By Brett Leader
City on a Hill Press Reporter

In an age dominated by digital downloading, it may come as a surprise that vinyl records have become popular once again.

Although the nation is in the midst of an economic recession, vinyl sales are significantly increasing across the country. According to Nielsen SoundScan, which tracks music sales and is used in determining the Billboard charts, vinyl record sales grew 89 percent in 2008 from 2007 nationally, selling nearly two million units over the past year. While digital music sales continue to increase and CD sales fall, there may still be hope for analog sound in the years to come.

Local independent music stores Metamusic Records and Streetlight Records have both witnessed steady vinyl sales over the past year.

“It seems like every day more people get into vinyl, which is really cool,” said Jonathan Schneiderman, owner of Metamusic Records in downtown Santa Cruz. Schneiderman, an alumnus of UC Santa Cruz, has been selling vinyl from his store in Santa Cruz since 2004. Currently, at its third location in downtown Santa Cruz, Metamusic Records sells both new and used vinyl, as well as turntables and related accessories.

“Vinyl is really the only option as far as a record store,” Schneiderman said. “It just sounds better, feels better — provides true ownership of the music.”

Schneiderman explained that business at Metamusic Records has been steadily growing since it opened, but the economic crisis has had an effect on sales.

“In general business is slow, but I think it’s been compensated by the increase in vinyl interest,” Schneiderman said. “So I’d say that sales have been about the same.”

Roger Weiss, manager of Streetlight Records in downtown Santa Cruz, explained that vinyl sales are “holding steady” at his store.

“We’re pretty happy with vinyl sales,” Weiss said. “They haven’t declined like CD sales. The labels are putting a lot more out. There are a lot of records being reissued.”

According to SoundScan, more than two out of every three vinyl records were purchased at an independent music retailer in 2008.

However, not all independent stores report their sales to SoundScan. The recently released “Merriweather Post Pavilion” LP by Animal Collective failed to make the Billboard charts for precisely this reason, despite selling out of its first pressing of 4,500 vinyl records, as reported by MTV News.

Despite recording more vinyl sales than ever before in its 17-year history, SoundScan reports show that vinyl records accounted for only 1.88 million of the 428.4 million total album sales, which included CDs, LPs and digital albums, in 2008.

Weiss also noted this, in comparing his store’s CD and vinyl sales. “CDs are still a much larger percentage of our sales. I mean by a lot.”

In attempting to explain the recent spike in vinyl interest, others say people are attracted to records for their sound quality.

An analog enthusiast, Schneiderman believes in the superiority of vinyl records over CDs and MP3s.

“Vinyl definitely sounds better,” Schneiderman said. “The wavelengths on a piece of vinyl are more true to the way our ears hear things and to the way they were actually produced, like actual vibrations in the air. I sort of liken it to the way a Richter scale records an earthquake.”

Others, like Weiss, are skeptical.

“I’m not sure if I can tell the difference between a good CD mastering and a LP,” he said. “People claim that it’s warmer, but I think there’s been tests done that show the human ear cannot detect the difference.”

Along with having larger cover art than CDs, new vinyl releases attract customers because they often include a code, which allows buyers to download a digital copy of the record onto his or her computer. Others are also drawn to vinyl for its collectibility.

“It’s cool to have a collection and be able to file new vinyl with the old vinyl that my parents gave me,” first-year student Nick Pereira said.

Still, others wonder what all of the buzz is about. “I personally thought records were so annoying,” third-year Lila Walsh said. “It’s easier to just pop a CD in or connect your iPod and play it. I would think we’ve come a long way from records. I guess I’m a modern thinker.”

Regardless of personal preferences for digital or analog mediums, the future of vinyl’s popularity remains open for debate.

“I think vinyl is more popular right now than it probably ever will be again,” Schneiderman said. “But I think it will always be popular at some level.”

Pereira offered a similar sentiment.

“I think the surge in popularity is a fad, but I don’t think in the close foreseeable future it will completely die out,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to disappear into the land of Polaroid and Pluto.”

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