Vinyl's growth brings need for turntables
Posted November 24, 2012
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- If walking into Grimey's Too, the expansion of the renowned Nashville record store Grimey's New & Preloved Music, feels like taking a step back in time when it opens later this year, Doyle Davis will have achieved his goal.
He's stocking the store with records, books and magazines to further cement its place as the bricks, mortar and vinyl counterpoint to the overwhelmingly digital age.
"We're doubling down on all these physical media that are supposed to be obsolete," said Davis, the shop's co-owner and self-described vinylist. "Even though it does seem to fly in the face of current conventional wisdom that everything is going to digital platforms."
Persistent sales growth of vinyl records over the last several years seems reason enough to see promise in the Grimey's expansion plan. But there may even be new cause for optimism: the recent resurgence of the turntable, as well.
While vinyl record sales have been climbing for more than a half-decade, last year marked the first time in more than 10 years that there was an appreciable increase in sales of the machines used to spin those records.
When the 2,100-square-foot expanded Grimey's opens, it will carry a deeper inventory of turntables and turntable products, including the variety of parts, such as replacement needles and cartridges, that turntable owners eventually need, Davis said. On a recent day, Grimey's offered three turntable models for sale, ranging in price from $160 to $350.
"Honestly, I'm making lists of all the things that customers have asked us about that we've not carried," Doyle said of the store's expansion plan. "This just feels natural. We're putting all their needs under one roof."
Grimey's is not alone. Independent music stores nationwide are expanding product offerings to include ancillary items, most specifically turntables, said Jim Donio, president of the National Association of Recording Merchandisers.
"The independent community has aggressively and enthusiastically embraced the resurgence in vinyl sales," Donio said. "One of the benefits in the increased vinyl sales has been the growth of record stores."
Young and old
Over the past several years, vinyl sales have been buoyed by everyone from young adults, who find the concept novel, to audiophiles, who have grown tired of listening to sounds compressed into MP3 files.
Nearly 3.9 million vinyl records were purchased in 2011, the last year for which data are available, compared with 857,000 in 2005, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Record stores such as Grimey's, where sales were up 23 percent in 2011 over the previous year, have benefited.
"The vinyl thing is huge," Davis said. "I could say that the expansion of the store and the expansion of business is due to vinyl sales."
Donio said the expansion of retail product offerings to include turntables is a response to the more recent actions of artists and record labels which have, in increasing number, been releasing fresh product in album form.
Many independent record labels and artists also seem to see vinyl as more of a business investment and less as a novelty. That is reflected in the shift in business at United Record Pressing. The Nashville record maker had primarily been called on to press 12-inch promotional singles on vinyl but has been asked in the past few years to press full-length albums, said Jay Millar, the company's director of marketing. Requests have grown so much that the company has added a third shift and another day to its business hours, Millar said.
"There's definitely a lot more of the pop artists doing it now," Millar said.
Earlier this week, for instance, the shop was working on Taylor Swift's "Red" album.
Chart toppers Florence and the Machine, Arcade Fire and Mumford & Sons all released vinyl versions of their work this year. Last week, the entire Beatles catalog was made available on vinyl.
"If the artists and the labels are creating more vinyl product, people are going to need something to play it on," Donio said. "That fuels the development of more turntables. There's a domino effect to the resurgence."
More than a fad
Until now, turntables had not achieved growth parallel to that of vinyl records. About 54,000 turntable units sold in 2011, an increase of 1.9 percent, according to the National Association of Music Merchants. Record player sales had fallen in nine of the 11 years preceding 2011. In the other two years, there was negligible growth of less than half a percentage point.
The rise in popularity of the analog music formats and tools should not be overstated. Vinyl has little shot of supplanting digital as the preferred way to buy and listen to music. Sales of physical albums represented just 1 percent of the music sales market in 2011.
Still, for some Nashville businesses the rebound seems to be more than just a passing fad. Take Audio Masters in Murfreesboro, where a once-sleepy sector of business recently was reawakened.
Store manager Toney Rounsaville serviced two record players in four days last week, now typical for the company, which has sold and serviced turntables since 1967. Before the uptick in vinyl sales, that number was closer to one every few weeks.
"It's kind of fun," Rounsaville said. "I didn't realize it would come back to this degree."
The story is the same at PC Stat, which in addition to repairing more turntables is getting requests for jukebox servicing.
"We've done three or four in the last month," owner John Clubb said. "And that's usually three or four a year."
Business has been driven by the under-30 set, Rounsaville said. "I think most of it has surged from the kids," he said. "You'd think it was the parents going for the nostalgia, but it's the kids."
Belmont University adjunct professor Mark Maxwell is trying to keep the interest alive. On the first day of school, he gives students a list of recorded music they should purchase for the class he teaches on Bob Dylan. They're free to purchase the music in any format they'd like, but Maxwell, also an entertainment attorney, pushes "preferably on vinyl."
Turntable buyers and owners guide
Don't toss out your old table: If you have a vintage turntable, try having it repaired before buying a new model. Most older turntables have a feature that allows users to replace the cartridge that controls record playback quality, a feature that might be important to audiophiles. Newer models are often outfitted with one standard cartridge that won't allow the sound quality to be adjusted.
If you must buy, remember to listen first: Give your turntable a test listen before buying. Play a record at average volume and listen for noise. You don't want to hear static or humming.
Buy a record cleaner: Invest in a record cleaning kit. If you clean records regularly, you'll be less likely to have to replace your turntable's needle. Kits cost about $20.
Treat your turntable with care: The turntable is not meant to be mobile. Mount it in a safe, sturdy place.
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