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BRAUN: Vinyl makes a comeback — to the tune of $1 billion

BRAUN: Vinyl makes a comeback — to the tune of  billion

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BRAUN: Vinyl makes a comeback — to the tune of  billion

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There are many reasons vinyl albums have come roaring back in popularity, but here are the basics: the look, the feel, the sound.

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The big plastic platters began to vanish in the late 1970s, a slow slide as tapes and CDs, MP3s and iPods and eventually streaming — all that portability, none of the care or storage — made vinyl obsolete.

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

There were always people who kept their vinyl and continued to buy it at vintage shops, but most moved on to the iPhone.

Then came the slow climb back.

This month, everyone from Airbag to ZZ Top has vinyl releases coming out, many on coloured vinyl.

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

Streaming still dominates, but 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 come-back in 2005 and really took off around 2015. (The birth of Record Store Day in 2008 didn’t hurt.)

The popularity of vinyl got a huge boost during the pandemic, when listening to music changed from wallpaper to activity.

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

“Since then, vinyl record sales in the U.S. have increased approximately 10%-12% year over year. The first big jump came in 2020, which had an increase in sales of about 65% over the previous year.

“In 2021, we again saw an increase of approximately 65% over the previous year.”

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Precision started in 2016 as a partnership between Czech vinyl manufacturer GZ Media — world leader in record pressing — and Isotope Music, Canada’s premier music distributor.

GZ Media got a Czech company to make the first new pressing machines in decades, so Precision has always had state-of-the-art equipment and can carefully control everything (cutting, plating, pressing, printing, and packaging) to do with their product.

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

“We have since added 25 fully automated presses, which has increased our monthly output to approximately 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 it appears Millennials do, too. They are the two biggest consumers of vinyl, said Addezi.

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

Part of the appeal to all age groups, he added, “is handling a physical product. To read the liner notes, look at the pictures, flip the LP to listen to the other side.”

Canadian author and arts journalist Nick Jennings noted listeners can stream music at the push of a button, “but pulling out a vinyl album from your collection and lowering the needle into the grooves seems the more intentional, tactile choice.

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“You can see and hold what your playing, look at the album artwork and read the credits and liner notes. To say nothing of the warmer, richer sound of vinyl played on a good system.”

A younger vinyl audience, he added, “may be attracted to vinyl for the novelty factor, but I think it’s more likely that they love acquiring a substantial souvenir while supporting their favourite artist at the same time.”

That “substantial souvenir” becomes a topic unto itself with the serious vinyl collector.

Kim Gertler, an award-winning Toronto filmmaker, writer 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  am still actively and passionately pursuing my love of music through the vinyl medium. My current obsession is with seven-inch 45s with blank labels from Jamaica,” he said.

“I am allergic to Spotify.”

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