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The Vinyl Record Comeback Isn’t What You Think

The 'Vinyl Nation' documentary digs into the hows and whys of the wax resurgence.

Credit: Gilman Hall Pictures

During one week in December 2021, there were more vinyl records sold in the US than had been sold in the last thirty years. Cue needle-dropping record sound! If you’ve been bitten by the vinyl record bug in the past few years, you’re not alone. And, one thing that is very different about the world of record-buying in 2022 is that the snobby gatekeepers of a bygone era are basically gone. These days, if you’re into vinyl, it doesn’t mean you’re a music snob. The best thing about the vinyl renaissance is that now, records are for everyone.

Nobody is more aware of this transformation than Kevin Smokler and Christopher Boone, directors and producers of a new documentary called Vinyl Nation, all about the resurgence of records stores, vinyl records, and turntables throughout the US in the past several years. Just before Record Store Day in April 2022, Fatherly caught up with Smokler and Boone, to dig deep on why records are so desirable, how the vinyl renaissance happened, and which records we should be saving for our kids.

“Our movie is all about records as a vehicle for human connection,” Kevin Smokler says. “We weren’t sure what our documentary was about when we started making it, but we made that discovery, so that’s what the film became.” Smokler points out this is important because, in all he and Boone’s research and interviews, they found getting into the nitty-gritty record values or which types of records are worth more than others, didn’t seem to be the actual story. Yes, as we learn in the documentary, the ’90s were a good time for vinyl collectors to buy used records super cheap.

And, because used records seem to generally be increasing in value, Smokler and Boone caution vinyl junkies against trying to game the system to figure out which records will be more valuable in the future. In other words, if parents are trying to create a future goldmine for their kids with records, that might not work?

“Like, what will be the Fleetwood Mac Rumors in 20 years?” Christopher Boone wonders. “It’s tough to say. Any record store that gets a used copy of that will buy it because they know they’ll sell it in 24 hours. What is the next version of that? I don’t know, but I will say I own Taylor Swift records, and Adele records and they are not my daughter’s. I did let my daughter steal my Billie Eilish Live at Third Man Records.

As stated in the documentary in many spots, buying and collecting records with our kids is an amazing way to bond with them, and also, introduce them to music in a more meaningful way than simply playing music off of your phone. So, are records the best way to listen to music, and is that why vinyl is back?

“I have teenage kids,” Boone says. “And my daughter has never collected music in a physical format except on vinyl. To her, like from her teenage years on, records have always been around. What will be interesting to see is what it’s like in 20 years.”

What Boone alludes to is the fact that new records — everything from Guardians of the Galaxy soundtracks to new Strokes albums — aren’t being produced at anywhere close to the rate and quantity they were in the ’60s or ’70s. In the documentary, this fact is mentioned a few times, partially because there are some environmental concerns about the production of vinyl. However, even though there’s a boom in interest in vinyl records, not all of those sales are connected to new vinyl, which, as Boone and Smolker point out, is simply not being mass-produced the way it once was.

“The iPhone drops in 2007 and that’s the same year that record store day happens,” Boone says. “That’s also the bottom for vinyl record sales. So our hypothesis is that people realized everything was digital and everything was intangible. And they were looking for something more tangible.”

“And you know, there’s just something cool about having all the artwork,” Smolker adds. “And dropping that needle. How cool is that?”

Vinyl Nation is streaming as a rental on iTunes, Amazon Prime, Vudu, and more.