For many in Raleigh, enjoying vinyl is about sharing music—and experiences—with family, friends, fans and the community at large.
When Jed and Stacy Gant find a few free moments at home, they listen to music on vinyl.
The downtown Raleigh residents and their two children, Nora, 10, and Oliver, 6, pick out a record from the couple’s collection of around 1,200. Each family member chooses a song to play from the others’ selected albums. The kids set the records on the turntable and position the needle; the parents talk to them about the bands, the songs, the essential album art.
“It’s connecting the dots to music history almost,” Jed Gant says of the tradition his family created, dubbed ‘Record Surprise.’ “Usually my kids run around and go crazy listening to the music. The other night, we got disco ball lights and outfits and danced around to the Rolling Stones, just acting goofy. They’re enjoying the music. We try not to make it too serious but I want them to learn and understand a little at the same time.”
Some love to collect it. Some love it for the visual art, or the old-school sound, or the physicality of putting it on and watching it spin. Some see it as another way to support their favorite bands, like buying the T-shirts and merch, and some just like to kick back with it on a Sunday morning. And many love it because, unlike streaming songs on your phone and listening through your ear buds, vinyl is an experience you can share with others.
Whatever the various reasons, the resurgence of records is in full-swing in the digital age—vinyl is on track to outsell CDs for the first time since 1986, Rolling Stone Magazine reports—and nowhere is that more apparent than here in Raleigh.
Last month during Hopscotch weekend, the unofficial kickoff to the city’s annual, month-long celebration of all things art and music, The Pour House owner Adam Lindstaedt announced the newest addition to the city’s robust record retail scene.
Lindstaedt is transforming the second floor of the venerable downtown music hall into a record shop. Open seven days a week and to be run—in true family business style—by his wife, Lacie, the shop will stock around 10,000 titles and will persist as an open space overlooking the Pour House performance stage, meaning patrons can watch bands set up and run sound check while they browse. When the shop closes in the evening, it will moonlight as a full-service bar; records will be locked into storage bins that will double as tables and you’ll still be able to watch your favorite bands and artists perform from an elevated vantage point (just with nicer, remodeled bathrooms).
“There’s not a really good hangout spot for the music community to gather outside of shows,” Lindstaedt says of his vision for the new space. “When I was growing up, I hung out at record stores all the time. I met people there, started bands and developed friendships. It’s an easy way to be somewhere where you know like-minded people will show up, talk about music, talk about beer, learn something new.”
Sales of vinyl have increased steadily since around 2006, right around the time that the listening experience began shifting away from CDs to digital and online streaming. Music and consumer experts can debate all the factors driving the resurgence of vinyl, but for many folks in the Triangle, records as a medium for music never really left.
“We’ve always sold records,” says Enoch Marchant, who co-owns the two-decades-old Nice Price Books on Hillsborough Street (and Nice Price Jr. in Oakwood) with business partner Brian Shaw. “I started buying records in high school. For the young kids, the new generation, most people forget they never even owned CDs or music on any physical format. Now, if you stack up a record next to a CD, the record compares very favorably.”
“There’s something more artistic about vinyl,” says Gant. “I used to collect CDs. A lot of people took them out of their plastic cases because they felt cheap. [CDs] are not as tangible, you have to go through a layer of plastic to get to the album art. And they’re delicate. My kid could throw one on the ground, slide on it once, and it’s done. There’s a sturdy nature to records.”
There’s also fun to be had in shopping around for music on vinyl in thrift stores, rifling through dollar bins, searching for rare finds and collecting. Gant belongs to a record club called Vinyl Me Please, which sends subscribers three new albums per month. If you don’t like an album, you can swap it through the club’s website or trade it in at one of the local stores. And though you don’t have to buy rare, expensive albums to enjoy vinyl—listening to something janky can be enjoyable for the nostalgia factor alone—some collectors delight in finding limited edition copies of albums modern music labels press and put out.
“The days of going into a record store and it being all dudes in their 60s are done,” says Lindstaedt. “You go to any shop around town now and you see people in their teens, 20s and 30s, men, women. People of all walks of life are getting into it.”
Young artists, too, have a growing appreciation for the perks of releasing their music on vinyl.
Triangle-based artist Dallas Casper—whose self-described “indie alternative” project Apparitions of Myself released its fifth album, “Lucid Dreaming,” last month—decided to forego the streaming services and instead released 100 copies of the album on vinyl, exclusively, for the first six months. The artist, whose offstage name is Justin Eyster, says releasing initially on vinyl made more sense to him from an economic and marketing standpoint.
