VINYL FOREVER: Indiana’s Backstreet among indie spots saluted on Record Store Day

INDIANA — Before the cassette tape, the compact disc and the MP3, people listened to music with the help of a decent turntable, a good needle and a 33-, 45- or 78-rpm record.

And Saturday, April 21 — Record Store Day — is a day that independent (i.e., indie) record stores celebrate music in the vinyl medium.

“You get a lot of people from all different ages buying music,” Dave Anderson, owner of Backstreet Records in Indiana, said Monday. “The usual stereotype is, that the youth or college students buy music. But it’s not just college kids. It’s anybody and everybody, looking for any sort of music: Blues, jazz, rock, heavy metal.”

Backstreet Records — formerly located at the Regency Mall, and now located at 21 Seventh St. since August 2010 — will be among thousands of independent record stores around the world taking part in the fifth-annual Record Store Day, which will be marked by 300 new releases and reissues — from everyone from Metallica to Paul McCartney, according to The Chicago Tribune — as a celebration of vinyl as an ever-present format in music.

According to the event’s organizers, a business participating in Record Store Day is defined as “a stand-alone, brick-and-mortar retailer whose main primary business focuses on a physical store location, whose product line consists of at least 50 percent music retail; whose company is not publicly traded; and whose ownership is at least 70 percent located in the state of operation. (In other words, we’re dealing with real, live, physical, indie record stores — not online retailers or corporate behemoths).”

Backstreet Records was first established in November 1979, and Anderson — an Indiana native who graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania with a degree in business management in 2004 – has owned the shop since March 2006.

The indie record store is indeed a rarity these days, Anderson said, noting that big-box retailers and online resources have created dents in the market for indie shops.

“It’s one thing, especially with the market how it is right now,” he said, acknowledging that big-box retailers such as Target, Best Buy and Wal-Mart offer lower prices on music, generally in the CD or digital format.

Some artists don’t help, either, Anderson said, citing the example of AC/DC selling its 2008 release, “Black Ice,” exclusively via a big-box retailer — and nowhere else.

“I did have a market for AC/DC, but the fact is, that I couldn’t sell that,” he said. “It’s definitely kind of tongue-in-cheek to say, but AC/DC got their name from stores like ours.

“But especially, a store like mine, independent stores were the ones that kept selling vinyl; when everything fell out, our stores were the ones that were still the champions of vinyl,” Anderson said. “And when it comes to Record Store Day, 95 percent of what they (the stores) sell is vinyl and a few CDs.”

Backstreet’s sales lean mostly toward CDs, “but not by much this year,” he noted.

In January, Nielsen Soundscan — the official method of tracking sales of music and music video products throughout the United States and Canada — reported that vinyl sales in the United States topped 3.9 million in 2011, a 39.3 percent gain over 2010.

Classic-rock fans would be happy to learn that for the third year in a row, the Beatles’ 1966 classic, “Abbey Road” — the band’s last recorded project together — was the top-selling vinyl record of 2011, selling 41,000 copies, up from 35,000 in 2010, according to Rolling Stone. The hit album of 2011, Adele’s “21,” ranked sixth, selling 16,500 vinyl copies.

But in an age of immediate gratification — when one can hear a song on the radio or in a TV commercial, and download it minutes later via the Internet, legally or illegally — what accounts for vinyl’s comeback, especially since the early 1990s, when its sales took a hit in the wake of the compact disc?

“Certainly, I think it appeals to the collectors,” Anderson said. “I personally don’t believe there will ever be a time when the physical project is thrown by the wayside. Today, one can definitely see the younger generation is very heavy into digital music. But I think this is a collectors’ factor, people who are music fans, and tend to like to have that in their hands.”

Die-hard vinyl enthusiasts may argue that, say for example, Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” — played on a decent turntable with a good needle — may sound better on vinyl than on CD, but Anderson said, “That may take an audiophile to really pick that out.”

Speaking as a percussionist — he plays drums with the band Forbearance, which will be among a number of bands performing at a pre-Record Store Day event Friday (see the box on Page 1) — Anderson said, “It’s usually in the high end and the low end. As a drummer, I notice that the cymbals on an analog recording shimmer differently. With digital music — and with the compression involved — they’ve kind of compressed that. And on the low end, if you grab a jazz record, the bass drum is a bit more natural — that thump — than what it would sound like on a digital recording.

“The record — analog — may sound better, but it takes a fine ear to notice it,” he said.

Anderson, in more recent times, credits at least part of vinyl’s comeback to late-night talk shows — such as “Late Show with David Letterman” and “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” — introducing musical guests with vinyl copies of said artists’ latest project.

“Nowadays, when they announce the artist, they have the LP,” he said. “I mean, I imagine it’s so the audience can see it better, and they’re saying, hey, they’re still making vinyl of current artists, people that you are listening to on the radio.”

Backstreet Records and WIUP-FM are hosting pre- and post-events for Record Store Day, both at the Chevy Chase Community Center, a block behind Indiana Junior-Senior High School.

“We used to have a strong underground music scene in Indiana,” Anderson said. “Me and a couple of friends, we would constantly rent these centers and put on these events. As we got older, we did not have the time, and it went by the wayside, but now, I’m in a position where I can do something like this, to bring that community back. It’s basically to kick-start to an idea, to get more music in Indiana.”