The Return of Vinyl or P.K. Hears His Calling

Features 14 Dec 2009

recordThe Return of Vinyl or P.K. Hears His Calling

Written by Cory Schultz

Patrick is poor. He has no full time job and his humble attire could use a spin through the nearest laundromat. But he’s not unhappy about it, because he manages to scrape by doing what he loves. And what he loves just happens to be on the upswing as music passes through its next phase: selling used vinyl records.

Thought to be completely dead in the late 1980s when digital compact discs (CDs) were on the rise, vinyl records started popping up store shelves again shortly after the turn of the millennium, circulating around small LP and used music stores. This summer marked the return of vinyl records to large chain stores such as Best Buy, suggesting that the medium has experienced full resurrection.

The reasons for this renaissance are vague. Patrick, who prefers to be called P.K., is certainly happy about the rising interest in vinyl and has closely watched this product’s progression.

“One summer, about ten years ago, I unpacked all my records – perfectly preserved – and decided to set some out on the curb for people to take,” said P.K. “They were gone before I knew it, which is when I started throwing rummage sells that made more for me as time went on. Eventually it took on a life of its own.”

P.K. went on to describe the days he spent living in Montreal for a year, when selling LPs was his only source of income.

What seems to be driving the vinyl revival? Some speculative explanations include the addition of free digital download coupons with many new vinyl records, or the distribution of record players with digital transfer capability from vinyl to mp3. Dave Zero, owner of MadCity Music on Williamson Street, had a more dramatic answer.

“I think it’s a rebellion among music fans,” said Zero, “a natural reaction from the people that have become dissatisfied with mp3s and the download world.”

Zero believes music fans want something tangible they can own to show as a testament to their favorite bands, and the convenience factor of CDs doesn’t hold up anymore.

P.K. mentioned that in the late 1980s he “made the same mistake everyone else did” by packing away thousands of vinyl records he’d amassed over nearly a decade of collecting, and switched to CDs.

“I don’t regret it, though,” said P.K., “it turned out to be a good investment!”

Now with much of his original collection sold off, P.K. continues to search for used records in various stores and rummage sales around the area to keep his pseudo-business alive. In his experience, the factors that make a good buy for used records is rarity, condition and popularity. Much of his days not spent selling he occupies with cleaning the records to get rid of surface noise and distortions.

P. K., who is not a fan of corporations to begin with, believes large chains are selling LPs simply to make money  but with  little or not regard for the  customers’ passion for music. Zero  agrees.

“Large chain stores treat vinyl as a novelty item,” said Zero. “Used vinyl has become a bloodline for us, so we want to know and connect with our customers.”

P.K. plans to expand his venture into a legitimate small business, potentially including a coffee shop, sometime in the future. He’s already surpassed a crucial hurdle: establishing a clientele. My interview with P.K. was interrupted more than once by patrons who had stopped by to shop or talk music with him at the coffee shop where he sells his records.

“Just like any business, I’ve gotten to know a lot of people on a first name basis,” said P.K. When asked if his business tends to attract the popular image of the music snob, he said people who really listen to vinyl records usually have wide, eclectic music tastes, and snobs are characterized more by the obsession of collecting to hoard and not to listen.

Humpback Whale SongsThe most gratifying aspect of selling used records, according to P.K., is factor of fate. One story he shared was the day he found an ultra-rare copy of “Songs of the Humpback Whale,” an eerie recording of ocean-deep whales communicating. He was shocked and excited. Not more than a few minutes after setting it out to sell that same day did a man pick it up with the eyes of someone greeting a long-lost sibling or a lover.

“I believed that record was meant for him,” said P.K. “At the end of the day, vinyl is really a quality of life issue.”

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