East Lansing collectors push vinyl sales higher

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Billboard marks 2017 as the 12th straight year of growth in vinyl album sales.

Why does the current generation believe in the resurgence of this vintage format? Records offer physical music to collect rather than endless playlists on streaming service apps. It’s clear that local student vinyl lovers have no intention of straying from this hobby any time soon.

While Tim Michalik, a Lansing Community College journalism sophomore, rummages through a bedroom shelf stacked with his old, used and new records in his bedroom he ponders his favorite.

Michalik searches for his favorite records. Photo by Terri Powys.

It is far too difficult for Michalik to decide, so he settles on two: “Right now it’s Bill Callahan – Dream River and also Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane’s self-titled.”

Callahan, an American singer-songwriter pushes an alternative sound with heavy roots of blues rock and roll. Monk and Coltrane are standard artists worth knowing in the jazz community. Michalik, 19, has a theory on why his generation is pushing vinyl sales higher.

“I think the number one reason is tangibility,” he said. “Over the past two decades, sales were dominated by album streaming or downloading. People just love holding and possessing their music.”

Michalik with his collection,  turntable set up and his Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane record. Photo by Terri Powys.

Collecting records seems like a major financial investment – a standard double LP could cost $25 in an era where streaming services are free. But Michalik says that it doesn’t have to be so costly. “My only advice would be to start with what you love, and always be on the lookout for a bargain. There’s a reason record stores have $1 bins!”  

Some collectors prefer higher quality vinyl, original pressings and limited edition artwork. These characteristics can provide for a unique collection but the vinyl that has  them might not always be affordable.

Madeline Smith, an MSU junior studying art education, says her favorite vinyl is Beach House, the debut album self-titled by the band’s name. It is followed by Purity Ring – Shrines and Dead Man’s Bones, both also self titled. Her collection ranges from synth-heavy dream pop to lesser known lo-fi alternative bands.

Madeline Smith puts her Dead Man’s Bones record on the turntable. Photo by Terri Powys.

“All of these were spontaneous finds which makes me appreciate them more,” she said.

“I think that vinyl taps into the human desire to collect material things. There’s more satisfaction involved in a physical collection of albums than an endless void of streaming. There’s also a vintage aesthetic of owning and displaying a record player.”

Her advice to rookie vinyl collectors: spend wisely.

“Don’t buy an expensive record of an album you won’t listen to just because you’re enthralled by the appearance of the album,” she said. “However, don’t be hesitant to buy records you’re unfamiliar with because that’s a great way to discover new music.”

Smith with her three favorite records: The Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Beach House – Beach House, and Dead Man’s Bones – Dead Man’s Bones. Photo by Terri Powys.

The music is the most important consideration in her collecting, but the album art also plays a part: “Physical appearance isn’t typically a deciding factor for me but I do love when bands get creative with their designs, for example, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s limited edition pressings of Nonagon Infinity and Murder of the Universe are really unique.”

Larry Stec, a food science senior at Michigan State University, is another passionate collector. His collection is dominated by classic rock music, which accounted for 67 percent of all vinyl album sales in 2017, according to Billboard. When picking favorites, Stec doesn’t hesitate. “My favorite record that I own is definitely The Beatles – Abbey Road,” she said. “I have a ton of The Beatles and also I love side two of that album.”

Stec searches through his crate filled with records. Photo by Terri Powys.

“At first I was trying to collect the discography of all of my favorite bands,” Stec said.  “I have every Led Zeppelin album. Now, since I’m more on a budget, I’m more likely to buy a record when it’s a good deal. But if it’s a really uncommon one I haven’t seen a lot then I’ll probably spend the money.”

Stec agrees with Michalik that the recent boost in record sales is linked to the importance of having a physical object to showcase. “I think that vinyl has a more raw sound, and it’s cool to have something physical. I listen to Spotify day to day and on my way to class, and records aren’t the most convenient, but it’s nice to have something that you can collect and show to people,” he said.

Stec and his turntable featuring his two favorite records: The Beatles – Abbey Road and The Beatles-Meet the Beatles! Photo by Terri Powys.

To browse records and expand your collection be sure to explore East Lansing’s Flat Black and Circular store. Located on Grand River avenue in the Campus Town Mall plaza, FBC offers a variety of old and new records for beginner and expert listeners.

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