Record Store Day vinyl sales up, local shops growing

Aaron Levy (left), owner of The Vinyl Countdown, said business is going well for the new venture on Upper King Street, thanks mostly to vinyl sales. The store will participate in Record Store Day for the first time this weekend.

As the ninth installment of Record Store Day makes its way to Charleston this weekend, I can’t help but point out that our music culture seems to have embraced the initiative’s original message to support local record shops.

The event hit independent record stores around the world in 2008 offering rare and exclusive album releases to encourage consumers to keep their business local, rather than taking it online to Amazon or iTunes.

And remember, 2008 wasn’t only the year the recession hit. People had been saying for years that it would only be a matter of time before all brick-and-mortar record shops would shut their doors and either adapt to online retailing or give up all together.

Fast forward nine years later, and streaming music services are huge. In 2015, they became the most common way to consume music, just ahead of downloadable MP3s, according to the Recording Industry Association of America’s annual report. But guess what else is huge: vinyl records.

The RIAA reported that vinyl sales outpaced advertising revenue on tiered streaming services like YouTube and Spotify last year.

Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that vinyl records will deliver the music industry from its woes with streaming services, which only pay a fraction of the royalties that physical pieces of music do. But it might illustrate that what started as a niche trend of collecting vinyls has become a pretty robust industry.

Did Record Store Day have anything to do with the growth?

“Without question,” said Galen Hudson, owner of Monster Music & Movies in West Ashley. “Record Store Day was maybe the catalyst, not necessarily the cause, but I think it definitely catalyzed that movement.”

We’re seeing those effects locally as well. In the past year alone, Charleston got a new independent record shop, The Vinyl Countdown on upper King Street, and another part record store/part coffee shop, Eclectic Cafe & Vinyl, announced its plans to open at Spring Street and Ashley Avenue sometime this year.

Hudson said seeing new stores open is “gratifying” because it illustrated what he already knew, that record stores were never “going the way of the dodo bird.”

Although he did have to close his Summerville record store, Cat’s Music, this year, he said it didn’t have anything to do with the business, which was doing well. The ownership of the shopping center changed, and when the lease expired, Cat’s Music was told it “didn’t fit the tenant mix” anymore, Hudson said.

He thinks the community is more than capable of supporting the new record shops.

“Is there enough business for all the mouths at the feeder? Yeah, we think so,” he said.

Aaron Levy, owner of The Vinyl Countdown, said business at his downtown shop has been better than expected since opening late last year. He gets regular customers who live in the area, plus wandering tourists who happen to venture north of the Crosstown.

His top-selling record is the vinyl of local band Susto’s debut record, which points to another encouraging trend in the music community.

The Charleston-based record label Hearts & Plugs started supplying shops last year with vinyl recordings of Charleston’s independent artists such as Susto, Johnny Delaware and most recently, Slow Runner. And so far, it’s a hit with consumers.

“We’ve had a lot of support for local acts,” Levy said.

Hudson said the same thing.

“Local vinyls have become more of a trend in the past year. More and more bands are definitely pressing their own vinyl,” he said. “People who support local music, that’s what they tend to favor. They’d rather have vinyl than a CD or MP3, really.”

While Record Store Day tends to center on national artists, both shops will make a point to spotlight local acts by hosting live performances throughout the day. All in all, the day becomes a celebration of the role record stores still play in the local music community.

That’s why Levy said he knew even before the Vinyl Countdown opened that he wanted to participate in Record Store Day this year.

“We would be shooting ourselves in the foot to not do it,” he said.

Reach Abigail Darlington at 937-5906 and follow her on Twitter @A_Big_Gail.