Local bands capitalize on vinyl album boom

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Text and Video by Brittany McNeal, NewsNetNebraska

Because of technological advances, libraries of music can now be stored in a device smaller than a deck of cards.

Although digital music has flourished, music sales have declined — except for vinyl.

Clearly, what was old is new again.

As of 2011, alternative and independent artists and labels are the main distributors of vinyl records. Local bands have gotten in on the trend.

Nick Tarlowski (left) and Mikey Elfers (right) of the JV Allstars. (Photo credit: Lucky Stars Photography by Dawn Thorfinnson

Nick Tarlowski, singer/guitarist of the JV Allstars, said his band put out a 7” called “8, 6, 7”, 3, 0, 9” in 2009, and even though vinyl isn’t as popular as digital, it has sold well.

“Vinyl is neat. It’s old school. It also sounds awesome,” he said. “More and more music is pushed towards the digital side of things, and the actual hard-copy article is lost in the mix.”

Paul Knapp, guitarist for local band A Summer Better Than Yours, agreed and said music fans appreciate vinyl’s warm, real sound.

“I think that vinyl is really unique, not to mention the fans that actually go the extra step to purchase your album on such a classic format will almost undoubtedly listen to it in its entirety,” he said. “I don’t know a single person who will buy new vinyl just to let it sit and collect dust.”

Tarlowski said the people he knows who bought his band’s album on vinyl are collectors and audiophiles who enjoy the large artwork on the album sleeves.

“They like having their music in their hands as a real copy of the album, not just a track on iTunes, although I would imagine most people who buy records transfer those albums to their computers too,” he said.

A Summer Better Than Yours

One bonus to albums being pressed to vinyl now is that most also include a digital download of the album so listeners can also have the music on their computers, iPods or mp3 players.

Tarlowski is also the guitarist and vocalist for local ska band, The Heat Machine who had its full-length album, “No Coast Dance Party,” pressed to vinyl because it’s the medium their record label chose. The album also came with a digital download.

“The Heat Machine sold lots of vinyl on tour because we were able to sell them to kids without record players,” he said. “We sold the album for $10. The kids got the vinyl to keep or pin on their bedroom wall and the download for their computer. People who had record players and were collectors bought the vinyl and were happy with that. It worked out well.”

One downside for bands that want to put out their album on vinyl is cost. Tarlowski said it’s expensive and heavy, making shipping costs very pricey. In fact, 1,000 CDs in full-color jackets run about $700, while only 500 full-length 12” records run about $2,500.

He said there is a very thin line financially between CDs and vinyl to make it worthwhile for a band.

Vinyl sales have steadily increased since 2007 and are expected to increase this year.

“From a band’s standpoint, an actual release needs to be either cheaper to do a larger volume (CDs) or a much smaller amount of hard copies for collectors and big time fans of the band,” he said. “If CDs cost 70 cents each to make, and a record is $5, you would make a much shorter run of the vinyl. Make 200 and hand number them. Then, when they are gone, they are gone, and you aren’t stuck with 500 CD’s that no one will buy.”

Since vinyl is such a collector’s item, Tarlowski said there will always be at least a small market for it especially because bands usually only press a limited number.

“Well, if you’re going to buy the hard copy of an album, and you are a die-hard music fan, CD’s just seem flimsy and puny,” he said. “Vinyl is more rare because it its more expensive to make. Lots of big artists who release an album on iTunes and CD may only make 500 records to sell. If you have one of those, you have one of 500. That’s pretty cool to a lot of people.”

According to Nielsen SoundScan, the entertainment industry’s leading data information system, vinyl LP sales have climbed considerably during the last four years and are estimated to have risen even farther this year.

Although album sales have dropped during the past five years, single track sales have soared.

Physical album sales (CDs, cassettes, etc.) were down 13 percent in 2010 and are predicted again to fall this year, and although whole album sales fell, track (singles) sales have continued to climb.

Vinyl is a medium that was first developed in the 1930s and remained popular into the early 1980s with the rise of the cassette tape. The records are an analog medium that consists of a flat disc with an inscribed, modulated spiral groove that starts on the outside and ends near the center of the disc, the opposite of a CD.

Vinyl records are classified by their diameter (“12-inch,” “10-inch” and “7-inch” are the most common), their rotational speed (“33 1/3” rpm, “78,” “45,” etc…) and their reproductive accuracy or fidelity (“Mono,” “Stereo,” etc…)

Although vinyl was a dying medium just five years ago, its resurgence has been a welcome one for musicians and collectors alike. With its warm sound and large cover art, it appears that vinyl still has a long life ahead of it.

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