Ryan McNutt is a fan of streaming music on-the-go and at the office, and he’s been a Spotify Premium subscriber for a few years now. But when he gets home at the end of the day, the millennial says there’s no question what he’ll choose – a good old-fashioned vinyl record.
“I want to listen to full albums—it’s my favourite way to listen, and what vinyl is built for,” says McNutt, who lives in Halifax but regularly comes to visit his parents in Salmon River.
His vinyl collection includes more than 600 albums – mostly LPs – and he’s been adding to it since 2009 when he got his own record player.
“For me, it’s about finding those albums that I want to sit down and listen to,” says McNutt. “I’ve got my fair share of classic rock/pop records, but my tastes skew modern so I’d say the bulk of my collection is contemporary.”
Most of his collection sits on IKEA shelving in his living room, with the overflow stored in a chest nearby. For McNutt, it’s all about the tactile experience of collecting and handing vinyl.
“It requires work to pull out the album and put it on the turntable. It forces you to devote your attention to it,” says McNutt. “And there’s something about actually owning music that’s important to me – it’s something that’s mine, speaks to me and my personal tastes, and can’t be deleted.”
It’s 25- to 35-year-olds like McNutt who are responsible for the vinyl boom that’s shaking up the music industry. Turntables outsold headphones and Bluetooth speakers in 2015, the best-selling audio device of the year after the iPhone.
Stores are cashing in on the fact that there’s an elegance to owning a beautiful record player—especially after decades of chunky black stereo systems or handheld devices.
Urban Outfitters sells pretty pastel record players equipped with Bluetooth technology for between $105 and $270. Walmart’s record players start at $75 and include vintage-style models with wood panelling. One of Best Buy’s top-selling turntables is a sleek cherry wood model for $600.
Terry Sack sells plenty of new and used record players and also recommends places where a customer can have their players repaired – usually it’s the needle that goes.You’ll often find him behind the counter at his downtown Truro shop, Terry’s Tunes.
He says vinyl sales were always steady, but he’s noticed a sharp increase over the last year or so. Pat Deighan, who owns Back Alley Music in Charlottetown, PEI, once declared that the surge in vinyl sales has “saved the mom-and-pop shops” like Terry’s Tunes that have been selling records for years.
Sack’s vinyl inventory is always changing, as collectors bring in new titles to trade, and there’s usually about 1,000 in the store at any point. He’s released his own albums and then burned them as CDs, and firmly believes there’s no comparison when it comes to sound quality.
“It’s like night and day. Vinyl is made on a machine worth $400,000 and a CD can be burned on any cheap computer,” says Sack. “Nothing sounds like vinyl.”
His younger customers tend to want rock albums, and older customers come in looking for albums by Paul Anka, Michael Jackson and the Beatles.
Sack keeps a book with record values at the shop for anyone to flip through. Records typically start at $10 and might be priced as high as $200. Diehard collectors are always hunting for a rare double album featuring the Beatles and the Bee Gees that’s worth about $50,000.
Gene Mills can’t imagine how much the vinyl collection must be worth at Pictou County’s 94.1 East Coast FM, where he co-hosts the morning show. It’s stored in a huge room they simply call The Library.
“There’s thousands of them—including rows and rows of 45s, which take me back to the days when I’d buy 45s at A&A Records,” says Mills. “They were the equivalent to clicking on iTunes to get a single instead of waiting for the whole album to come out.”
A self-described “vinyl snob,” Mills says he’s heard that the ultimate way to hear a song is to play the album once just to “burn in the needle,” and then the second play-through will be the best an album will ever sound.
Vinyl is also a big part of Mills’ second gig – running his mobile DJ business, Foxy Entertainment. He uses a digital vinyl system (DVS) that uses essentially a blank record (“control vinyl”) on his turntables to allow him to manipulate digital files. It’s practical because it means he doesn’t need to drag 1,000 records to an event he’s DJing.
“I learned on turntables and there’s nothing that feels and sounds like vinyl,” says Mills. “You can touch it to scratch it or move it back and forth or queue up a certain part of a song you want to play – these controllers do the same thing, but it’s digitized.”
Even as a vinyl fan, Mills says he was surprised to hear vinyl albums outsold digital downloads in the U.K. last year for the first time in music history.
“We live in a world of instant gratification where we hear a song we like and can buy it immediately, but there’s nothing like the weight and feel of a vinyl album,” says Mills. “When you hit ‘Buy’ in iTunes, you don’t get something to hold in your hands. There’s just something empty about it.”
HOW TO MAINTAIN YOUR VINYL COLLECTION
- Protect records from dust by storing them in their original cardboard covers or in acid-free plastic record sleeves.
- Keep records away from heat, humidity and direct sunlight that can warp them and damage their covers.
- Store records vertically and make sure they’re not crammed too tightly together.
- Hold records by the sides or their center label to protect them from the oils on your fingers.
- Clean records gently with a soft cloth and homemade cleaning mixture (one part isopropyl alcohol and four parts distilled water, or heavily diluted dishwashing liquid for shellac records) and let them air-dry.