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Andrew Chang, co-owner of Moody Lords Vinyl/Vintage record and clothing store on Portland's Congress Street, smiles as he hovers over a turntable, carefully lowering an album by its edges and gently setting the needle on it.
Surrounded by stands of plastic-encased used albums neatly labeled by genre, he extols the merits of vinyl records, including the social experience of buying them and having a physical item to play in a digital world, crackles and all. The store has the relaxed, ethereal feel of both a library and a museum. It's the type of experience that's drawing in more people in Maine and elsewhere.
Vinyl sales are growing at about 10% a year, but they're still a niche market in the overall scheme of music, according to the Recording Industry Association of America. After almost going the way of the dodo in the 1990s, vinyl started resurging in 2010. Sales rose to $416 million in 2015 on the back of new albums like Taylor Swift's “1989” and classics like Pink Floyd's “Dark Side of the Moon” and lesser known artists like Arctic Monkeys' “AM”.
Across the pond, where many a music trend started, news from Britain's Entertainment Retailers Association in early December that vinyl record sales outpaced digital downloads by $3 million compared to $2.6 million caused a ripple of excitement felt stateside.
It's not clear how much the tables will turn for vinyl here, but it is noticeably picking up in Maine, with hipsters to boomers deliberately flipping through bins.
Moody Lords, which Chang co-owns with Nick Robles and Katrina Hohowski, is one of more than a dozen stores in Maine selling new or used vinyl records. More than half a dozen of those are in Portland.
Chang, 35, sat down with Mainebiz recently. An edited transcript follows.
Mainebiz: Why did you start a used vinyl store?
Andrew Chang: I went to Ithaca College in New York where I studied audio production. I listened to hip-hop 12-inch singles and electronic music, which almost single-handedly kept vinyl around. We opened in September 2010 by raising $300 to $400 at a fundraiser show.
MB: Can you make a living from selling vinyl?
AC: Yes. I don't want to give our sales, but we are profitable. We don't have any employees and run the shop like a co-op. Each of us is responsible for shifts. Nick and I sell records and Katrina sells clothing. We each bring in our own items and keep the sales money. It feels very equal. You earn what you work for.
MB: Where do you get the records?
AC: One place is the Goodwill store in South Portland. That's where I met Nick. We both were looking for obscure records in the Christian music section, like music by folk singer Linda Rich. These are records with no obvious value to most people. We each had a stack and started to ask some semi-friendly questions, because we may be competing for the same records. We didn't exchange names, but we met again when Nick came into my store.
By June 2011 everyone else had bailed from the store and I was doing odd jobs to keep things going. I asked Nick if he wanted to jump on board, bring some records in and do some shifts. The average record price is $7 to $8.
MB: Who are your customers?
AC: People tend to think vinyl is nerdy and dominated by a snotty boys club. We're trying to buck that. Our regular customers range from 15 to 40 years old, and are primarily males who are buying records for themselves.
MB: So what's the attraction of vinyl?
AC: On a deeper cultural level we're moving closer to everything being digitized. Listening to records is such a deliberate appreciation of music. Records are like the perfect snowflake. Even if you play the same two albums they will sound different. You can't replicate how a sound wave travels through the air.
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