Friday, December 14, 2007

"Vintage Vinyl is still vital"

from - by Bob Considine

WOODBRIDGE, NJ — You have heard so much about the decline of the music industry that it's beginning to sound like, well, a broken record.

And you wouldn't need an honorary degree from the School of Rock to figure that all of those iTunes downloads and those low-priced CDs from low-selection retailers like Wal-Mart and Best Buy have resulted in the fade out of many independent record stores.

Yet, at Vintage Vinyl, the song remains the same.

You can hear it when you walk in. You can actually see it in your hands and take it to the register. And you can read it when you take it home.

And while there is less of a music-buying public committed to complete music consumption, those who still want that CD, LP, book or magazine are still congregating to "that strip mall off Route 1 that has the "Records' sign on it."

"One of the things I have going for me is the people who still have an interest in buying physical music are coming here," said owner Rob Roth.

"These are definitely trying times for anyone still selling "the physical product' because the record companies are in transition. But I'm fortunate that I still have a customer base that is interested in a music experience that goes beyond downloading."

Big-box retailers Wal-Mart, Target and Best Buy sell about 50 percent of the nation's music today, but trends indicate those outlets are going to greatly diminish their product offerings in 2008 because so many people are downloading.

With more than 180,000 titles in his 10,000-square-foot store, Roth knows he can't replace his space with flat-screen televisions, home cleaning products or Chia pets to keep afloat.

So Vintage Vinyl is embracing some newer technologies and increasing in-store appearances to maintain the coda, without fading out.

"The whole industry isn't even a record industry anymore," Roth said. "Hopefully, we cater to people who are serious about music and realize the greatest of listening to something other than a download."

The history of Vintage Vinyl can be traced back to 1979, when Roth opened up a 200-square-foot store in Irvington.

He expanded the business to its current — and much larger — location on Route 1 in 1984, with a third store in Ocean Township enjoying a run from 1987 to 1995.

Eddie Trunk, then living in Madison, was an impressionable 15-year-old when Vintage Vinyl first opened in Irvington. So it was there for the formative years of one of the nation's most renowned heavy metal and hard rock disc jockeys.

"Vintage Vinyl is very near and dear to my heart," said Trunk, currently radio host of his own music shows on Q104.3 FM and XM satellite radio and frequent TV contributor to VH1 Classic and the MSG Network.

"It was the place to go to get records and get things you couldn't get at regular stores, whether it was important singles or picture discs," he added. "And I would make a point every two weeks to go in and buy (British rock magazine) Kerrang! That was the coolest rock magazine you could get at the time.

"I remember it vividly. They had a pile of old records in the front window and you never know what was going to be behind that wall. For me, it was like walking into a record store in another country."

With 25 years in the music business and his own high profile, Trunk can get what rare music items he wants on his own. But he still often re-routes his plans to "make a stop" at Vintage Vinyl when driving through Central Jersey.

There are ways in which a declining music business has helped Vintage Vinyl, in that artists must make greater efforts to get out and sell their music.

And, for some, that means making live appearances or coming in for autograph signings.

With a long line of local bands and a steady stream of more established acts like Ozzy Osbourne, Cheap Trick, Sebastian Bach, Queensryche, My Chemical Romance and a host of E Street Band members visiting, Roth struck a deal with YeboTV to have these in-store appearances streamed live on the Internet. They're also archived on And if you look closely, you can see remote cameras in the store's ceiling back by the stage for those very shows. And Roth, 51, gets his jollies with his own camera work or even mixing the sound.

"The sound here is great and the bands always tell me that," he says proudly.

Roth said his business can increase "50 percent" on an "in-store" day. Vintage Vinyl, like many indie record stores, has its entire product line itemized and available online.

And from the what's-old-is-what's-new department, it's appears vinyl albums are making a nice little comeback.

At the end of October, vinyl albums had scanned 766,000 units, according to Nielsen SoundScan. That's about 22.5 percent more than the 612,000 units scanned last year at that time.

Consumers are also investing in new turntables that can convert vinyl songs into digital MP3s.

"The LP will outlast the CD, in my opinion," Roth said. "I think you're finding some younger music fans finding that vinyl sounds better and it's a unique item you can get emotionally attached to."

Roth admits the same attachment to his business. From the obvious to obscure has always been Vintage Vinyl's motto, and he and his staff work to not make it obsolete. There is always the bottom line and Roth jokes in this day and age, "flat is the new up."

And given the choice of having a few more stores around like his in a good climate or being one of the last men standing in a bad one, he'd take the former.

"I think the record companies reacted quite poorly to the age of digital," he said. "Basically, they ignored it at first and then they realized that's the only way to go. It's almost like they did a 180 degree turn.

"I would prefer it if there were more stores like mine, this way (the record companies) would market their acts for it and help our business," he added. "But they've made an unfair playing field where it's basically impossible to open a new record store."

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