Vinyl records nearly disappeared in the 1980s and ’90s when the analogue format was largely replaced by the arrival of the compact disc. But that’s all changed.
According to Billboard, vinyl sales have been rising for 17 straight years. Last year, vinyl album sales outpaced CD album sales in the United States for the second year in a row.
I wanted to learn more about vinyl sales here in Connecticut. So I visited one of the state’s many vinyl record stores. This one’s in Branford. It’s called Exile on Main Street.
Inside a smallish, no-frills record store packed with stacks of vinyl albums, co-owner Paula Kretkiewicz tells me the store has been in Branford for 30 years.
Kretkiewicz attributes the spike in vinyl sales at her store to a desire for something physical in a world that is increasingly more digital.
“They want to play a record. They don’t want to just stream it,” Kretkiewicz said. “It’s different. It’s definitely more authentic-sounding. CDs sound great, but when you put a record on there’s something about, it is a little warmer. It’s a little more authentic.”
Kretkiewicz demonstrates that authentic sound. She pulls out a Steely Dan album from among the thousands of alphabetized records set up in bins throughout the store and puts it on the turntable. The needle drops, the music builds, and throughout it all is the characteristic — and comforting — crackle of the turntable.
Exile on Main Street still sells CDs, and it even has a few cassettes. But overall, Kretkiewicz said, about 60% of sales are vinyl and 40% of sales are CDs.
So who’s buying vinyl records these days?
“Everybody,” Kretkiewicz said. “Parents and their kids come in together. I have older customers. I have teenagers. Everybody.”
Exile on Main Street sells everything from classical to rap to metal. But Kretkiewicz said classic rock is really what the store thrives on.
Most genres of music — new and old — are being released or re-released on vinyl. But it’s not just the classic rock giants like the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd who are popular on vinyl. Younger buyers are driving vinyl sales and pushing pop artists to the top, too.
“Taylor Swift is actually very popular,” Kretkiewicz said. “They have to have that.”
And have it they did. According to Billboard, Taylor Swift‘s Midnights was the top-selling vinyl LP in 2022, with 945,000 copies sold.
As for record sales at Exile on Main Street last year?
“This was a really good year, and I’m hoping it continues,” Kretkiewicz said.
Meanwhile, 2023 is looking pretty promising. Despite all the technological advances, for some, the nostalgia, the cover art and the listening experience have given vinyl new life.
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