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Vinyl makes a comeback in digital age in Fox Valley

Kiss Sky Batavihas doubled their vinyl record collectilast few years due rising demand. | MarissAmoni ~ For Sun-Times Media

Kiss the Sky in Batavia has doubled their vinyl record collection in the last few years due to rising demand. | Marissa Amoni ~ For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 18, 2013 6:03AM

Phonograph records on vinyl. LPs. 45s. Hi fi. Stereos.

They sound like dinosaur technologies from the dim past. In this digital-download MP3 age when even the compact disc seems old-fashioned in some quarters, surely the vinyl record is as dead as the wire recorder, the eight-track tape or the cassette deck.

Or is it? The nationwide sales figures for music recordings on vinyl tell a slightly different story:

About 1.1 million in 1996, when CDs finally reigned triumphant.

Just 900,000 a decade later, in 2006. Obviously, just a few diehards were still hanging on.

But wait: 2.8 million vinyl records were sold in 2010, up more than threefold in just four years.

Then 3.9 million in 2011, up as much in one year as the total number of sales five years before.

And up again in 2012, to what is expected to total 4 million-plus.

With new vinyl still accounting for less than 2 percent of all music sales, LPs aren’t about to reclaim their throne as the dominant way to play music. But while CD sales are plummeting, MP3 downloads are falling, and lots of music is just plain getting stolen off the Internet, vinyl sales are going up every year.

Vinyl in the valley

Steve Warrenfeltz calls it the vinyl revolution. Warrenfeltz, who owns the Kiss the Sky music shop at 180 First St. in Batavia, said the resurgence of vinyl is somewhat a result of a backlash to the digital age.

The jump on vinyl in the last handful of years is also equal parts nostalgia and being hip, said Warrenfeltz, who noticed the trend about five years ago at about the same time that Record Store Day was conceived.

Record Store Day happens on the third Saturday in April, and it has given independent record stores a real shot in the arm, Warrenfeltz said.

“It has become the biggest day of the year. It’s like having Christmas in April,” he said.

Being keen on the vinyl comeback, Warrenfeltz has produced three vinyl albums in the last couple of years under his label, Waterloo Sunset Records.

The first album in 2011 was “Made in Aurora: Volume One,” a collaboration with about two dozen local musicians. About 500 copies were made and quickly sold, and it went on to receive an Independent Music Award nomination.

Warrenfeltz recently produced a two-song vinyl 45 for the local blues-rock trio Cattleprod fronted by Greg Boerner of Aurora.

“All my influences were records,” said Boerner, a well-known solo musician.

“I grew up with records,” he said.

But he still found it “eye opening” when he discovered not too long ago how many locals were interested in vinyl and had turntables.

When Warrenfeltz suggested that they release a single on vinyl, Boerner said it sounded like a cool idea. It was an added bonus that the 45s were different colors. “That was kind of fun,” Boerner said.

“I really just like the idea of vinyl,” Boerner said. “There’s something about it physically. I love pulling out the record, putting it on the turntable, and finding it for $2. I enjoy the hunt,” he said.

Younger fans

Rich Wagner, 46, opened Rediscover Records at 207 E. Chicago St. in Elgin in 2010. He said his shop and Kiss the Sky are the only two stores in the Fox Valley that specialize in vinyl.

The racks at Rediscover Records — red-painted wood cut out of Wagner’s aunt’s barn in Marengo — hold about 6,000 groove-on-disc recordings. About 80 percent are used records from as far back as the 1930s. The other 20 percent are brand new releases.

Some of Wagner’s customers grew up playing 33-1/3 rpm long-playing vinyl albums and 45 rpm single-shot discs, which had a hit song on one side and a filler “flip side” song on the other. Customers often recall culling through the newly released 45s and picking up the latest “Silver Dollar Survey” list of that week’s top-selling 45s, published by WLS Radio.

But, Wagner said, “a new generation is discovering vinyl.”

“I get baby boomers who are revisiting the music of their youth,” he said. “But most of my customers are under 35, even under 30, who did not grow up on vinyl. A lot who come in are in high school or just out of high school. But they appreciate the richer sound of vinyl, and they appreciate the physical aspects of being able to hold something in your hand and look at the cover pictures and read the liner notes.”

‘A constant thread’

Although he grew up on old blues records, Boerner said he really started getting back into vinyl about a year and a half ago largely because his friends were exposing or growing their vinyl collections. Some friends started having vinyl parties in their living rooms where everyone would bring an album to spin on the turntable.

Tony Scott, a friend of Boerner’s and a patron of the local music scene, had his first vinyl party last fall and has been scouring the vinyl bins ever since. Scott, of Oswego, likes to dig through crates for used vinyl at thrift stores and bookstores like Half Price Books in Naperville and Culture Stock in downtown Aurora.

“Digging through the unmarked shelf at Kiss the Sky is a joy,” he said.

Scott added that he and Boerner will take road trips to find vinyl records at flea markets and antique stores, but there’s a plethora in Aurora. He recently found several old country-western albums at The Trading Post along Route 31 in Aurora.

As a kid or an adult, it’s exciting to paw through the crates of vinyl records trying to find that gem, Boerner said.

“It hasn’t changed. You never know what you’re going to come up with. That’s the fun part,” he said.

When Boerner started getting into blues music in his teenage years, he would seek out guitar players and then find albums that featured them, and it grew from there.

“You look for names that sound cool. One thing leads to another. It’s a constant thread,” he said.

Vinyl revolution

By the numbers, the vinyl resurgence seems to be a holding trend. Warrenfeltz said that vinyl sales at Kiss the Sky have gone from 5 percent up to 55 percent of total store sales in recent years.

The latest Mumford and Sons album on vinyl had great sales, and the Beatles releasing their entire catalog on vinyl was great for the holiday season, Warrenfeltz said. And at Christmas, they couldn’t keep turntables in stock.

How is Kiss the Sky responding to the vinyl revolution?

“We’re doing a little tweaking of what we carry. We’re stocking more turntables and speakers,” he said.

The store also offers turntable clinics, and will soon start up a monthly round table discussion called “Vinyl Revolution” with a handful of panelists.

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