What You Will Find Here
Vinyl Lives provides an inside look at the contemporary, independent American record store. This website includes several of the Interviews included in my first book Vinyl Lives: The Rise and Fall and Resurgence of the American Independent Record Store (Aventine Press, 2010).
Vinyl Lives II: More Record Stores and Record Collectors, my follow-up to the first Vinyl Lives will be published by Aventine Press in January, 2013. Both books are available at many independent record stores and via Amazon.
Many popular and well-known record stores thrive in some of America's most musically rich cities (New York, Chicago, New Orleans and Austin, to name a few). Other record stores in less well known areas are no less valuable to our larger musical culture. Most record stores are valuable cultural resources--both within their communities and within our larger culture.
This website and both books--Vinyl Lives and Vinyl Lives II--celebrate independent record store owners and staffers everywhere.
In addition to providing information on numerous record stores, the Vinyl Lives website includes information on record presses, various 78 and 45rpm recordings and notable individuals involved in different areas of the music industry. Along the way, the Vinyl Lives website celebrates the collaborative process surrounding the creation of music in all of it's forms, with a special affection for the art form known as the vinyl record album.
In 1988, the vinyl record was declared obsolete and the era of the Compact Disc (CD) and digital sound began--and changed our cultural landscape forever.
To adapt, independently owned record stores (which might include small or sizable chains, like Tower or others) converted their retail spaces to accommodate the smaller medium. Record collectors sold off their collections. Recording engineers and musicians learned about digital technologies and (mostly) rode the first big wave of the digital conversion. The music buying public embraced CDs. Vinyl (supposedly) became unwanted, no longer deserving of our attentions.
Within the next twenty years, particularly in the first several years of the new millennium, the number of record stores in the United States declined by more than half. Successive waves of technological innovation introduced a multitude of digitally-based consumer appliances to the marketplace.
Throughout this time period, vinyl records were still being produced, although sales scans tracking the number of records sold each year had--for many years--remained close to flat. Then, in 2006, the vinyl format began to experience the beginnings of a comeback!
Many record store owners remained unconvinced, while others--who had never stopped believing in vinyl all along--welcomed the renewed attention.
How these record stores began and how they continue to survive and thrive sheds an important light on this under appreciated and often maligned part of our musical culture.
Despite all the negative chatter surrounding vinyl, it had never really entirely disappeared. Records remained collectible (albeit to a reduced audience) while advances in analog technology continued. Then, having skipped a generation, college kids, hip-hop artists and the next wave of notable musicians helped to revive interest in this once marginalized format.
Record store owners who had been able to remain prudent and relevant had done so with the help of collectors from Europe and Asia; many of these owners purchased their vast inventories inexpensively; they benefited by continuing to develop their customer base, whether through changes in musical styles or through more specialized or niche items.
By necessity, these store owners found ways to profit from the ebb and flow of trends. Some expanded their product lines to include everything from candy to lifestyle items--a wide ranging category that might include toys, gadgets and the occasional Gargoyle! One way or the other, the people who owned/operated or managed independent record stores remained determined to maintain their retail presence. A few retailers never succumbed to the dilution of their product mix. Fewer still sold nothing but 100% vinyl--record albums only! Supportive communities contributed heavily in the equation.
Nowadays, records appear in music videos and as cool interior decor in TV shows and movies; and turntables, old school-styled record players and vintage all-tube amplifiers and other analog gear are fashionable again. Throughout it all, rare and collectible LPs, 45s and 78 rpm discs have continued to command top dollar.
Within recent years, major record labels have taken notice and have been getting back into manufacturing and distributing vinyl. Currently, there's quite an abundance of new and recently re-issued vinyl (and CDs) to choose from.
With the introduction of Record Store Day, originally begun in 2008, the increased attention on record stores has had a noticeably positive effect--both on the record store experience and the marketplace for physical pieces of music.
From 2006 until 2010, year-end new vinyl LP sales (as determined by music industry organizations like the Recording Industry of America (RIAA) and Nielsen Soundscan) climbed from .06 percent to more than 30 percent per year. However, in 2011, the RIAA reported that digital sales of music had passed the halfway mark for the first time. And Nielsen Soundscan (as reported in Billboard) reported that, by late 2012, vinyl album sales rose only 16.8 percent.
But new vinyl sales figures only point to part of the picture. After all, used record sales are the basic economic unit for independent record stores. And so far, no one has devised or implemented a method for tracking domestic (or global) used vinyl record sales. But to experience a well known and excellent record store is to understand that their impact extends beyond the everyday noises of the marketplace. The good-to-great ones survive because they continue to provide a wide variety of human needs like social interaction.
Independent record stores have something that the frontier of cyberspace does not: the ability to captivate the senses of a wide diversity of music fans. Unlike the Internet, these physical places bring people together to shop and interact--in person. Often, popular and thriving record stores make every effort to appeal to as wide an audience as possible--from casual browsers to the most passionate record collector.
Record stores function on a variety of different levels. They are so called "third places" where a wide variety of people can interact and where the culture of music can be seen, heard and held in your hands. Record stores thrive as a unique form of community gathering place.
Record stores also serve as cultural showrooms--places where trends are launched and where old and new forms of music can be debated, explored and assimilated. Also, record stores function as magnets for a significant number of local and nationally recognized musicians who seek out musical outposts wherever they can.
To all kinds of people throughout the world, record stores are shrines, important and significant destinations where one's beliefs in music can be shared and validated. In the multi-dimensional environment of a record store, the universal creative source can be felt, often in stark contrast to mainstream mega-stores or their cyberspace counterparts.
Without independently owned record stores, our world would be a sad place indeed. May those that currently thrive continue. And may future generations come to understand the important and meaningful place that record stores hold in our world's musical culture. Vinyl Lives!
The Vinyl Lives website includes several of the Interviews found in the book Vinyl Lives: The Rise and Fall and Resurgence of the American Independent Record Store(Aventine Press, 2010). New material--and additional sections not included in the book--will be periodically added to the website.
© James P. Goss, 2009. All rights reserved. Website by FCE Web Design.