Music lovers rediscover the timbre of the turntable and return to vinyl
BOISE, Idaho — Travis Dryden spent his childhood listening to his parent's records. And then he left them behind with the other detritus of his pre-college years to be sold for pennies at a yard sale.
Lured by the portability of cassette tapes, the iridescent gleam of compact discs, then the miniaturized wonder of MP3 players – who needed the fragile, antiquated technology of an LP?
As it turns out, Dryden did.
Now, like thousands of other reborn vinyl addicts, he scours record stores around the country, trying to get those lost records back.
"I abandoned a lot of my collection, unfortunately," Dryden said. "I started at record stores, thrift stores, garage sales and estate sales. When I travel for business I seek out record stores and thrift stores at the cities I visit."
Right now, Dryden said, his collection is small with only about 500 albums. But it might as well be 50,000 – as co-founder of the Vinyl Preservation Society of Idaho, a rapidly growing group in Boise, Dryden gets the opportunity to listen to selections from thousands of records at the organization's monthly meetings.
The group started last year with a handful of people. They brought CDs, MP3s and records, meeting in each their homes to talk and listen to music. Again and again, Dryden said, the group found themselves choosing the warm hum of the turntable over the cold precision of digital formats.
"We found our love of vinyl overtook the others," he said. "We knew there had to be others like us."
They were right. Word spread about the group that gathered to listen to vinyl, and Dryden and his brother Chad spent three months coming up with the structure that would form the skeleton of the Vinyl Preservation Society. Eight months later, the group has more than 100 members. And Dryden hopes to see chapters spring up around the nation, and eventually the world.
At a recent meeting Dryden said a typical member "is just someone who can embrace a Pink Floyd song followed by Bobby Darin. It's mercurial, it's a big social experiment, and it's probably the only place you can stand up and play a piece of music you had nothing at all to do with creating and people will honestly clap for you."
The Boise group isn't alone in its love of vinyl. Coffee houses and lounges in cities like Portland, Ore., are featuring vinyl record listening sessions. Stores like Urban Outfitters are selling portable record players. Last fall Amazon.com started a vinyl-only section. Vinyl record pressing plants are ramping up production, and some musicians are selling albums primarily on vinyl, including coupons for MP3 downloads of the songs for portability's sake.
Independent record stores are seeing more people turned on to vinyl, said Michael Bunnell with The Record Exchange in Boise. Events like Record Store Day, held annually in April to celebrate independent record stores and the vinyl culture, are gaining popularity, he said.
Still, for vinyl revivalists its more about the ethos than the trend. Proponents applaud the expanse of cover art, so decadent compared to the tiny screen of an iPod. Those with a finely tuned ear laud the warmer sound, compared to digital music's brighter, louder and compressed tones.
And the nostalgia is a draw even to those who weren't around to remember the records the first time they were played.
"I like the sound – it's intriguing, not so perfect," said Alina Schimpf, 21, who first began listening to records after seeing a turntable and vinyl collection at her 25-year-old boyfriend's apartment. "It's kind of cool, a novelty. I'd really like to get a turntable but it's kind of an investment."
Her boyfriend, Morgan Davis, remembers the thrill of sneaking into his father's vinyl collection.
"It's like a historical document," Davis said. "When I was younger I'd listen to my father's vinyl . . . He'd get mad if I scratched them up, so I'd listen when they were not around."
Boise collector Jim Leonard prefers vinyl for its "warmer sound" and convenient play length – about 20 minutes to a side.
"I never felt that the introduction of a new format meant you had to abandon the old one," Leonard said. "When you play an acoustic record on a Victrola, it's an indescribable, magical sound."
Listening to a record forces you to listen, said Don Jewell, a 60-year-old member of the group.
"It just seems more human to me, more human and direct. When you're listening to it you need to get up and change the record, flip it over. There's no playing 4,000 songs like in an MP3 player," Jewell said.
The physical involvement somehow makes the medium more precious, said David Hale, who gave a presentation at a Vinyl Preservation Society meeting about his grandfather's role as a promoter for Atlantic Records.
"It's music in the raw: You're pulling the vinyl out of the case, making sure you get that needle in the exact spot, making sure you lift it clean so you don't scratch it," Hale said. "There's definitely more reverence there."