BRAUN: Vinyl is making a comeback – worth $1 billion

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There are many reasons why vinyl albums are so popular again, but here are the basics: the look, the feel, the sound.

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The big plastic records began to disappear in the late 1970s, a slow decline as cassettes and CDs, MP3s and iPods, and eventually streaming – all that portability, no maintenance or storage – made vinyl obsolete.

(And made it possible to sell the same album four or five times in different formats to the same person, but that’s another rubric.)

There were always people who kept their vinyl and continued to buy it from vintage stores, but most made the switch to the iPhone.

Then the slow climb came back.

Everyone from Airbag to ZZ Top is putting out vinyl releases this month, many on colored vinyl.

In 2020, album sales topped CD sales for the first time, and last year, vinyl sales surpassed $1 billion for the first time in 35 years.

Streaming still dominates, but the demand for vinyl is so great that most pressing plants in North America can’t keep up.

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Here at home, Precision Records in Burlington has been enjoying the vinyl boom since 2017.

According to Senior VP Ernie Addezi, vinyl began a steady comeback in 2005 and really took off around 2015. (The birth of Record Store Day in 2008 didn’t hurt.)

Vinyl’s popularity received a huge boost during the pandemic, as listening to music switched from wallpaper to activities.

“The general public needed to feel a sense of autonomy during the times when we were locked down and had nowhere to go,” Addezi said in a recent interview.

“Since then, record sales in the US are up about 10% to 12% year over year. The first big leap came in 2020, which had about a 65% year-over-year increase in sales.

“In 2021 we have again recorded an increase of around 65% compared to the previous year.”

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Precision began in 2016 as a partnership between Czech vinyl producer GZ Media – the world leader in record pressing – and Isotope Music, Canada’s leading music distributor.

GZ Media commissioned a Czech company to manufacture the first new press machines in decades, so Precision always has state-of-the-art equipment and can carefully control everything related to the product (cutting, plating, pressing, printing and packaging).

Addezi said they produced 15,000 LPs in their first month of operation.

“Since then we have added 25 fully automatic presses, which has increased our monthly production to about 1.6 million.”

Precision also has two sister plants in Tennessee under the GZ North America umbrella: Memphis Record Pressing and the recently opened Nashville Record Pressing.

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Baby boomers have long loved vinyl, and now millennials seem to be doing the same. They are the two largest consumers of vinyl, Addezi said.

“The older generation is the main buyers of vinyl. The second group, which is much larger, are younger people, generally between 25 and 38, who have embraced this ‘new’ medium and art form.”

Part of being attractive to all ages, he added, “is dealing with a physical product. To read the liner notes look at the pictures, flip the LP over to hear the other side.”

Canadian author and arts journalist Nick Jennings noted that listeners can stream music with the touch of a button, “but pulling a vinyl album out of your collection and lowering the needle into the grooves seems like a more deliberate, tactile choice.

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“You can see and hold what you’re playing, look at the album art, and read the credits and liner notes. Not to mention the warmer, richer sound of vinyl played on a good system.”

Younger vinyl audiences, he added, “may be drawn to vinyl for the novelty factor, but I think they’re more likely to love acquiring a meaningful souvenir while also supporting their favorite artist.”

For the serious vinyl collector, this “decent souvenir” becomes a topic in itself.

Kim Gertler, an award-winning Toronto filmmaker, author and music documentarian (and professional sommelier), bought a building in Toronto’s Junction area to house his collection.

The approximately 10,000 records include a subset of rare Jamaican 45s; Gertler is an expert on reggae and Jamaican music.

“I I still actively and passionately pursue my love of music through the medium of vinyl. My current obsession is blank-labeled 7-inch 45s from Jamaica,” he said.

“I’m allergic to Spotify.”

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