The Vinyl Countdown by Jason O’Neill (Buzz)

Is vinyl’s comeback just a fad or does its renewed presence represent a real revival? Buzz chats with Avalanche Records’ Kevin Buckle to assess which is closer to the truth.

Vinyl is currently experiencing a bit of a moment.  As music formats go, it’s craft beer, whilst the humble CD is closer to a pint of Tennent’s: the sleeve art, the booklet and most importantly, the sound quality. You get so much more than with its alternatives.

Edinburgh boasts an impressive collection of vinyl stockists, from the obvious large music retailers to Independent crusaders such as Vinyl Villains, CODA music, Elvis Shakespeare, Underground Solu’shn and VoxBox Music. There are numerous options available for aficionados and burgeoning collectors alike. Even Tesco has begun re-stocking them. A quick Google search reveals that sales of the medium have grown by well over 50% in the past two years. The vinyl chart has even been relaunched. So can vinyl maintain momentum and continue its meteoric rise?

“Probably not,” according to Kevin Buckle, who is uniquely qualified to say so. He is the owner of Avalanche Records (named after the Leonard Cohen song of the same name covered by Nick Cave when the shop opened in 1984) and a mainstay of the Edinburgh music scene for the past 30 years.

We meet in the Tron Kirk on High Street where he currently has a cosy stall in the corner of the market. Nestled between posters of Taylor Swift and Arcade Fire are a few wooden boxes of vinyl and a rack of CDs that sit beneath a large stained glass window. Its simplistic décor gives off a rustic vibe.

Kevin could talk all day about music. His knowledge seems encyclopaedic as he recalls obscure album tracks and dates in the matter of fact way that only someone truly passionate about a subject can do so. As a statistician, he also conveniently references much of what he says with the figures to back it up.

It’s when we’re a few minutes into the conversation that I realise Kevin is someone who thinks far more about the big picture and beyond the recent resurgence when it comes to vinyl. He isn’t as dogmatic about the format as I had expected and in his own words, “vinyl has got nothing to do with it, it’s about the music”. His interest lies more in the promotion of new music, something he believes this revival doesn’t necessarily do.

“The whole vinyl revival thing is very much a nostalgia thing, (in the past) people bought music, they didn’t buy vinyl. People just bought vinyl because that’s what the music came on.”

He continues by citing the vinyl chart for last year in which the top ten contained four albums from the previous two years and then older artists such as The Beatles, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin.

“That’s what’s selling, it’s a nostalgia thing. It’s old people buying, it’s young people who seem to think that you buy old music on old vinyl and it’s no benefit at all to new music which is what we’re interested in. I’ve just no interest in selling people Led Zeppelin albums.”

It’s an outlook that had never occurred to me. When I look for a new album, I never really consider buying vinyl as my first port of call and I become acutely aware that I fit perfectly into the stereotype he has just described. Despite its obvious benefits, “for most bands, it’s not viable” because put simply, “they just won’t sell enough” and I get the sense that this is what Kevin feels is the big drawback.

He qualifies this by identifying himself as a huge fan of vinyl because of the tangible benefits and “what it adds to the music,” but it’s apparent that the idea of selling the Beatles “Revolver” to a young kid and thus introducing them to real music isn’t his thing. He is far more focused on the present day.

When we discuss challenges facing record shops, he cites age-old independent versus large retailer issues. Specifically, the chains buying power allowing them a larger percentage of the stock available, whereas independents have to buy in smaller quantities.

An interesting quirk of this is that often these large retailers (one in particular) allocate disproportionately higher amounts of floor space than their vinyl sales justify as a form of advertising. As Kevin puts it, “look at us: we’re cool, we sell vinyl”. It’s an approach he describes as “galling,” mostly because it further limits the amount of pressings available.

Despite these challenges, shops in Edinburgh are managing to sell both new and second-hand music (mainly in CD and vinyl respectively) and while they may not be thriving, hopefully they will continue to survive. So what of the future?

“Eventually they will run out of things to re-issue,” he states. “Sales will drop quite substantially to a level higher than their all-time low.” Before adding on a slightly darker note, “record companies can’t believe their luck that Bowie died cause now they’ve got all that to do.”

And as for the future of other formats? That isn’t as easy to predict. CDs will probably endure as they have “an awful long way to fall,” but “given that nobody saw streaming coming,” who knows?

You can follow his musings about the state of music in Edinburgh and beyond on his blog which also doubles as an online shop.

I’ve edited this just a very little to correct a couple of things. Interesting piece in that Jason actually quotes what I said rather than so many who paraphrase and get it wrong. Old skool attempt at a headline too !

Buzz magazine is an annual publication brought to you by MSc Publishing students of Edinburgh Napier University

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