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Carson Williams owns all nine colored-vinyl editions of Taylor Swift’s “Folklore.”
Williams — who got his first record player in 2019, when he was also gifted his first record, Swift’s “Fearless” — said he started seriously collecting vinyl in 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was just the perfect opportunity to be able to sit and listen to a record,” said Williams, 23, an elementary school teacher who lives in Murray.
He is one of many Gen Z (people under 25) consumers driving the ongoing boom in vinyl records — a vintage medium whose history goes back nearly three-quarters of a century.
Though streaming accounted for more than 80% of music revenue mid-year through 2021, according to the Recording Industry Association of America, vinyl sales were at their highest level in nearly 30 years. And a report last year from MRC data found that more Gen Z people are buying records than millennials (people between 25 and 40).
Williams said he uses streaming platforms, but there’s something “eclectic” about listening to his favorite artists on vinyl. After a long day, he said, he often prefers to put on a record and let the sound fill the room, rather than streaming something into his headphones.
“It’s just kind of unmatched in any other way of even listening to it,” he said.
‘A feeding frenzy’
As the boom continues, indie record stores in Utah are seeing their own versions of resurgence.
“I’ve never seen a feeding frenzy like this,” said Dustin Hansen, owner of Graywhale Entertainment, an independently owned-and-operated record store with locations in Taylorsville and Ogden.
Interest in vinyl has grown steadily over the last 10 years, Hansen said — and much of that is because of younger buyers.
“These young people have jobs, they work,” Hansen said. “When you live at home and you’re 19 years old and you have money and a car, you can go buy records.”
Young buyers, he added, will realize in 10 years that their fledgling collections will be “invaluable” and an “investment”
Hansen said he’s in awe of the young vinyl buyers. “Young people listen to music so unironically now,” he said. “They don’t care what you think about the music, they just want to listen to it.”
While the younger listeners are buying vinyl more, Hansen said, so are the “people that were collectors back in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s.” Stores that play to that older group, and ignore the genre tastes of younger buyers — such as pop, hip hop, punk rock — are “alienating” a large customer base, he said.
Collecting vinyl records is no longer a hobby solely for rock aficionados. Even current mainstream artists like Adele are capitalizing on it, but not without cost. High demand of the medium is not being met by nearly an equal amount of supply.
“We’re facing right now — with this group being so invigorating to the industry — a supply issue that we have never seen before,” Hansen said. “Demand is not the problem, supply is the issue.”
More demand than supply
Spencer Colby, owner of Provo’s Vintage Groove, which he is transforming from a thrift store into a record store, has seen the frustrations of vinyl pressing and shipping during the current boom.
“CD’s really killed vinyl. In 2000 to 2010, there were a lot of pressing plants that just closed. And then you have this big boom come back, and it’s a huge upfront expense to set up a processing plant,” Colby said.
Recorded music goes back to Thomas Edison’s invention of the phonograph in 1877. Discs — 78-rpm shellac recordings — replaced Edison’s wax cylinders. The long-playing black vinyl album, or LP (the slang term was “licorice pizza”), was first introduced by Columbia Records in 1948, and was the dominant physical medium for music for decades, eventually supplanted by CDs.
According to the British magazine The New Statesman, there are only 100 record pressing plants in the world, and only 10 of those have the capability to press a large amount of records.
Colby focuses specifically on a demographic of pop music fans, buying albums from such acts as One Direction, Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande in bulk (300 to 500 copies) — when he’s able to. Those vinyl records were typically pressed every four to six months, pre-pandemic, he said — but now it takes more than a year to get pressings of albums that were released years ago, like One Direction’s “Four” and Swift’s “Reputation.”
“It comes in stock, everybody sells out, boom — and then there’s just not enough supply to meet demand, prices climb and then they’ll press it again,” he said.
With the rise in popularity of special-edition, colored vinyls — like Williams’ collection of “Folklore” albums — from both artists and fans alike, that process gets even more drawn out. Pressing plants have to stop and clean up the press for every single color before restarting.