“I spent years and thousands of dollars on this record, so it wold be great to recoup some of that investment,” says Eyster, who, in the past, paid fees of around $50 apiece to list his albums on streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music and Google Play (they pay artists roughly 0.006 cents per stream). “With streaming, I didn’t even recoup the cost from listing on the digital services, let alone the recording costs, mixing, mastering, travel, graphic design, equipment. So to me, streaming is like giving it away for free.”
From a marketing standpoint, too, Eyster says vinyl is useful. A record that people can hold in their hands makes a big impression for an indie artist, he says, and helps make it easier to “cut through the noise” of what’s available online.
“Everyone’s on streaming, you go to shows and people are practically begging you to look up their album on Spotify,” Eyster says. “It takes a lot of effort and upfront investment to have vinyl made and it shows that you’re serious. I want to cater to the people who are paying attention to me and put my album on the preferred format for people embracing my music.”
Though vinyl has its to-varying-degrees devotees, it’s clearly not for everyone. Vinyl takes up space, isn’t really mobile and can be inconvenient. But music lovers agree, there’s a place for vinyl, and there’s a place for streaming, and neither is inherently better in how we choose to enjoy music these days. Like most commodities we consume, it’s intensely personal.
“We could debate the merits of streaming services all day long, but with vinyl, it’s more of a commitment to, ‘Yeah, I like that music, I’m going to make sure I have a copy,’” says Lindstaedt. “Anything you can take away, and look at outside the clutter of a phone or computer, is more.”
“We’ve probably gotten close to the peak of what [the vinyl trend] is going to be,” says Nice Price owner Marchant. “We’ve added lots of new vinyl buyers. I don’t know if we’ll add more, but we’ll hold on to a much bigger chunk than we had 10 years ago. People will want to be part of that process still. You can listen to a record at your house all day long, or in your car, or on Spotify, and have no interaction with anyone else about it. But I think people like to be a part of it, in some sense. That’s just a guess.”
And likely a good one.
The Scoop on Vinyl
Like any new hobby, getting into record collecting can be a little intimidating. We asked Enoch Marchant, co-owner of Raleigh’s Nice Price Books, to demystify vinyl for us novices. Here’s his advice.
Make sure record collecting is something you actually want to do. First, try and listen at someone else’s house. Records are not for everyone. Not everyone enjoys the process. Try it out before you spend hundreds of dollars on a turntable and records.
If you try out music on vinyl and you’re a fan…
Invest in a quality turntable. If you can avoid it, don’t get the Crosley turntable with the built-in speakers. They have a needle that will eventually wear out and destroy your records. [Nice Price] stocks Audio Technica. They’re ubiquitous and good. There’s also You Turn out of Boston. For a few hundred bucks, you can get a a turntable with speakers and a receiver, a great sounding thing that’s reliable and you can listen to anything on. If you’re going to spend any kind of money on records, you might as well get a turntable that won’t tear them up.
But don’t spend a fortune on records—at least, not at first. Buy dollar records, cheap records, I would certainly start in the dollar bin. Part of the fun is discovery and finding music you didn’t know existed. Wait a second before you buy a $100 record. Lots of albums are still being re-issued; there may be ones that, right now, there are only $100 copies. But the label is going to put out a copy for $20 soon.
What’s the deal with the different sizes? Normally a turntable’s platter is 12 1/4 inches, just a little bigger than a normal record. A 12-inch vinyl LP (Long Playing) spins at 33 1⁄3 rpm (rotations per minute). 45s (the 7-inch records) run at a speed of 45 rotations per minute. They’re like singles and hold less than five minutes of music. They’re mainly just collectibles today.
Any other advice?
Start slow. You’ll find where you want to be after a while. Records hold value a little bit so if you’ve listened to something enough and don’t feel married to it, you can sell it or trade it in for something else.
Don’t go on message boards too much. For every new record, there’s someone on a message board who says, “It sounds great, it’s perfect, go buy it” and one who says “It’s utter trash.” There are too many voices in the room about that stuff.
There are no guilty pleasures as far as music is concerned. Get whatever record you want. Don’t feel beholden to the “50 Albums You Need to Hear” lists. Those are fine, but if you like something other people think is whack, you should still get it.