AUSTIN (KXAN) — They’re everywhere. At bookstores, on merch tables at concerts, there are even entire shops and conventions dedicated to them. And in the last decade, they’ve made a major comeback – surprising those who thought the digital age would take over, but being welcomed by collectors and antique lovers.
The item in question: vinyl records.
If you’ve been in touch with the music industry, purchased recorded music, or been to a concert in the last decade, you’ve probably noticed a major resurgence in vinyls, especially over the last year or so.
Over the past decade, vinyl records have made a major comeback. People purchased (US)$1.2 billion of records in 2022, a 20% jump from the previous year. Not only did sales rise, but they also surpassed CD sales for the first time since 1988.Jay L. Zagorsky/Fortune
Zagorsky writes in the article that he realized later how “uncool” and “unwise” the decision to sell his vinyl collection in the 1990s was. On the resurgence of vinyls, Zagorsky writes, “who saw that coming? I certainly didn’t.”
He’s a business professor and explains further that the vinyl record industry’s rebound still hasn’t peaked.
While the RIAA report credits streaming as being the biggest driver of growth in 2022, vinyls take center stage when it comes to physical copies of music.
The impact of vinyl’s comeback in Austin
Austin has certainly felt the impact of that boost.
Each year, twice a year, the Austin Record Convention takes over the Palmer Events Center. Hundreds of vendors set up tables to sell vinyl records and music memorabilia during the convention.
This spring’s edition of the bi-annual event is taking place May 5-7, and it’s expected to be huge. According to its organizers, it’ll be the first time vendors have had to be set up in overflow areas at the Palmer.
Nathan Hanners, the event’s main organizer and promoter, expects it to be the “biggest one we’ve had in 20 to 30 years… I think it might be a tie for the biggest one we ever had in the entire history of the show.”
Hanners credits the growth to the vinyl boost highlighted by the RIAA report.
“Yeah, 100%. I think that’s exactly what we’re seeing at the show, the show’s been getting bigger, except for the COVID years,” he said.
History of the Austin Record Convention
The Austin Record Convention, also referred to by its organizers as simply “the show,” is the largest sale of recorded music in the U.S.
Hanners describes the convention this way:
“Imagine, you know, a giant auditorium filled with hundreds of tables and every table is packed with all manner of music, mostly vinyl records, but CDs, tapes, DVDs, T shirts, buttons, you know, hats, all sorts of stuff. Just music memorabilia, as far as you can see, basically. It’s just a huge auditorium full of records, tapes, music artifacts for sale.”Nathan Hanners
A Super Bowl for gramophiles, if you will.
The show predates much of modern Austin, one of many reasons shoppers and Austinites love it so much. Hanners explained that there’s a sense of tradition, and many shoppers return year after year.
It was started in 1981 by Hanners’ father, Doug, who at the time was the manager of a record store located along the Drag on Guadalupe Street.
Hanners explained that his father knew a lot of record collectors and fans, and music fans. He also knew the other record stores in town, “so there was a lot of selling going on between individuals,” Hanners said. “You know, not just people were just buying all the records from the shop. Someone would have an interesting collection of records, and people go to their house and look at their stuff. And so he just eventually decided to kind of pull that together and did a big swap meet.”
The first one was held at the Zilker Clubhouse.
“And it was like, totally packed with people, like they didn’t really plan for how popular [it] would be,” Hanners said. Thus, the show was moved to the Palmer Events Center.
Hanners said people travel from all across the country to sell and buy at the convention, and people even fly in from other countries.
Why vinyl records? ‘Vinyl is King’
So, why are people so enamored by vinyls lately?
Three words, spoken by Gus Ochoa during a conversation on the impact of vinyl and its place in Austin, pretty much sum it up: “vinyl is king.”
Ochoa is a Waterloo Records employee of six years, former South By Southwest employee, and has an almost lifelong relationship with the Austin Record Convention. He’s a friend of the Hanners and got recruited as a teenager to help with the show, then just never stopped.
When it comes to vinyl records themselves, Ochoa said he believes they can pull a community together and offer an experience that’s not as frequent in a post-COVID age.
“I think it’s a very tactile thing. It’s a very unique medium in that way. I mean, streaming is not going away — obviously we want to carry music everywhere we go right in our pockets like we can listen to it, you know that kind of thing,” Ochoa said. “But, buying records and sitting down with friends or going to a party and that kind of thing and putting it on the turntable and flipping the record, you know, ‘you gotta hear this song, you gotta hear this album.'”
He continued: “It kind of goes back to the community thing, right? Like, it kind of goes back to like, getting together around something, you know, we don’t really do that that much anymore.”
Patrick Floyd is a video buyer for Waterloo Records, he’s been working at the shop since 2014 and in his personal life witnessed the down-then-up trend of vinyls as it played out. He said the rise is exciting and thinks many young vinyl-buyers skip over the CD and jump straight from streaming to buying physical vinyl records.
“What’s really exciting about vinyl leaping over CDs is that there was sort of cranky, doom and gloom predictions about music fans who had all their music for free with with file sharing,” Floyd said. “But what’s happened is some of the music fans who have learned music and been exposed to music and become fans on streaming platforms… they’ve skipped right over the CD. [They] were educated and did their first explorations on streaming platforms and links, and on so many different ways a band can have music out there, and now [they’re] making a leap to vinyl.”
“So there’s this cultivated group of music fans, that some of them the first hard copy media they’re going to buy is not the CD, but it is the record.”
Jon Januhowski’s experience with hard copy music can attest to that sentiment. Januhowski is a record collector and has been working in the music industry for nearly a decade. They’ve worked as a full-time live audio engineer since 2016 and been touring since 2018 with acts like Foxing, La Dispute, Yot Club, and Caroline Rose, whom he’s currently working with for Rose’s tour of their new album ‘The Art of Forgetting.’
Januhowski’s collection has amassed around 2,000 pieces in the over 10 years they’ve been collecting. He explained he was a slow adopter to streaming and still hasn’t fully bought into the platform.
“A full album gives me something to latch onto and helps me understand the artist’s vision,” Januhowski explained. “That turned into record collecting as a means of better financially supporting the music I love, having a physical version of the music library I’m interested in, and an audio nerd outlet to try out different listening gear and experiencing the music beyond headphones or with my phone in my hand.”
On the topic of the RIAA report showing vinyl sales surpassing CD sales, Januhowski insinuated he wasn’t surprised.
The CD aspect has always felt like a strange watermark. Most music stores aren’t carrying a CD section, new cars don’t have players, and lots of small bands aren’t even opting for producing CDs, nonetheless the rise in vinyl is so exciting!
I believe people value intentionality. Even if they’re just getting vinyl to look at or hang on the wall, a 12×12 display of something that matters to them is easily worth $15-$30. A well produced, well pressed, well, mastered vinyl on a properly calibrated and cared for system brings so much more out of the music than streaming. And even when vinyl falls flat, that process of setting the needle, flipping the record, and listening through a whole work of an album is a unique experience that doesn’t exist the way cueing a playlist does.Januhowski on the RIAA 2022 report showing vinyl sales surpassing CD sales.
Floyd described that physical experience with vinyl records as a “thrill.”
“That tactile thrill of holding something with a sense of curiosity and wonder… that’s one of the things that I think is the most difficult to replicate. If you’re streaming music, or if you’re just introduced to music from a different avenue, the idea to hold it and have that it’s a bit ritualistic,” Floyd explained. “I think that expands what kind of patience you have for art, to be holding it and have that tactile response, to have that sense that there’s a human scale to what you’re doing — that it’s not just a far off series of characters that you plug into the URL. Now you’re somewhere, you’re holding it, it’s so much more primary and immediate.”
Cultural significance of the Austin Record Convention
Hanners, Ochoa, and Floyd all spoke fondly and excitedly of the convention. The three of them all seem to believe the convention’s cultural significance boils down to drawing the Austin community in.
The show also reminds people that some aspects of ‘Old Austin’ are still alive and well.
“I think people are happy that the show is still around,” Hanners said. He explained that a lot of people tell him they’ve been coming to the convention since they were a kid and now bring their kids, or that Austin has grown so fast in the last ten years and it’s nice there’s still some things that make it unique and keep Austin ‘weird.’
“It’s something that’s sort of part of Austin’s history, you know, and it’s connected to Austin through music and stuff. I think people like that,” Hanners said.
Ochoa compared it to Waterloo Records and how, in a way, people are brought together at both the record shop and the convention on common ground.
“I think the convention has the ability to bring everybody into one place, you know, like, in a great and a great way,” Ochoa said. “It has the ability to be, like, this incubator kind of situation of, you know, bringing together all of these folks who love music, not just record heads but anybody who loves recorded music, you know… It’s just a way to come together, and share your love of music, and Waterloo is like that year round, you know, and so I think that there’s a lot of crossover there.”
Floyd visualizes the show as a living being. “To have so many record collectors converging on Austin and to be in one place, that’s a way that curation takes on a life of its own,” he said.
“That room becomes an organism independent of the entities that are entering into it,” Floyd explained. “[I] think that the record, convention, day by day, is an evolving organism — is an evolving ecosystem — and there’s so many inputs and outputs, and it’s just something you can’t plan, predict or really describe, but it takes on a life of its own. It conjures into existence, this, this different sense of wonder, I think.”