A few decades ago, vinyl records appeared destined for the same fate as eight-track cartridges and Betamax tapes. Cassette tapes and compact discs had taken a big bite out of the recorded music market, and turntables were quickly disappearing from home stereo systems.
“There was a time in the ’90s when they weren’t pressing vinyl at all,” said Justin Polonuk, manager of The Soundhouse record store in Red Deer.
Fast-forward to today, and vinyl is outselling CDs by a four-to-one margin, he pointed out. This in part reflects the fact that CD sales tumbled when consumers started downloading their music, but record sales have also jumped.
“Vinyl sales are at a number they haven’t seen in 25 years.”
The improbable rebirth of vinyl will be celebrated this Saturday, when the seventh annual Record Store Day will bring merchants, musicians and consumers together in shops around the world. Among the thousands of independently owned record stores taking part will be The Soundhouse.
“It is our busiest day of the year, quite easily,” said Polonuk.
The event will feature live performances by bands St. Groove, Pretty Lucky, and So This is Our Band I Guess. Visitors to the store will find dozens of records released specifically for Record Store Day.
“Just a ton of new and exciting vinyl that has never come out before,” said Polonuk, listing as examples a recording of a 1991 concert of Joe Strummer with The Pogues, and a previously withdrawn Nirvana single.
“We have a couple hundred titles coming in.”
There are several reasons for the revival of records, said Polonuk. Analogue music is superior to digital, he insisted, offering a more natural and broader range of sound.
There’s also the satisfaction of taking a record out of its liner, placing it on a turntable, setting the stylus and listening to the music flow from one track to the next.
“You kind of get to see it the way the artist imagined the music, instead of this single-serving iTunes thing,” said Polonuk.
Some people appreciate the artwork on album covers, and develop an emotional attachment to their collections, he added.
For collectors, there’s also the thrill of the hunt that doesn’t exist when clicking titles on a computer screen.
“The art of digging is what we call it,” said Polonuk. “Where you go through and you try to find those little treasures that are special to you.”
Many musicians also favour vinyl, he said, with some choosing it as the vehicle with which to deliver their lyrical messages to fans. One advantage is reduced copyright infringement.
“It’s pretty hard to pirate a vinyl,” said Polonuk.
The Soundhouse has about 13,000 titles in stock, estimated Polonuk. About a thousand of these are new releases.
“We have everything from Glenn Miller to the brand new Pearl Jam — and kind of everything in between.”
Customers also run the gamut.
“We are getting everything from 14-year-old girls who are coming in to buy Beattles records . . . all the way up to — well I have a couple customers who are probably in their 70s.”
New records at The Soundhouse sell for $18 to $40, with used records priced between $4 and $10. New vinyl often comes with free MP3 downloads, noted Polonuk, which gives buyers the best of both worlds.
The Soundhouse, which is located at 4921 48th St., opened four years ago. Local residents Mike Williamson and Davin Kemshead purchased the former Records to the Rafters store — which had dealt in new and used records for decades — and resurrected the business.
The Soundhouse will be open from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. for Record Store Day this Saturday. Live music is scheduled until about 3 p.m.