Philly’s vinyl record sales soar thanks to Generation Z

Pat Feeney opened Manayunk’s Main Street Music because he couldn’t shake the obsession he developed while watching The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. Sixty years later, Feeney is selling stacks of Beatles records to people whose parents weren’t even born. when that now iconic performance took place.

Its boom in vinyl sales is largely fueled by Gen Zers who appreciate the bonus of physical ownership in the world of streaming music.

“The beautiful cover art of the big album is so sweet and beautiful,” said Olivia Hoover, a 24-year-old Queen Village resident who also said she also really appreciates the sound quality. “There’s something so fun and magical about having tangible music.”

Vinyl revenue in 2021 in the U.S. will top $1 billion for the first time since the mid-1980s. Last year alone, sales grew 50%, surpassing CD revenue for the first time since 1991, the year Main Street Music opened.

“You’ve seen the interest grow,” Feeney told Billy Penn. “Perhaps, sometimes we were a little behind. We should have been more aggressive in transition.”

Today, about 85% of Main Street Music’s sales come from vinyl.

According to Feeney, the records sold span different genres and eras. This year’s top seller is Harry Styles’ spacious third album Harry’s House, which is often bought alongside records by Olivia Rodrigo and Billie Eilish. Classics from previous decades are also flying off the shelves. Teenagers and young adults who shop at the Manayunk store buy hits from rockers like Steely Dan, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd.

“Our best-selling album in the last three years is Rumors by Fleetwood Mac,” Feeney said. “Every day we sell it and we can’t get enough of them.”

Alexis Burress, a 21-year-old Temple University student who hosts an R&B college radio show, said they first became interested in vinyl in 2014 through Tumblr. Their first record, Chaka Khan’s self-titled album, was a gift from their grandmother.

“I would just dig through boxes for hours,” Burress said of their first trips to record stores. They started with old soul and jazz albums, but now their collection has evolved into more current releases.

Bernes said they like the soothing, almost “vintage” sound of vinyl and have noticed other college students starting record collections as well.

Davis Giangulio for Billy Penn

Old format, new supply chain challenges

Dan Matherson, owner and founder of South Street’s Repo Records, doesn’t need a Gen-Zer to tell him that vinyl’s mass appeal stems from its unique aesthetic and experience.

“You have to sit down, put the record on,” Matherson said. “When you hold the record, the cover, the cover, you fully feel what the artist is trying to convey.”

Popular among the “kids” currently buying from Repo are albums by Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone and Funkadelic, all artists whose primes were before most of them were born.

One of the side effects of vinyl’s popularity: increased demand has disrupted the supply chain.

Last year, the sheer volume of Adele’s 30 LPs caused a backlog that left other artists scrambling. Musicians have learned to inform the press office several months in advance if they want to have recordings in time for the album’s planned release.

Michael J. Wodnicki, who co-founded Softwax Record Pressing in Northeast Philly in 2020, said problems with Billy Penn’s supply chain began a decade ago.

“It became more and more obvious that there was a problem,” said Wodnicki, who experienced it firsthand when trying to push his music. The struggle led him to team up with fellow producer Federico R. Casanova to create Softwax.

They cater to smaller artists, and staying available to these lesser-known musicians means intentionally giving up gigs. “We live in that world,” Wodnicki said, “but we’re not necessarily growing as a company, like the exponential growth of an industry.”

That exponential growth probably won’t last forever, acknowledged Feeney, owner of Main Street Music. But he believes the love of vinyl will remain, especially when it comes to repeat customers. “We have so many customers who believe in us,” Feeney said.

Generations of people who fell in love with vinyl when it was the only way to play their favorite songs are now fostering that love among young people who are hearing them for the first time, said Repo Records owner Matherson. The intergenerational connection is part of why he believes this is a long-term trend.

“There will be music,” Matherson said. “It’s such an important part of everyone’s life.”

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