist, I think my music sounds better on vinyl for sure,” he says. “We had a show a little while ago and our vinyl outsold our CDs.”
Although Pavlak’s music is to a pressing plant in California, he finds the music still sounds better when he receives it on vinyl. He also appreciates having a physical representation of his work.
“It’s really cool to have something to show,” Pavlak says. “If you just record and put something out on the Internet, it’s not the same. If you put out a record, you can get the press behind it and it can be something exciting and something to look forward to.”
Greg Sutherland—a record buyer at House of Records in Eugene—sells Pavlak’s in the shop. To Sutherland, vinyl surpasses other formats not only in sound, but also in experience.
“A record is a piece of art that includes visuals and sound,” he says.
To Sutherland, vinyl has numerous advantages over other formats. For instance, CD cases are made of cheap plastic and are a hassle to open. He says many people find the adhesive ribbon on the top spine of CD cases a source of annoyance. Sutherland also notes that mp3s are simply invisible megabytes in cyberspace and in many cases do not include album artwork.
“It’s kind of romantic to me,” Sutherland says. “Instead of [mp3s] being the future right now, it looks more like this older form that has been around since the late ’40s or early ’50s is going to be the future.”
Robert Bielski has collected records since 1959. During his time as a traveling salesman, he would stop at music stores and purchase records when he heard a song that he liked on the radio.
“It was a hobby that got out of control,” Bielski says, acknowledging his addiction to collecting vinyl. “I’ve already sold off a lot of my collection, but I still have about ten thousand at home. I filled up my basement and half of my house.” Bielski sold a small percentage of his collection at the Eugene Record Convention this past February.
Larko is a new-age collector, as opposed to Bielski, who collects vintage records. Whereas many people believe that record collecting is restricted to older music, most of Larko’s personal collection is comprised of bands and groups that have released music in the past decade. He has to many of his records from the United Kingdom because his favorite artists in his preferred genre, a type of underground dance music called dubstep, are based
“With dubstep, vinyl is so much better because you can feel the bass,” Larko says.
The compression process used with CDs and p3s standardizes the levels on the music tracks: the softer sections are made louder, whereas the louder sections are made quieter. Depending on the amount of compression used, a recording could lose most of its dynamic range.
“I think that a lot of kids who were born in the late ’80s or early ’90s grew up without records in a digital world,” Sutherland says. “Because kids never experienced what it’s like to listen to a record, the very first time they hear it is pretty shocking to them. Mp3s and CDs don’t sound as good as records do.”
With records, there is no compression process. What a listener hears is pure, unadulterated music.
“It sounds really organic when you’re listening to a record,” Larko says. “Sometimes it sounds like you’re in the studio with them.”
With records’ surge in popularity more and more modern bands are releasing their albums on vinyl. The Black Keys’ most recent album release, El Camino, was widely sought after. House of Records received twelve copies of the album a week after its release—they sold out in a week and special orders for more.
Printing fewer records allows for more exclusivity among vinyl albums. To enthusiasts like Larko, the drive to accumulate records is partially inspired by the rarity of an album. From collecting white labels—promotional vinyl discs that were handed out in limited quantity—to digging through crates to find a hidden gem, collectors will look for records few others might own.
“Exclusivity is a huge part of it for me,” Larko says. “It’s really cool to know that you’re one of a couple hundred people who have that sound in the world.”
To many vinyl enthusiasts, collecting isn’t about reselling records to make a profit. Bielski believes that fewer than 25 percent of vendors who attend the Eugene Record Convention are there to make money. Vinyl collectors are unique in that sense. Albums are typically purchased with the intention of being opened, listened to and enjoyed, in contrast to items like action figures, which many collectors leave in their original packaging in order to preserve the toy’s condition.
Despite the convenience of mp3s and other electronic music formats, vinyl has persisted
, thanks to work of collectors and DJs. organic sound continues to appeal those who believe modern music formats are lacking in quality and realism. Records have inspired a community of music enthusiasts to rally around the cause, demonstrated by DJ’s like Sirois who continue to use turntables, or artists like Pavlak who choose to produce vinyl albums rather than mp3s. Together, their message is clear.
Vinyl is here to stay.