Sunday August 5, 2012

GREAT BARRINGTON -- Fifteen months ago, Luke Germain, owner of Tune Street on Main Street, began noticing that special orders of new vinyl records were picking up at his store.

One or two a month were becoming 10 to 12 a month.

"We were getting more and more requests," he said. "People were coming in and asking about new vinyl releases."

So Ger main decided to stock new albums.

"It was a combination of newer artists, like Mumford and Sons, and some classics, like ‘Are You Experienced' [by Jimi Hendrix] and ‘London Calling' [The Clash]."

Germain said he was mildly surprised when the first batch of 30 sold out in a few weeks, so he increased the order.

Now, Tune Street devotes "a small but significant" portion of its display space to new vinyl records, according to Germain, who isn't alone in seeing more interest in albums.

Sales of new vinyl in the United States increased 34 percent from 2010 to 2011 -- going from 2.9 million to 3.9 million -- according to Nielsen SoundScan, a tracking system for music sales.

It was the sixth consecutive year of rising sales for vinyl, and sales are projected to jump even higher by the end of this year.

Tune Street, along with Toonerville Trolley Records in Williamstown, are the only independent music stores in the Berkshires that stock new albums. The Berkshire Record Outlet in Lee sells only used records, mostly classical.

Germain and others say there are many reasons for the mini-resurgence of albums.

The first is sound quality.

Germain said vinyl records are recorded with a process that creates a fuller sound. Compact discs and MP3 downloads don't have the capacity to store as much information as vinyl records, he said, so the sound isn't as complete.

"Basically, vinyl produces a more open, airy sound," Germain said. "It's one of the reasons our customers love jazz vinyl. The quiet parts are quieter. The loud parts are louder."

(Many in the music industry disagree, saying that CDs in particular still sound better than vinyl.)

Count Nick Ring as another vinyl fan. Ring, a disc jockey, has played records -- not CDs -- at Allium Restaurant in Great Barrington every Thursday night for the past year and a half.

"The sound of a bad record is far more pleasing than the brittle, lifeless sound of a bad MP3 or a CD skip," he said. "I still buy CDs occasionally, but primarily to support artists who haven't put out records. I'll buy the records when possible."

Another reason for vinyl's resurgence: packaging. New records offer informational booklets, photos and full-sized posters, well beyond what CDs have.

Hundreds of records await new and old fans alike at Great Barrington’s Tune Street music store.
Hundreds of records await new and old fans alike at Great Barrington’s Tune Street music store. (Stephanie Zollshan / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

Albums are "tangible" and have "a presence," Ring said.

"The packaging looks great," said Hal March, the longtime owner of Toonerville. "CD packaging may be similar, but obviously, it's all much smaller. Records just look better. Plus, they're retro. They're cool."

Pittsfield resident Dave Lincoln, who has about 30,000 LPs, agrees.

"I like the artwork on al bums," he said. "It's beautiful."

Record labels also have re-introduced colored vinyl and picture discs, which have become a big draw for younger fans, according to Mike Dreese, CEO of Newbury Comics, the Boston-based company that operates a chain of independent music sellers.

But March acknowledges there are drawbacks to vinyl, primarily the size. Because records are bigger than CDs, "You have to find a place to store them," he said.

In addition, March said, re cords aren't as durable as CDs.

But Germain remains optimistic about the fate of records. Tune Street, he said, is seeing an increase in the number of younger customers buying them.

"I think they get it," he said. "They hear that vinyl just sounds better, and they get excited about it. It's cool to see younger customers come in and buy records. We haven't had that happen in years."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

To reach Derek Gentile:
dgentile@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6251.
On Twitter: @DerekGentile