Fargo-Moorhead music stores riding wave of vinyl's remarkable comeback
Store owners, audiophiles sing the praises of the Old School format.
FARGO - Aaron Swinkels is doing his part to be sure vinyl records keep “Stayin Alive.”
Swinkels, the owner of Vinyl Giant in downtown Fargo, has made his store into a haven for audiophiles, cramming it with bins of vintage vinyl discs and the audio equipment to make the music happen.
With the Bee Gees playing in a background mix, Swinkels estimates his personal collection of LPs and 45s has climbed into the “couple thousand” range.
They are his time machine.
“I’ve collected ever since I was a kid. I was always the guy that had a record collection. I don’t know anyone else who did. I don’t know why. My mom had records. … I fished them out of the garage and listened to them in high school. They were just some phenomenal memories, you know?” Swinkels said recently. “It was almost like her energy from listening to the records was still in the records. It’s like almost a window into my mom’s previous life before she was a parent. So I really enjoyed that.”
He discovered the music of Herbie Hancock, Neil Young, “stuff that I probably wouldn’t have been exposed to if it wasn’t for that record collection.
“It kind of set the tone for music in my life. I realized along the way, it would wax and wane whether I listened to the records (but) I realized that I could always put that record on and I could travel time. So I could go right back to where I first heard the record the first time, and I could look around, in my memory, and I could see every detail," Swinkels said. "And I think a lot of people have that sort of capture ability from something that touches all of your senses.”
Swinkels is not alone in getting his dose of nostalgia from this decades old tech.
About 17 million LPs were sold in the first half of 2021, according to the Recording Industry Association of America’s latest figures. That puts the record industry on track for selling well more than 30 million albums and easily makes vinyl the best-selling of the physical media still on the market.
Not a bad comeback for a music format for which manufacturing had nearly gone extinct by the early ’90s.
The Recording Industry Association of America tracks sales and revenues for vinyl, 8-tracks, tape, cassette tapes, compact discs and digital formats. In a chart spanning 1973 to 2020, RIAA’s data shows the world spun around vinyl in the 1970s.
In 1978, LP and single sales topped out at over 531 million units. Revenues for LPs alone topped $2.5 billion, with singles adding another $260 million, together accounting for 66% of all music formats at that time.
By the early 1990s, LP sales revenues had fallen to $10.6 million a year and accounted for just one-tenth of 1% of sales volume
— shouldered out by cassette sales, then later by CDs, which muscled out both formats.
Digital and streaming sales now rule the roost, with streaming accounting for about 84% of music industry revenues and digital downloads about 5%. Physical media is about 10%. The rest is pulled into a category called synch (using music in films, TV shows, ads, video games, etc.), RIAA reports.
But vinyl has been tenacious.
The music baby of the Boomers is being embraced by Generations X, Y and Z —
hooked on the nostalgia, the ritual and the musical experience of records.
Nearly 15 years ago, vinyl sales began creeping back up. In the first half of 2021, vinyl recorded more than two-thirds of the physical format revenues, with CDs accounting for the other third. Vinyl revenues stood at $467 million for the first half of 2021, a 94% jump from 2020.
Helping fuel vinyl’s resurgence are Fargoans Aaron Nygord and Anthony Price, who were spending Monday, Jan. 3, hunting for gold among the records at Vinyl Giant.
Nygord, 25, likes to listen to albums in full, rather than pick and choose tracks on Spotify or YouTube.
“It’s like reading a book,” Nygord said, clutching a jazz album and The Who’s “Who Are You.”
His grandmother passed on her love of vinyl to him, getting him attuned to jazz and classical music. Nygord figures he has 50 to 60 albums.
“Different artists have different storylines they want you to figure out,” he said.
Have a hard time getting motivated on a Monday? Nygord says “just put a little jazz on.”
“If you’re a little tired, it’s kind of a pick up for the day,” Nygord said.
Price, 38, is a vinyl DJ, who works professionally in the Fargo-Moorhead area as Dj AP.
He’s glad vinyl has made its modest comeback.
“It’s kind of allowed for more of the tangible thing. Grab it and handle it, rather than download,” the music, he said.
“It’s a fun hobby. I’ve been collecting since I was 14 or 15 years old,” he said.
“I don’t know if it’s the nostalgia,” or the preference of analog sound to digital, he said, but he enjoys the experience, and will invite friends over to listen to music.
His parents enjoyed rhythm and blues and rock music, he said.
