OCEAN CITY — Vinyl records are not dead.
The success of digital music — and particularly Apple’s iTunes — has again transformed an industry that has seen cassette tapes and eight-tracks go the way of the buggy whip, with CDs following close behind.
But at GrassRoots Music Store on Asbury Avenue, vinyl is part of the business, and a bigger part of its philosophy.
“When you listen to a record, you have the artwork in your hands, you know you have to get up and flip the record, and you’re focused on that. You’re almost forced to focus on it and get into it,” said Jeff Ravasio, 32, a Somers Point musician who is among those who volunteer at the store to be around music, instruments and their passion. “It doesn’t become background music as quickly as on iTunes, where you have a 7-day-long playlist that goes continuously.”
The business found its place selling name-brand guitars such as Ibanez and Fender, as well as mandolins, banjos, ukuleles and musical hybrids. The Internet accounts for nearly 90 percent of sales and means the shop mails nearly 500 orders a week, owner and Ocean City resident Chris Leibrandt said.
The shop started in 1998 as a used-book and used-guitar store, gradually shedding books while focusing more on instruments and accessories.
Meanwhile, records have become a unique feature there — on shelves, in racks and spinning on turntables.
The Beatles, Iron Butterfly, Bob Marley, Black Flag, Green Day, Radiohead, John Denver and even the Twilight soundtrack all share space.
“We’re one of the last vinyl-only music shops. You won’t find a single CD in here unless it’s from a local artist,” Ravasio said.
This company’s experience touches on a trend in the music industry: Digital sales are rising while CD sales are falling, and yet vinyl albums are resurging from the dusty depths of near obscurity.
Industry research firm Nielson SoundScan said 2.2 million vinyl albums were sold the first half of the year.
That’s a 14 percent increase over the same period last year. And although vinyl was only about 1 percent of all album sales, it grew at about the same rate as digital albums, Nielson reported.
Ravasio said the record’s comeback is aided by those like him who prefer the sound quality, who like being exposed to an entire album rather than a single track, who enjoy the cover artwork and jacket lyrics, and who feel vinyl simply has more soul.
“A lot of jazz records would put the whole description of what the day was like when John Coltrane and Elvin Jones came into the studio and recorded together. As you listen and read it 50 years later, you can picture these guys in a smoky room on a humid day in Brooklyn, playing these songs for seven hours to get them right. You don’t see that anymore, especially not with downloading,” he said.
Of course, selling vinyl records these days comes with its own sets of challenges.
Those old enough to have had record collections may have relegated them to storage bins, basement shelves or garage sales while they ditched their turntables for newer technology.
And much of the younger crowd probably never touched a record before. There is also the question of how to best utilize store space.
“Every time I have a thought of expanding the guitar line and maybe reducing the record room, I look at the number of records we’re selling,” Leibrandt said. “We always conclude there’s no way we can get rid of the records. The sales absolutely warrant it.”
Ravasio said he expects digital music to continue to grow, but he expects there will always be a place for vinyl, new and old.
“We’re seeing folks who haven’t listened to their records for 30 years come in and start buying records again. Some of my favorite moments are when a 15-, 16-year-old comes in, looks at the turntable and says, ‘What’s that?’ I’m like, man, let me show you something. They’ve never handled one, but a lot end up buying a turntable and $30 worth of records.”
“It’s the first format of music that was really playable and had a long life,” he said. “Eight tracks aren’t coming back, cassettes aren’t coming back, CDs when they phase out aren’t coming back. I think vinyl will always be there.”
Contact Brian Ianieri: