The popularity of vinyl records has risen exponentially over the past ten years. Record manufacturers, distributors, and shops have been flourishing because of the craze. Vinyl sales have raised over fifteen-fold since 1993. And the movement has hit Duluth. Hard.
The trend has been especially popular with college-aged youth. Nick Furfaro, a local UMD student started collecting records in 2009 and his vinyl count has been nearing a staggering 700. Furfaro’s vinyl appreciation takes an almost spiritual outlook.
“I like to have the hard copy of an entire album or EP,” said Furfaro. “It’s not just the grooves scratched into the vinyl, but a whole lot more that I appreciate. I see a band’s album in its entirety as a gift delivered to the listener.”
For Furfaro though, vinyl is for more than pleasure. He is the producer and on-air DJ for the Hip Hop Hotdish radio show on Duluth’s on KUMD, 103.3 FM. Furfaro says that depending on the mood, he’ll play somewhere between a third to a half of the night’s songs on vinyl.
If this vinyl revival in Duluth comes in one tangible form, it is in Chaperone Records. It’s no secret that Duluth itself has a strong music scene and with Chaperone, Bob Monahan is working to translate the city’s music into the rejuvenated medium. Monahan founded the record label in August 2012 and has been helping local music thrive ever since. Chaperone Records has signed ten Duluth bands and has released 15 LPs and one 7 inch. While the label is not strictly vinyl oriented, every album Chaperone releases is pressed onto a vinyl record.
“With a typical release, vinyl sales make up about 7 percent,” said Monahan. “We’ve bucked that trend with Charlie Parr and especially Retribution Gospel Choir. The Retribution Gospel Choir album sold 1,000 copies on vinyl and 1,500 on CD, which is incredible.”
Duluth’s most prominent record store, the Electric Fetus, has been feeding the city’s record craze since 1987. The store carries both new and used records. New vinyl the Electric Fetus receive are typically newly released albums by popular artists while other brand-new records are repressed versions of good selling older albums. Some of the quickest selling vinyl at the Electric Fetus comes from local Duluth bands, according to Bob Fuchs, head of the store’s vinyl department.
“Southwire did really well,” said Fuchs, reflecting on popular Duluth acts. “The new Trampled by Turtles is flying out the door. When Low records come out they do really well. And other smaller bands as well. It depends on the band, of course, but generally there’s a very strong following for Duluth bands.”
And the rise in popularity is quite visible. Where many customers used to glance at the record section on a whim, more and more are coming in specifically to look through the vinyl section. According to Fuchs, the ratio of CD to record sales is “moving faster than it ever has before.”
“In the music department, maybe about a quarter of everything we sell in the music department,” said Fuchs. “But the balance is shifting very rapidly in the last eighteen months especially. So where four years ago it may have been ten percent, not it’s twenty five to thirty percent any given month.”
The Electric Fetus also has a good relationship with Chaperone Records. The record store carries many of Chaperone's albums and they even shared the same building for a brief time. Anything coming from the label sells very well, according to Fuchs.
“We love them!” said Fuchs, grinning enthusiastically.