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Commentary: Celebrating the power of vinyl

BY ERIC SUNDERMANN | APRIL 16, 2010 7:30 AM

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I may only be 22 years old, but something happens when I listen to a vinyl record.

I pull out the disc, set it on the turntable, and place the needle. While holding the cover art in my hand, that familiar crackle and pop sets in, whatever my selection — from such classics as Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline to new favorites such as St. Vincent’s Marry Me.

Vinyl records force me to interact with music, a rare experience for a listener in today’s digital-music age.

On Saturday, all around the world, audiophiles including me will head to their favorite local record shop for the third-annual Record Store Day. Both local record shops in Iowa City will participate, Record Collector, 116 S. Linn St., and Real Compact Discs and Records, 203 N. Linn St.

Record Store Day is an opportunity for the independent music community to unite with the artists they sell, providing rare editions of an assortment of CDs and vinyl records only available then, and typically, the issues sell out by the end of the day.

Craig Kessler, the owner of Real Compact Discs and Records, estimates his store will put out between 400 and 500 titles. The store has been part of the event all three years.

“It’s great, it’s packed all day long, like a holiday,” the 61-year-old said. “It’s the busiest day of the year.”

The numbers don’t lie, either. In 2008, vinyl-record sales reached 1.9 million units, and they jumped to almost 3 million in 2009, according to the music-industry sales tracker Nielsen SoundScan.

And that’s only counting stores that report their numbers, not counting smaller artists who may sell their work at concerts. Anyone who has been to a show in Iowa City in the past few years knows that the bands always bring vinyl to sell.

Looks like I may not be alone in my love.

Kirk Walther, the owner of Record Collector, believes young folks such as me are getting introduced to vinyl through their parents and liking the change from MP3s and iPods.

“People like the physical aspect of putting the record on, seeing the art, and holding it,” the 54-year-old said. “It’s a change of pace.”

And he’s right. It’s why I won’t buy myself a Kindle. Or why I prefer handwritten letters. Or why I have a stash of old typewriters in my closet.

When we interact with an object physically, whether it’s a record or a book or a piece of paper, we create a relationship. We become invested in it, and it invests in us. We have to take physical care of it, whatever it is, because it actually exists. It’s not floating around in cyberspace or the 3G network, it’s in our hands and part of us. It’s part of our life.

And maybe I’m just a dinosaur. Maybe I’m an old man trapped in a young adult’s body. But, please, with your next chance, take a moment outside of the connected world of laptops and cell phones and actually connect.

Read a book. Flip through some records. Write a letter.

And forever, long live physical media.


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