There are places in Wichita where music comes in the form of tiny ridges on black vinyl rather than streams of digitized numbers.
Wichita’s record stores mainly exist to keep faith with America’s recent music history, a bit like a museum where you can not only touch the exhibits, but take them home. They’re not fancy — it’s a low volume business — housed in old storefronts, adorned with old posters and even older paneling.
But they’re riding the cusp of a red hot trend in music: Vinyl is not just for nostalgia, it’s making a come back for new artists as well.
Since their near death as a technology in the ’90s, LPs have been experiencing strong growth, particularly in the last decade.
Even Wal-Mart carries vinyl LPs, although most are reissues. Michael Jackson’s Thriller is a top seller on vinyl there.
But current artists, such as Jack White, are also releasing on vinyl. Such LP are often issued on expensive, high-quality disks heavy enough at 180 grams to be reminiscent of an expensive Frisbee. They also often are bundled with a code that allows the buyer to download a digital copy of the album for their smartphone or iPod.
In 1993 far fewer than 1 million vinyl records were sold. In 2013, 6 million were sold, a 30 percent increase over the year before, according to Nielsen SoundScan. And vinyl sales in the first half of 2014 jumped another 40 percent over the first six months of 2013. Vinyl sales account for 16 percent of all physical music sales, while CDs make up 80 percent.
So there’s old music on old LPs — the vintage market. There’s old music on new LPs — the reissue market. And there’s new music on new LPs — which has created its own cottage industry of writers wondering whether it’s a fad or a trend.
Apparently, the fate of vinyl isn’t final.
Ask the owners and customers of Wichita’s used record stores whether vinyl’s resurgence is a fad, and you’ll get a decided shake of the head.
To them, it’s obvious: Vinyl is a better format, and more people are figuring it out.
Vinyl provides analog sound, which they say is warmer and more complete than digital sound whether it’s a CD, a download or a stream.
“I like the sound of vinyl,” said Todd Simmons of Hillsboro, who was browsing recently through the records at Spin It Again Records, 3008 E. Harry. “I like hearing the needle drop. And there is a nostalgic element, like remembering hanging out by the pool on a summer evening.”
Ed and Beth Swarts opened Spin It Again in 2010 after Ed was laid off from the Skyline Homes plant in Halstead. Expecting the layoff, he started collecting records six months before.
He has seen interest in LPs slowly grow. His customers aren’t just people who grew up with LPs, but also children and teenagers. They may have stumbled on their parents’ old record collection or found an oldies station on the radio, and got curious.
“I see a lot of the younger generation discovering a whole new source of music,” said Swarts, who was wearing a “Dark Side of the Moon” album art T-shirt. “And they’re discovering the difference of analog.”
The store has 3,000 to 4,000 records, including some reissues and new records.
Spektrum Musik and Dead Canary Records
Phil Ross and Adam Phillips opened Spektrum Muzik in Boulevard Plaza in 2012.
“We couldn’t find a lot of the stuff we liked in town, so we decided to start our own store,” Ross said.
This summer they moved to Delano. The response has been great so far.
“It’s more than anticipated,” Ross said.
They said their 8,000-record inventory is about half new and have used records. And their customer base is all ages.
Christopher Trenary is another player in the vintage record business. He calls his shop Dead Canary Records.
He opened in 2005 and has been in several locations. Two years ago he moved to 117 S. Pattie, just off East Douglas downtown.
An aficionado, Trenary has built a store around his interests, especially old jazz, blues and soul, although he also carries mainstream rock and pop. He estimated he had about 6,000 records plus a large number of 45s.
He started the business after Yesterday’s Disc closed more than 10 years ago. Then a teenager, he couldn’t find the music he wanted. He got tired of driving to Lawrence to scour for used records.
So he started his own shop, then called Rewound Sounds. It’s been a long, difficult decade in the business, he said, and he is as surprised as anyone by the resurgence in interest in vinyl.
“It’s pretty crazy,” he said. “I didn’t expect, years ago, for it to come back to this extent.”