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Spinning vinyl into gold
by Nathan Orme
Aug 05, 2010 | 818 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
RENO — Getting in line to hear music is one thing, but getting in line to sell it?

That’s what happens to anyone who wants to sell their old vinyl records to Paul Doege, owner of Recycled Records in Reno. Doege said there is a month-long wait to make an appointment to have the dusty, old albums looked at for possible sale.

“With the economy being slower, people are looking for extra cash so we’re getting lots of calls,” Doege said of the deluge of inquiries he is getting about selling old records.

The trend of buying new and used vinyl is several years old and the retro medium’s place in the market now is almost untraceable. A representative from the sNielsen company, which tracks various entertainment consumer trends, said vinyl sales are no longer counted. Numbers reported by Time magazine in 2007 showed only 0.2 percent of music sales came from vinyl. And those numbers trace new record sales, not used.

Doege said he sells an average of about 20 used vinyl records a day — he only stocks used products — with prices that range depending on quality of and demand for the item. For example, he cited Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon,” saying copies of the 1973 album sell any time they are on the shelf at prices ranging from $10 to $20 depending on quality. This week, he said, he’ll get some Hot August Nights customers shopping not just for vinyl but also for 8-track tapes.

While used vinyl is readily available through specialty retailers like Doege or at penny-pinching quality and prices at thrift stores, finding new vinyl is a much tougher prospect. Doege said the record industry made a concerted effort to kill vinyl from 1990 to 1993, but grunge bands like Pearl Jam helped preserve the medium by pre-releasing new material on vinyl only. Today, few bands put it out and producers that reissue old music on new vinyl have to make a hefty investment.

Steve Kravak is co-owner of Porterhouse Records, a company based in Los Angeles that is in the process of making vinyl reissues for punk bands Circle Jerks and X. He said a combination of customer demand, prior success with reissues and a passion for the art prompted him to undertake the task despite its outlay cost. Vinyl costs 250 to 300 percent more to produce than a CD, he said: $3.25 to $4 per unit versus 85 cents. Then there is the task of finding the correct paper and ink and the labor cost of meticulously recreating the album cover art (if the original film is not available), liner notes and other inserts.

“I have found it has become so much more a labor of love to get these things produced the right way as opposed to hacking it out,” Kravak said.

Classical and jazz music listeners and DJs are the main customers for new vinyl, said longtime music engineer Danny Clay Williams, who has worked with many big-name artists in his 30 years in the business and now is director of studio operations at Sierra Sonics Recordings in Reno. Those two groups do more critical listening whether for work or pleasure, he said.

“Those people will pay more,” Williams said. “They’re in the older age bracket and they respect the sonic quality.”

So why go through the trouble of a more costly product and more effort to put out a new record?

“I’ve heard from distributors that some kids buy records simply to have them as a collector’s item,” Kravak said. “They hang it on a wall as piece of art almost.”

In Los Angeles, Kravak said, two stores selling vinyl have opened in the past 18 months.

“I can’t remember the last time two record stores opened up on the same side of town,” he said. “With specific retail tailored to it, there has to be some sort of demand that has been created.”

Whether the vinyl belonged to grandma or recently was pressed, or if the record player also came from grandma or was purchased new, the demand for it seems to have settled into a comfortable niche that is likely to stay. And as long as there is a customer base, the small-time store owner or the mass-producer will find a way to exploit it and enjoy it.

“Sure, it’s a business decision,” Kravak said. “You do it from your heart of hearts. You can’t do it to make a dump truck full of money because you’re not. You love this music, love this band. It’s a part of American music history we’re trying to uphold.”
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