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Vinyl records scratch back to popularity

By Edward Trizzino, Point Park News Service:

“Whistlin” Willie Weber kneels down in the back room of Jerry’s Records stacking several records into a pile to be cleaned. Weber can tell from a simple glance when a record needs to be cleaned because he has been helping out with his father’s record shop since he was 15 years old.

Although he said the job wasn’t his favorite when he was that age, Weber, now 37, has come to appreciate records and now takes on more responsibility at Jerry’s Records.

The aisles in Jerry’s are made up entirely of used records spanning decades, genres and styles collected over the store’s more than 30 year existence. Shoppers peruse the collection while music from a turntable is projected throughout the store. Photo credit: Edward Trizzino, Point Park News Service

“I picked it back up about 15 years ago, but it took me a while to enjoy it,” Weber said. “It all kind of changed when I realized that you could make a living doing this.”

Although digital music has been favored in recent years, record stores like Jerry’s continue grow. Vintage records and popular music from decades ago become more valuable every year, new music is still being pressed on this format.

“People always say vinyl is coming back, but really it never left,” Weber said.

Records being physical objects are actually more permanent than digital files, which are only as permanent as a device’s memory.

“Every few years’ music lovers need something new, and it makes perfect sense because records are the antithesis of digital music,” Graham Langdon, director of the Record Collector’s Guild, from Asheville, N.C., said.

The quality of sound produced by a record surpasses that of the digital format, which is one reason for their continued popularity.

“Personally it’s all about the music to me,” Weber said. “I would definitely choose a record over a CD or anything.”

Jerry’s Records was founded in Oakland in the 1980s, according to Weber, but moved to its current location in Squirrel Hill in the 90s. Over the years, the Weber’s have bought millions of used records, stacked on shelves almost reaching the ceiling, filling milk crates and cardboard boxes in every nook and cranny of the at least 8,000 square foot store, creating a maze of artists, genres styles and sounds of all kinds. Weber said people call every day to sell record collections that could be as many as 1,000 records.

“People always ask where we get all our records, but they just come to us,” Weber said.

Down the hall from Jerry’s in a corner of the building is Galaxie Electronics, where Vince Bomba, a.k.a. the Turntable Doctor, repairs sound devices at a workbench with tools and parts necessary to do so. Vince and his wife, Sue, work to repair sound systems such as turntables, speakers and radios, which he said keeps them busy six work days a week.

Vince said the way the music is reproduced on records is the reason for the difference in quality.

“The sound is different. There is a dimension on records not present on other formats,” Vince said. “Even though there are cracks and pops that are associated with the playing of records, the dimension is still there, and the ear can pick up on that.”

Vince has been repairing music appliances since 1975, and has worked in his current location for about six years. He has repaired and refurbished different sound devices from various time periods, some of which are displayed under the counter and on shelves around the workshop. Vince said that older record players are constructed better than models created in recent years, as he sees more people bringing in newer models for repair than old.

Every corner of the Jerry’s is filled to the brim with music. Shoppers will find records of every style and taste in the nooks and crannies of the store. Photo credit: Edward Trizzino, Point Park News Service

The old record players lasted a lot longer back then,” Vince said.

“Older receivers are better quality, which is why I think people are going back to it,” Sue agreed.

Matt Earley, one of the founders of Gotta Groove Records, a record pressing plant located in Cleveland since 2009, said music fans want to have something physical to hold on to rather than a file that can’t be felt. He said the rise in record sales could be attributed to a new demographic of music fans discovering this.

“It is fulfilling to see new people experiencing this kind of music for the first time,” Earley said.

Earley also said fans may want to buy merchandise from a band at a concert, and records are a popular item to sell.

“It’s nice to actually own something so buying a record is equally fulfilling,” Earley said.

Langdon also noted that bands are keen on the timeless element of records.

“You go into a used record store and you can find records from the 70’s and 80’s. Artists today want to project their music into the future, and people will still be selling [records] in the 2020’s or 30’s,” he said.

Langdon also attributed the recent revitalization in the popularity of records to the sound quality of the format.

“The difference is tonal, vinyl sounds much more like live music,” Langdon said.

“If you want to feel like you’re in the room with a band, analog is the way to go,” Vince said.

Langdon also explained a core difference between the two formats.

“The soundwaves are actually carved into the vinyl, and if you spun a record on your fingertips and dragged a sewing pin across the surface, you would actually hear music. Essentially digital music is a large number of ones and zeroes streaming at high speed into a speaker that vibrates, so something definitely gets lost in translation,” Langdon said.

Weber also said the physical format is what makes records stand out.

“A record has artwork, you can open it, there is stuff to read and there’s just something about it that was made to be played,” Weber said.

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