Dwindling supply leads to distribution issues for indie stores like Colby’s. He launched his store’s website in November 2020, and started selling through Instagram while taking payments through Venmo. He’s faced fan backlash in fandom spaces like Tik Tok, because of the pricing of the records he sells, but Colby says the decision isn’t that simple and he looks “more at market value than retail price.”
Larger retailers like Walmart, Target and Amazon get more supply than indie stores do, Colby said — and Amazon has a preorder system that’s difficult for him to compete with. Even with certain records on a preorder system, there’s no guarantee that you will get them at the originally projected time.
“I can’t compete with these big places,” Colby said. “In some ways, they sell some of their records for what I have to almost pay[to get them] from the distributor.”
Colby also said he’s often the “only seller” of the records he orders, so he matches his pricing with supply and orders accordingly. Along with that comes shipping, which, for most Amazon customers, is speedy and free.
There’s no “quick and easy fix” for the problem with supply, or the rise in demand, Colby said — but he’s been happy to be a part of this boom. It’s allowed him to market solely to a young demographic of customers that he says aren’t traditionally catered to by record stores, and it’s introduced him to music that he didn’t listen to before.
‘They want to hold the album’
Samuel Stinson, operations manager for Randy’s Records (and son of the store’s namesake, Randy Stinson), can list several reasons why customers have seen delays in getting the vinyl they want.
“The hottest new releases that the record labels probably don’t anticipate [getting] as popular they are, sell out quickly and don’t get repressed for three to six months,” he explains. “[If] Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours” or a Kanye West record sold [out], we could typically just reorder it, and it was just always in stock.”
Stinson also saw a major staff turnover in his store early in the pandemic — and for indie stores, employees are crucial because they bring their own niche of musical interest.
Engaging new audiences along with dedicated clientele has made for good business throughout the pandemic, Stinson said. “You see people passionate about music and collecting records, collecting all different genres of records and not just the same old stuff over and over,” he said. “People are interested in a lot of different genres of music that maybe they hadn’t been previously.”
At Randy’s — where nearly 50% of respondents to a Twitter poll said they buy their records in Utah — he’s seen a “renewed interest” in jazz music. Stinson says that this support from patrons is crucial.
“The main reason to support a record store like Randy’s is that some of the actual long-standing vinyl dealers abandoned it. And some of these record stores are the only reason that vinyl was kept alive,” he said.
The appeal of vinyl, Colby at Vintage Groove said, is that it fulfills a need to hold something tangible — something many people need after two years of a pandemic.
“[With] a lot of everything being so digitized, you kind of lose touch,” Colby said. “So a lot of people want to touch that, they want to hold the album. The vinyl records themselves are very analog, the music’s pressed into the vinyl. It’s not abstract in the cloud.”
Where to buy records in Utah
Albatross Recordings & Ephemera • 315 E. 300 South, Salt Lake City • http://instagram.com/albatrossrecslc
Diabolical Records • 238 S. Edison St., Salt Lake City • https://diabolical-records.square.site
Graywhale Entertainment • 1173 W. 4700 South, Taylorsville; or 4062 Riverdale Rd., Ogden • https://www.graywhaleslc.com
Groovacious Records • 195 W. 650 S. #2, Cedar City • https://www.facebook.com/groovaciousrecords/
The Heavy Metal Shop • 63 Exchange Place, Salt Lake City • http://www.heavymetalshop.com
Lavender Vinyl • 123 25th St., Ogden • https://lavendervinyl.com
peasantries + pleasantries • 807 S. 800 East, Salt Lake City • https://www.pleasantlyslc.com
Platinum Music • 273 W. Center St., Provo • https://www.facebook.com/Platinumsportsandmusic
Provo’s Vintage Groove • 1700 N State St. Suite #20, Provo • https://provosvintagegroove.com
Randy’s Records • 157 E. 900 South, Salt Lake City • https://randysrecords.com
Raunch Records • 1119 E. 2100 South, Salt Lake City • https://facebook.com/punkrockskateshop/
Sound & Vision Vinyl • 3444 S. Main St., South Salt Lake • https://soundandvisionvinyl.com
3hive • 50 E. 500 North #105, Provo • https://shop.3hive.com