Vinyl records still spin strong, make comeback in music industry

The return of vinyl proves a passionate subject for Eau Claire locals, helps business expand


Photo by Katy Macek

Story by Katy Macek, Currents Editor

When Billy Siegel opened a record store in Eau Claire in 2009, he said he thought the small building would be perfect since he planned to do most of his sales online.

“I was just a 400 square foot, small brick and mortar store that wasn’t sure if Eau Claire could even support a record store,” he said.

Five years and three locations later, Siegel said Revival Records has seen a dramatic increase in vinyl sales, and not one of them has been online.

While he recognizes digital music is by far still the most popular form, he said he saw a trend in vinyl sales since he started in 2009. For him, vinyl is about more than the songs, but the experience of buying an album – art, music and all.

“I always wanted to have something tangible that I could hold that I could have that wouldn’t get lost if my computer crashed,” he said. “I thought if I liked it so much then maybe other people would as well. I took a shot and sure enough it’s paying off.”

While Siegel said he thinks vinyl, for the artist or label, has risen in popularity because of expected profit, for vinyl music lovers it is more than that.

“It can be an inexpensive pastime and it’s just an experience to own a record and to have records and to be able to clean them, play them, look at the music and open up the artwork,” he said. “You get a feel for the artist and what they’re trying to tell you.”

His current location, 128 S. Barstow St., is 5,000 square feet and his largest location yet.

On average, Siegel said roughly 50 people walk through the doors of his store every day, which leads to around 25 transactions daily.

“I’ve kind of grown exponentially, all due to vinyl,” he said. “Vinyl sales have just gone up and up every year.”

His store is not alone. Data from The Statistics Portal shows that, while sales of other forms of music (CDs, MP3s, etc.) have declined, vinyl sales have gone up 58 percent in the last year alone.

A different study from the same website showed that CD album sales have declined steadily from 500.5 million in 2007 to just 257 million in 2014.

Stacy Thompson, an English professor at UW-Eau Claire, has been listening to records since he was a child, as it was the way to listen to music back then. Sometime in the 90s’ he began “officially” collecting them and now he estimates he has a collection of around 3,000.

His genre of choice is soul, though he said he also collects funk, reggae, rap and jazz, all of which he said are easy to find on vinyl.

“I still value the ways that I was brought up listening to music,” Thompson said. “I didn’t think of music as singles, I thought of it as albums. I have never adjusted or adapted to this idea that you only listen to the best songs by artists.”

One reason he enjoys collecting vinyl is the historical feel to it. He has many records that his dad listened to, including some from the 40s and many from the 60s, and said there’s something about knowing it has been passed down from generation to generation and is now in his hands.

And it still sounds good. Another thing he enjoys is their permanence, knowing he can trust them to have the same great sound, 50 plus years later.

“We don’t even know yet if CDs will last that long,” he said.

The search for finding vinyl is also something that appeals to Thompson. While he certainly shops at Revival Records, he has also found collections in remote locations – which he wouldn’t reveal – that have been heard by very few ears.

After reflecting on what vinyl means to him, Thompson said he can’t quite put words to what makes it so much different from other forms of music. There’s just something about holding it in your hands and displaying them.

“It was a conscious choice at a certain moment when everyone was going to CDs,” he said. “You can pick it up and hold it. One thing you can’t do with newer forms of music is you can’t look at your collection. With CDs you can, but it’s somehow different.”

This interest in vinyl spans generations.

Michael Preskar, senior business management major, began collecting vinyl last summer, though he has been listening to it with his father since he was little.

Last summer he bought a turntable online and began spending more time in Revival Records. His current collection holds about 20 albums.

“I believe that music brings back memories, and I have some of my own vinyl that I grew up listening to with my dad and family,” Preskar said. “I have newer hip-hop vinyl as well that just bring back memories, so that’s probably my favorite aspect.”