“I’m a huge James Brown fan, a huge Sly and the Family Stone fan,” as well as hip hop artists A Tribe Called Quest and Run DMC, jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery, and even rockers such as The Rolling Stones and The Beatles.
When digital music took over, many albums migrated to vintage stores to be resold, he said.
A Beatles record that might have sold for $2 in a vintage shop might now go for $300 to $400 to the right buyer, he said.
“It’s almost like an adventure when you’re out record shopping,” Price said. “You find some nuggets and you get to listen to some music, too.”
Price and Nygord aren’t alone.
A 2019 YouGov America poll found that 31% of U.S. adults were willing to pay for their music on vinyl records
While Boomers lead the way at 36%, indicating a willingness to pay for music on vinyl, following generations aren’t far behind: 33% of Gen Xers, 28% of Millennials, and 26% of Gen Zers say the same, the poll found.
The poll also found that nearly half of Americans (46%) liked to buy their music as vinyl or on CD.
That’s an important stat for the nation’s 1,400 independent record stores.
Brady Bredell owns Mother’s on Main Avenue in Moorhead.
Bredell’s father took over the store in 1973, “a real hippie spot” at the time, and passed his love of music along to his son.
“I was fortunate to have a dad … who knew so much about music and had the coolest job in the world,” the 38-year-old said Monday, Jan. 3.
He started collecting his music on cassette, then moved to CDs, only more recently adding vinyl to his stash of music.
His father thought the resurgence of records would be a fad, but “they stuck around.”
And he’s followed that industrywide change. Like other local record stores, records now dominate the sales floor, surrounded by T-shirts and posters, all patrolled by Penny, a friendly and intensely curious Australian shepherd, the shop’s permanent employee of the month.
“We have some younger customers who I feel are doing it just because it’s the cool thing to do. They’re diving into the whole nostalgia and cool factor,” Bredell said. “There are some customers who come in who genuinely believe that vinyl sounds better.”
On that point, he is a vinyl fan.
“It all sounds better than going on YouTube or streaming, because that’s all compressed and it’s not the way it was meant to be heard, particularly with rock songs,” he said.
His vinyl collection has grown to several hundred records.
“I’m a pretty big collector. About 11 years ago I started collecting. It’s just cool to have with a giant piece of artwork (from the cover). It’s just more of a hands-on experience. Gatefold records you open up and different colors of vinyl. It’s just a fun experience. It’s kind of like collecting books,” he said.
Just a block away from Vinyl Giant in Fargo is Orange Records .
Matt Oland has owned the store on First Avenue North since July 23, 2007.
CDs dominated the selling floor back then.
Bins of records now hold pride of place.
“Every year since we’ve been open there’s been an increase in sales, actually. Real good luck this year,” Oland said Tuesday, Jan. 11.
When the store opened, few places sold new vinyl in town, Oland said. Hot Topic still had a small end-cap selection of records. But Cheapo Discs in Moorhead was getting ready to close, (calling it quits in late November of 2007).
He saw the record store as an opportunity then. Vinyl is the opportunity now.
Permanence and collectibility are big draws, Oland said.
“If a vinyl record is taken care of, it will last 50 or more years,” he said, while early CDs were prone to deteriorating and lose their data.
“It’s the physical permanence of a record. Just the collectibility, too. I think what drives sales with the younger people is the scarcity,” as they search for unique albums, including the more recent colored vinyl editions that are limited editions.
The quality of the analog pressings has improved, too, he said.
His personal collection is about 2,000 albums, dominated by rock, hip hop and metal, with some soul and 1960s R&B mixed in.
His customers are all ages.
“There’s a lot of young kids that come in. Biggest sellers for young people are hip hop and pop music. And a lot of new rap. Young kids buy new rap more than anyone else.
“There’s a lot of guys in their 60s that got rid of their records and started buying tapes in the ’70s, and now they’re going back and starting a record collection again. The stuff they had in their 20s, they’re buying it over again,” he said.
“I’m 36. There’s guys my age that are just buying new stuff that they want. Then you go back and find old music from the ’70s that you’ve never heard. That’s why I have so many records,” Oland said.
If it wasn’t for the resurgence of vinyl, he figures a lot of music stores would have gone under.
“I think vinyl has totally saved those record stores,” he said.
Several record stores have opened in the Twin Cities in the last three to five years, Oland said. Even Target and Walmart have started selling the records again, though he doesn’t count on the Big Box stores to continue carrying vinyl if interest — and profit — wanes.
“I’ll be here as long as I can, even if the popularity goes down,” Oland said.