For the record
Locals wax poetic about a love of vinyl
In the age of digital music, your favorite songs are just a download away for easy play on your smart devices. But for some locals, compact and convenient doesn’t always equal better quality.
John Blabaum, who co-owns Odds & Ends/Wax Xtatic, 108 W. Main St., said the average age of people coming into the store to buy vinyl records has lowered in the past few years.
“It used to be 75 percent of customers were over 35, and now half of them are between the ages of 13-35,” Blabaum said. “The line we hear all the time is ‘oh I hear vinyl’s coming back’ and I just tell them it never went away. I sell 10 times more per month than I did four and a half years ago.”
The sale of vinyl records began to decline in the early 1990s when compact discs entered the mainstream. Cassette tapes also proved more portable than records, and were also competition.
Warren Wolken has owned Odds & Ends since 2002. Then in 2014, Blabaum approached him about doing a side business that would focus on music, while Warren sold vintage and modern gaming systems and cartridges. In April of 2018, the pair moved the store to its current spot (next door to the old location). It offers thousands of new and used 33’s, 45’s and 78’s, plus phonographs, turntables and other accessories.
“We have people just come and hang out and listen to music for hours,” Blabaum said.
He said young customers are often shocked that the tunes humming out through the store’s speakers come from a record player in the center of the store.
“A customer was looking up at a speaker and said ‘I can’t figure out what CD this is.’ I said it’s a record playing and he said ‘a buddy of mine said I needed to get vinyl. I didn’t know it sounded that good.’ I sold him a turntable and he’s been back in every week to buy vinyl,” Blabaum said.
The genres of music that sell the most records at the shop are Old School rap and hip-hop, namely albums by N.W.A., Dr. Dre, Run-DMC, Ice-T and Wu-Tang Clan. Blabaum said he’s seen young Latino customers most often purchase records by Motown superstars such as the Temptations, Smokey Robinson and Diana Ross. Heavy metal and 80s rock is also very popular, as are soundtracks. Country records, on the other hand, are poor sellers.
“I sell 100 records to one CD,” he said.
But it isn’t just old records that sell.
“Every act that releases a song on the radio today also releases an album. They don’t market CDs anymore,” he said.
Alternative/Indie singer Billie Eilish’s records fly off the shelves.
Blabaum said the creation of Record Store Day in 2008 helped popularize vinyl with the younger generation.
“Artists put out special releases for this,” he said. “The last Record Store Day in April, we had 80 people in line at 6 o’clock to buy records.”
Vinyl’s sound quality is what keeps patrons wanting more.
“You hear people say vinyl has a certain warmth to it, a depth to it, and with a good turntable and cartridge you’ll hear it,” he said. “MP3s are compressed, and unless you’re listening with earbuds, they sound terrible. It sounds tinny, harsh and antiseptic.”
For record buyer Daevon Morgan, vinyl is more favorable for a variety of reasons.
“For me, it reminds me of being with my grandparents and going through all their old vinyl records. It sounds a little bit better too,” Morgan said. “I listen to everything but I like Buddy Holly and the Crickets, (Bob Marley) and the Wailers.”
Morgan said he was persuaded to pick up a record by Yma Sumac, the iconic Peruvian singer of the 1950s.
“It’s really good,” he said. “Sometimes I just go by the album cover or I just know (who the artist is) but never heard or seen the album, so I’ll just buy it and grab it up.”
Blabaum, who has been listening to records since he was a kid, said vinyl is also more visually appealing than music on other formats.
“The coolest thing I hear about vinyl is when 20 year olds and 30 year olds say they pick up an album and look at it and read it, and that’s what I used to do as a kid,” he said. “I’d buy an album and see who produced it and played on it. The cover art is also a lost art, but it’s coming back.”
David Hicks, who owns some records, said he likes to hold an actual product in his hands.
“While downloading songs and having digital copies is convenient, you don’t really own a product. I like the full package that comes with vinyl — the art work, the photography and the lyrics on the sleeve,” Hicks said. “Plus, I’m a big supporter of the actual artist, who is trying to recoup the costs of making the record. It’s like any art — it has value.”
Blabaum said when people comment on vinyl records having a poor sound quality, it’s because the records weren’t properly cared for.
“People found mom and dad’s stash and they heard the cracking and popping and that’s not how all records sound. If you take care of them they’ll sound awesome,” he said. “Records are just like any antique. Condition is everything in the used market. Dirt, mainly, and scratches cause the pops.”
He recommends cleaning records after each use. Also, it is best to store records upright with the record in the sleeve and a plastic sleeve outside of it, rather than stacking records one on top of another.
“My first album I bought as a kid in the 70s was KISS’s Destroyer — mostly because of the cover — because they looked like super heroes,” Hicks said. “They sold a lot of albums purely on their looks and not their music, thanks to vinyl. I then bought 45’s (single songs on vinyl) by Queen, Pink Floyd and some early New Wave acts. At that point in time, cassettes allowed music to become more mobile, which was probably the beginning of the end for vinyl back in the day.”
Blabaum said young adults who listen to records often get labeled as “hipsters” but he believes people of all ages and backgrounds can come together over a common love of music.
“The line is nobody ever invited you over to see their MP3 collection,” Blabaum said.