National Record Store Day
Vinyl enthusiasts should head to Graham's Records for this new holiday.
An affectionate silence fills the room while the needle finds its way to the inner ridges of the record, until the music drifts out of the speakers like a warm, mystical spirit into the ears of those present for the archaic art of spinning vinyl. This ritual brings music back to life by activating our deprived senses, for audio is only a fraction of any aesthetic experience. By downloading music, our eyes focus on computer screens instead of cover art, our fingers graze over lifeless lettered keys in place of the elegant edges of our favorite record. Even the dusty, stale smell of our neighborhood record store is missed in our modern day process, as we no longer hold the weight of the music we consume but only pray that our glowing rectangle doesn't crash.
Before you get too deep into your weekend plans, hitch a ride over to Graham's Records [613 W. 26th St.] to celebrate Record Store Day. Amongst stacks of records you'll find Erie's local vinyl connoisseur Michael Graham, owner and operator of Graham's Records.
Record Store Day is celebrated the third Saturday in April to commemorate the non-commercialized culture surrounding independent record stores and the art of music. Despite the day's recent conception in 2007 at a gathering of independent record store owners and employees, it's become an internationally-celebrated event, recognized by some of the biggest names in music such as Matt & Kim, Macklemore, and this year's ambassador, Jack White.
"There is beauty and romance in the act of visiting a record shop and getting turned on to something new that could change the way [we] look at the world, other people, art, and ultimately, [our]selves," says Ambassador White on Recordstoreday.com.
In contrast with Record Store Day's recent birth, Graham has been slinging these tar colored slabs for decades. However, in the last few years he's noticed something peculiar. "Ten years ago, no one cared except the people that had been [collecting] all their life, [but] what I've noticed in the last five years is the age range of people coming in," Graham says reflecting on a recent surge of younger clientele.
According to New York Daily News, "39 percent of [vinyl] purchasers last year were under the age of 25. A staggering 81 percent fell below age 35." While the younger demographics' interests have peaked so have vinyl sales.
Records may not be flying off the shelves at Graham's shop but there is definitely a trend occurring, as worldwide vinyl sales did $177 million in sales compared to a meager $36 million in 2006. According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, 2012 hit a 16-year high.
"I kind of had a hunch that - through the years - people would start to want to come back to [records]," says Graham. Maybe it is a trend for the romantics as our ambassador White would insinuate, or perhaps it's the smooth sound of analog recordings that eases us into our past, or perhaps it is simply an experience that activates more than our ears. "I do think there is a tactile experience to it that some people just really love," Graham shares. "Either they miss it and they come back to it, or they maybe never had it, but when they try it, there is something about just dropping a needle onto a black groove that just seems like voodoo or something."
When the needle drops you can feel a rush in your blood, as we find sensations not felt from any other music format. To digest this vinyl Eucharist is to perform a ritual, one that takes care, patience, and a love of music. It allows us to hold the music we own, participate in the experience, and take a deeper look and listen to what we have. "I really think that there's a little bit of a backlash, people are starting to realize that," Graham confirms.
"Let's wake each other up," White says in his ambassadorial quote. "The world hasn't stopped moving. Out there, people are still talking to each other face-to-face, exchanging ideas and turning each other on. Art houses are showing films, people are drinking coffee and telling tall tales, women and men are confusing each other and record stores are selling discs full of soul that you haven't felt yet."
Here in Erie, this new generation is finding its way into Graham's shop. Johnny James and the Absolutes are pressing vinyl, and Erie is supporting its locally-owned stores. While downloading and streaming music has its place, there is an experience in visiting your neighborhood record store – physically searching for what your ears are craving, and leaving with music that isn't sandwiched between advertisements for Bank of America and Wendy's new flat-bread sandwich.
Record Store Day not only celebrates these Ma and Pa record shops, but the culture they foster. It is a culture built on the physical experience of music and art, strengthened by people who find the ritual of playing a record and face-to-face communication more romantic than a mouse click and an anonymous comment. This recent surge of vinyl sales is no trend; it is a global realization that all the music we hold closest to our hearts sits on a small scrap of metal, displayed behind an iridescent box, all simply running until it burns out.
Matthew Flowers can be contacted at mFlowers@ErieReader, and you can follow him on Twitter @MFlowersER.