Sep 30, 2011

In Austin and Elsewhere, Vinyl Is Hip

Chart by Reporting Texas.

By Carson Lane
For Reporting Texas

AUSTIN—Vinyl record sales are continuing to rise in Austin and around the country, and vinyl’s popularity isn’t just about sound quality. Increasingly, vinyl is part of being hip.

Vinyl audiophiles have said for years that the analog music from a vinyl recording is richer and more natural than digital recordings. Vinyl has also become hip and carries a certain cache. In a hipster town like Austin, that means higher sales.

“To me, once you can buy something at Urban Outfitters, it’s definitely become a trend, and I think that’s what happened to vinyl. Yes, I’ve bought records before, but not because they sound any better. I don’t even have a record player. I use them for decoration,” said Andrea Gregory, a 22-year-old student at St. Edward’s University.

According to Nielsen SoundScan, annual vinyl sales will be worth around $3.6 million this year. That’s up 300 percent compared with 2006, and 29 percent above last year’s sales. Local sellers said vinyl sales continue to grow locally.

“It’s a combination of things—the fact that it’s not digital has a lot to do with it. People can get almost anything on the Internet, and purchasing a record gives fans some level of ownership and dedication. Just the experience itself attracts people. There is something substantive about it and it has value. Plus listening to vinyl is just a lot of fun,” said Dan Plunkett, owner of End of An Ear record store.

Classic Beatles albums are strong sellers. So are hipster bands like Fleet Foxes, Radiohead, Mumford & Sons and Panda Bear, according to a midyear report from SoundScan.

Austin-based producer Nick Malkiewicz, stage name NickNack, founded Crowd Control Records in 1995. He has produced more vinyl than digital music because vinyl makes more sense for a DJ, he said.

“I love the convenience of digital and therefore listen to it more these days. However, I enjoy digging through vinyl much more. Something about reading all the liner notes and seeing the photos is so fulfilling,” Malkiewicz said. “Mostly likely the collectibility aspect of it has made it big recently. The artwork is something, too. The medium itself has a natural compression,” he said.

Jon Kunz, owner of Austin’s most well-known music store, Waterloo Records, is a devotee of vinyl and its analog sound. He’s happy more people are beginning to appreciate LP’s and vinyl records. In August, the highest-selling vinyl albums at Waterloo were produced by the bands: Bon Iver, Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks, and Washed Out.

“In addition to the sound, certainly being able to touch it and it being human size have something to do with people enjoying it. And to me, there’s something about the smell of a record, too. When you crack it open and listen to it, it’s just satisfying,” said Kunz. “For me, the preference is vinyl.”