In 2017, sales of vinyl records rose for the 12th straight year. Although vinyl records still account for only 8.5 percent of total album sales, their 14.32 units sold in 2017 represent the most since Nielsen began tracking record sales electronically in 1991. But the numbers don’t tell the entire story of vinyl’s resurgence. Buying vinyl is about enjoying the packaging – unwrapping the album, studying the album cover art, holding the disc, and collecting different formats, such as multi-colored discs and alternative covers. And few people appreciate vinyl as like Jack White does.
The man who led the garage rock revival has built a life around a celebration of all things analog, including the glory of vinyl records. If you’ve seen the guitar-god documentary It Might Get Loud, you understand White’s passion for the authenticity of analog music: in one of the movie’s more revealing scenes, he constructs a guitar out of found parts including a Coke bottle and plays it. His passion for the simplicity of analog music has manifested itself in some striking and sometimes curious ways. As 2018 Record Store Day approaches, let us count six of them:
1) His new album, Boarding House Reach, had the fourth-biggest sales week for a vinyl album since Nielsen began to measure vinyl sales in 1991. His 2014 album Lazaretto holds the record for the biggest one-week sales performance of a vinyl album.
2) He has released a trove of rare and eccentric vinyl, including 100 copies of a single that was stitched into furniture he upholstered.
3) In 2016, he launched the first phonographic record to play in outer space. A recording of “A Glorious Dawn” by composer John Boswell along with audio from Carl Sagan was launched in a balloon 94,000 of feet above the earth, where a “space-proof” turntable played the recording for more than an hour.
4) His Third Man Records is both a record label and vinyl pressing company. The Nashville headquarters for Third Man Records is believed to be the only place where you can record live music directly to acetate. Performers such as the Shins have done just that — and you can buy the vinyl recordings at Third Man Records in Detroit and Nashville.
5) You can record your own vinyl at Third Man Records, too, via a special recording booth. For a fee, anyone can walk into Third Man Records locations and cut a record, just like Elvis did at Sun Studios before he was famous. In 2014, Neil Young recorded music in a booth at the Nashville location.
6) Third Man Records claims to be the only Detroit-based company to press records for the legendary Motown label. During its glory years, Motown, despite symbolizing Detroit’s hustle and artistic greatness, had its records pressed in Owosso, a town west of Flint, Michigan. But through a partnership, Third Man now presses Motown vinyl locally, including a recently released set of rare singles from the Supremes.
White recently told The Guardian that the resurgence of vinyl sales in the 2000s is partly “due to an insane amount of effort from Third Man Records.”
It’s hard to argue with him. Certainly his passion for vinyl is one of the reasons we celebrate Record Store Day April 21. I hope you honor the day by embracing your inner vinyl.