On April 18, music lovers in Princeton flocked to Princeton Record Exchange for this year’s Record Store Day. Held on the third Saturday of every April since 2008, Record Store Day is, as stated on its website, “a way to celebrate and spread the word about the unique culture surrounding nearly 1400 independently owned record stores in the U.S. and thousands of similar stores internationally.” Special releases of new vinyl records and CDs are planned for each Record Store Day. To welcome and hype up these new releases, events such as performances, cookouts, and meet and greets with artists also take place across the country.
With the surge in the 21st century of digital music platforms such as iTunes and Spotify, one might infer that old-fashioned vinyl records and record stores would be going out of style—especially with millennials. However, according to recent research by Billboard and the Recording Industry Association of America, Billboard reports continual rises in the sale of vinyl in the United States; it reported a 3.1 million increase in units sold from 2013 to 2014. Furthermore, according to RIAA, 50 percent of those vinyl units have been bought by people under 25 years of age.
There has been much speculation about what sparked the vinyl resurgence among young people. Sean Rutkowski, General Manager of Independent Record Pressing believes that the rise in digital music actually spurred the vinyl resurgence—in a CNBC interview, he claims that “Digital strips out the tangibility of music. It really is just a file, and a record is such a great tangible piece. It’s something you can hold, something you can touch, something you can listen to in a way that just putting something on your computer doesn’t [compare to].”
Joshua Eschen, Assistant Manager at Princeton Record Exchange, said “There are people who swear that music sounds better on vinyl … while there are advantages to all the formats, what we’re seeing with the vinyl resurgence is … a reaction to the ephemeral nature of downloads.”
Others credit the start of Record Store Day itself for the renewed public interest in vinyl. Up until 2005, vinyl sales were decreasing steadily, hitting a record low in 2006. When the idea for Record Store Day was pitched in 2007, people wondered why stores would market to vinyl buyers, who were essentially the smallest group of customers at the time. According to Nielsen Holding Mid-Year Music Report, vinyl sales unexpectedly went up 15 percent in 2007. Record Store Day acted as a catalyst to spur the reignition of vinyl records, increasing vinyl sales by 90 percent in 2008 and bringing in even bigger gains in its successive years.
Despite the recent rise in vinyl consumption, vinyl is still not a mainstream product, accounting for only 3.4 percent of total U.S. album sales in 2015. However, its revival has been both powerful and has kept many independent record stores in business, perhaps due to how unconventional feel is irresistible to the modern hipster. There’s something for everyone in the vinyl world. The most popular vinyl records of the past five years span many different music genres. The Beatles, Miles Davis, and even modern artists such as Lana Del Rey and Arctic Monkeys appear on Nielsen’s Top Ten Vinyl Records list. For the same reason people kept buying books after the Kindles were released, vinyl still remains a beloved staple of the music world.
Record Store Day reminds people of the unique experience that can only be provided by vinyl records. Eschen said, “[Vinyl] forces you to listen to a full work as opposed to skipping around from song to song, and therefore introduces you to music you wouldn’t normally hear.”
To keep people excited about vinyl and record stores, Eschen said that Princeton Record Exchange tries to keep a wider variety of products available, such as vintage records of all genres. They price fairly, as vinyl has a reputation for being overpriced due to its niche market. He says that they are “very aware of the ‘snotty record store people stereotype,’” and that they try to contrast that by always being welcoming and open for questions.
This year, Princeton Record Exchange’s Record Store Day celebration included the release of limited edition titles, freebies, and a show by New Brunswick-based band Wild Rice. Each year, Record Store Day reinforces people’s passion for the music industry and supports local businesses, making it a worthwhile experience for anyone who loves music and community.