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Vinyl comes around at Twin Ports music businesses

In an age of increasing music downloads and shrinking CD sales, at least one old form of recorded music is enjoying a resurgence. We're talking vinyl.

Vinyl revival
Vinyl albums line the wall above records for sale at the Electric Fetus in Duluth. [Derek Montgomery / News Tribune]

In an age of increasing music downloads and shrinking CD sales, at least one old form of recorded music is enjoying a resurgence. We're talking vinyl.

Duluth's Electric Fetus opened a "Vinyl Room" about four years ago, dedicating the lower level of its building to records, both new and used. Justin Kervina, manager of this downstairs operation, said that at first it seemed a precarious endeavor. But for two solid years running, Kervina reports vinyl sales have been growing steadily.

Yet another record shop arrived in the Twin Ports this Septemberwith the opening of the Vinyl Cave on Superior's Belknap Street.

"It's a lot more tooth and nail in the Cities, but I was glad to see another shop open up here," said Kervina, predicting that a growth in the local supply of records will further stimulate the turntable crowd.

National record player sales have been climbing. Through July of this year, 43 percent more new turntables have been sold than during the first seven months of 2007, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. New turntables include USB cables that can plug directly into a computer so you can make digital copies of vinyl albums.

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Steve Kidera, the association's communications coordinator, speculated that a large number of secondhand turntables also are being sold, although these transactions aren't tracked.

Tom Unterberger, co-owner of the Vinyl Cave, said it's difficult to pigeonhole today's record buyers.

"We see a real mix of people, from kids who are 16 to 18 years old to people who grew up listening to records," he said. "A lot of people seem to be rediscovering vinyl. They're drawn to the artwork and the packaging. And they're also realizing that records have a warmer sound than CDs."

The Vinyl Cave is jammed with more than 300,000 record titles.

While used records account for the lion's share of vinyl sales, a growing number of contemporary artists now are pressing records in addition to CDs. Recent record-producing ranks include the likes of Wilco, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Lucinda Williams, Metallica, Ray LaMontagne and Death Vessel.

"It's what the cool artists do," Kervina said.

Sales of new vinyl records during the first six months of this year surged 77 percent compared with the same period last year, according to Billboard magazine.

Alan Sparhawk, a founding member of Low, a Duluth band, said he has consistently pushed to prominently release his work on vinyl, as well as CD. Sparhawk said his band sometimes had to fight for a vinyl release of its music in the past, but now it has become much more common.

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"There are tons of arguments about the virtues of digital versus analog recordings. But there's something lost in the digital transition of vibrations into a bunch of zeros and ones. It's almost like going from 3-D to 2-D," he said. "If you're really listening in an ideal environment, there's something more human and real about the vibrations from a record."

PETER PASSI covers business and development. He can be reached weekdays at (218) 279-5526 or by e-mail at ppassi@duluthnews.com .

Related Topics: MUSIC
Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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