Vinyl records are making a comeback as consumers search for more authentic music


Illustration by John Massengill.

Hannah Smothers

When Waterloo Records first opened in 1982, CDs were just coming of age, digital formats were nothing but a futuristic myth and vinyl albums and cassettes reigned supreme when it came to music sales. Now, more than 30 years later, vinyl albums are coming back to reclaim their once coveted position on the totem pole of superior music formats.

Former Waterloo employee Don Lamb said in a 2010 interview conducted by Austin archivist John Schooley that in 1985, Waterloo kept their precious few CDs in a glass case at the front of the store, and a single disc could run music buyers up to $25 or $30. The average cost of a vinyl record was a mere $2 as the oversized and inconvenient discs were slowly disappearing into the realm of the obsolete.

But in recent years, the market has flipped. Now it’s vinyl albums selling for $20 to $30 a pop.

Currently, the majority of music sales take place through digital formats that allow entire libraries to be carried in the back pocket of a pair of jeans. According to market research company The NPD Group, iTunes has been the biggest music retailer in the United States since 2008 and claimed 29 percent of all music sold in both digital and physical formats in the second quarter of 2012. CDs sitsecond in the national rankings, but vinyl albums could soon replace them.

“CD sales are going down, and vinyl sales are going up,” said Paul Mason, Waterloo buyer and manager.. “CDs still sell more than vinyl albums, but the two could meet in the middle soon.”

Mason said vinyl albums made up 27 percent of the store’s total sales in 2012 — an increase from previous years. He said CDs are still the top sellers at 54 percent of the store’s total sales, but that number is slowly declining.

Waterloo customer Scott Moher has participated in the return to the age-old physical format of vinyl albums. Moher said he has been collecting records since he was in high school but his collection has really grown in the past few years. 

“I kinda stopped buying CDs, and I don’t really buy MP3s,” Moher said. “There’s a pretty big jump from an MP3 format. The quality of the audio is important to me.”

According to statistics measured by Nielsen SoundScan, vinyl LP sales in the United States reached 3.6 million units in 2011, a 28.6 percent increase from the 2.8 million units sold in 2010. Tentative data for 2012 shows another increase to about 4.6 million units sold, a further 27.8 percent increase from the surge of 2011.

“There’s a growing interest in collecting vinyl, especially amongst those in their 20s and early 30s,” Austin graphic artist Noel Waggener said. “While I’m sure some percentage of new vinyl enthusiasts love it for the sound, I think most long for a more tactile listening experience, which vinyl provides. As opposed to an MP3, vinyl makes people feel closer to the music and musicians.”

Waggener is a vinyl enthusiast himself, and said he has had records pressed at A&R Records, a vinyl pressing plant located in Dallas, for his label Heavy Light Records, and has also steered his design clients to have their records pressed at the Dallas plant as well. 

Stanley Getz II, the sole owner of A&R Records, said the small factory he runs in Dallas has had to step up its workload to keep up with the surging record sales of the past few years.

“When I got the place [in 2008], we were running about one or two days a week, and now we’re running five or six days a week,” Getz said. 

According to Getz, the manufacturing process for vinyl albums is much more arduous and costly than the manufacturing process for CDs. 

Record companies are adapting to consumer demand by including digital download codes inside many new-release vinyl albums, giving consumers the best of both worlds: intimacy and portability. 

“It’s really nice to see people who, as a generation didn’t grow up with vinyl records, coming to buy them now,” Mason said. “It’s just an intimate kind of format. It’s kind of hard to bond with a file on your computer. I think there’s an emotional element to vinyl albums that you just can’t get on your computer.” 

Published on January 25, 2013 as "Vinyl scratches up more sales".