Tony Green, project manager and co-owner of Amoeba Music San Francisco, said he has worked with music for more than 20 years and has been in the business long enough to see the fluctuating sales of different forms of music media.
“Before about 2002, it was the solid days, the Berkeley store was so busy it was just insane and on the weekends there would be a line out the door,” Green said. “Since iTunes, since that happened, there was a drop, a slow, incremental drop. Why buy digital if you can download?”
This was true, at least for a while. According to a 2014 Nielsen Music Report, between 2013 and 2014 alone, vinyl sales increased nearly 52 percent and digital track sales had a 12.5 percent decrease. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) found that in 2015, vinyl sales made a profit of 416 million dollars and streaming, advertisement reliant music, profited at 385 million dollars. According to RIAA, vinyl sales have not been that high since 1988.
If people are generally content listening to music digitally, it begs the questions: What makes vinyl so important to music listeners recently that has caused an upward surge in record sales? What has changed between the early 2000s and now that has re-sparked interest in vinyls? It’s hard to say exactly, but Green thinks he might have an answer.
“Pressing a button on a computer to download, it’s just not very sexy. In some ways you know if you bought a 12-inch record you would get the cover of that record, you would get the ceremony of taking it out and putting it on the turntable,” Green said.
Junior Miles Squires, a musician and self-proclaimed music fanatic, had a similar take on the phenomenon.
“There is a connection people have when they are actually holding the physical [record]. I get vinyls because I love the art that’s on the cover and also I like physically having the music,” Squires said.
Lazarus has an analogous outlook on this, making a strong statement in favor of vinyl’s authenticity.
“Vinyl, it sounds more realistic. Digital music, it doesn’t sound realistic compared to records,” Lazarus said.
This love of vinyl has kept record stores like Amoeba and Red Devil Records in business since 1993 and 1998 respectively. They both had to rely on people’s simple love of music and the faith that it will stay consistent through time. Green thinks that this is a part of Amoeba’s charm and helps the business to stay successful over all its years.
“The big thing here is that we kind of let the music speak for itself. We really don't have a lot of advertising. I think we have a reputation as being really beholding to the music industry,” Green said.
Lazarus credited some of Red Devil Record’s success to the tranquility that music can add to people’s lives.
“Music is very therapeutic for people. It makes them feel good. To quote this Charlie Brown Peanuts comic that is hanging up [in the store], ‘whenever I feel low I go out and buy some records’,” Lazarus said.
Green also reiterated that part of running a record store is staying true to the pure intent of selling good music to the public.
“People are constantly asking for a t-shirt and we find ourselves constantly selling out of Iron Maiden t-shirts. As long as it fits with the Amoeba thing, we're not going to start selling crap like fluffy dice or something like that,” Green said. “I’ve seen some record stores where you have to go in around about three-fourths of the store before you see any actual music and that’s not going to be happening at Amoeba anytime soon.”
However, adjusting to the changing times is sometimes necessary. Green said a large amount of Amoeba’s clientele are millenials.
“It’s crazy actually, people who buy records. You think it would all be people my age but it's mostly evenly divided I should say. [There are] a lot of people picking up records in their mid to late twenties [and we’re] selling a lot of turntables to go along with that,” Green said.
The younger age range has started to express interest in exploring a way to listen to music that was fairly obsolete in the early parts of their lives. This would undoubtedly impact why vinyl sales have skyrocketed in recent years.