The raw numbers, truthfully, aren’t staggering: In 2015, there were almost 12 million new records—yes, vinyl—sold. That’s right around 5 percent of the total number of albums purchased in that year, according to Nielsen’s 2015 U.S. Music Report.
The surprise? The top-selling albums weren’t underground favorites or 12-inch DJ singles. The top two movers of the year were Adele’s 25 and Taylor Swift’s 1989.
The “vinyl renaissance” has been in progress for several years—sales have increased each year since 2007—but it’s only recently that the format has moved away from being the exclusive domain of hipsters. Now, records can be purchased at select Whole Foods locations, and pop artists are making room for vinyl in their marketing plans.
Vegas Seven set out to see how the trend was impacting our city and found multiple uses for the black plastic discs.
Records To Build Community
It takes only a couple of mouse clicks to listen to much of the history of music through your headphones while seated in front of a computer in the comfort of your own home. It’s easy, but it’s only one part of the experience. Shared interest in a certain genre or band—or just music in general—can bring people together and create community at a time when it’s easier than ever to isolate oneself.
“That’s the most important aspect of a record store,” says Taylor Blake, a sales associate and “record guy” at 11th Street Records. “You’ll hear something playing and ask about it, and maybe someone will recommend something else or share stories about concerts. It’s a real cool thing. I’ve seen a lot of friendships and camaraderie just from being in a shared space.”
The Downtown Las Vegas outlet is building a music hub for the city. Along with its vinyl selection (augmented by records previously available at the now-shuttered The Beat Coffeehouse & Records), it’s the home of National Southwestern Recording, a studio that’s seen sessions for local bands and drop-in sets by international touring acts (Andra Day and Metric have both recorded there for Spotify). In addition, regular in-store performances bring out crowds of music fans who can then bond over a rare find in the racks.
“The best times are when there’s a show going on in the studio, and people are hanging out here in between sets,” Blake says. “That’s when it all happens.”
Records to Set the Mood
Much has been made of the ban on social media at the Living Room, the VIP club-within-a-club at Intrigue in Wynn. But as interesting as what isn’t there—namely, selfie-taking or text-obsessed clientele—is what is present: racks upon racks of records, more than 1,000 individual pieces in all, backlit and displayed behind a pair of classic Technics 1200 turntables.
As nightlife has moved toward the slow and the handcrafted (think craft cocktails, not vodka and Red Bull), setting a relaxed tone for a bar or hangout has become important for some. And between nostalgic value and the physical skill needed to DJ using vinyl, records are starting to become both decor and soundtrack.
Curated by the founder of the hip-hop magazine of record The Source, Jonathan Shecter, along with input from regular room DJs Peter Shalvoy and Eddie McDonald, the collection (and its visual prominence) was a major part of the room’s design process, according to Sean Christie, executive vice president of development for Wynn Resorts.
“The room is supposed to be loose,” he says. “It’s a laid-back place, and vinyl is a large portion of that. And when we highlighted the records and brought in Eddie and Peter to DJ, that was the table setting for the rest of the room.”
Choosing records—temperamental, easy-to-scratch vinyl— for a room’s soundtrack is not the easy choice. That goes double for a space that is reserved for the most Important of Very Important People, who may be used to getting their immediate wishes fulfilled. DJs rarely carry record bags anymore, and a jockey can’t download an immediate request. But with the Intrigue main room playing more dance-oriented Top 40, the more intimate Living Room has the ability to take some chances.
“It’s really counterprogramming to the main room,” Christie says. “It’s probably the only place in a major nightclub in Las Vegas where you can hear [everything from] Diana Ross to the Eagles, Frank Sinatra to N.W.A.”
Down the Strip at The Cosmopolitan, The Study at Rose.Rabbit.Lie. has its own collection, one curated by the resort, with the evening’s soundtrack being selected by patrons.
“The end result is a playlist within The Study that is both modern and timeless,” says Rustyn Vaughn Lee, the sommelier and chief mixologist at Rose.Rabbit.Lie.
Records as Ritual
DJs each have different routines before playing a gig. For most, they involve hunching over a computer, setting “cue points”—commands that tell DJ software where to start a song—and organizing a digital folder.
For Rex Dart, it involves flipping through shelves filled with almost 10,000 records.
“Sitting in front of a stack and going through records is totally Zen,” he says. “It’s like, ‘Holy crap, I get paid to do this.’”
The DJ and vinyl collector has been buying albums and 45s from garage sales and Goodwill stores for more than 20 years now, a passion that started with a copy of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in his hands, listening to a radio disc jockey go in-depth into the imagery of the album cover.
“So we’re looking at that cover and each and every character it represents, and how ‘Paul is dead’ and that was [the realization of], ‘Wow, that’s the power of having a great picture in front of you and listening to the music at the same time.’”
Spinning at Double Down every Monday and The Golden Tiki on weekends, Dart has little time while working to luxuriate in the slower pace that playing vinyl requires.
“It’s definitely more of a ritual: taking it out of the sleeve, putting it on the turntable, carefully putting the needle on the record,” he says, adding with a laugh: “You almost want to light a candle at the same time.”
At Blend DJ Institute, which serves both as a school for the aspiring DJ and a tightly curated record store, every class, from introductory to mastery levels, can be done on vinyl. How introductory are we talking?
Let’s start with the name.
“A lot of people call it ‘vinyls,’” says Andrew Benna, the CEO of Blend. “A lot of people have heard about it, but they don’t know anything about it.”
Vegas Seven recently caught up with Benna, who himself has been DJing since 1992, to talk about the differences between using records and using computers.
Why should DJs learn how to spin vinyl?
For one thing, computers can give you problems. Vinyl brings it back to connecting with the music without all of the technology. It’s just the person interacting with the music.
When clubgoers see a DJ spinning vinyl, what, if anything, should that mean to them?
It’s a signifier of another level of skill. To DJ with just vinyl is very hard to do. A lot of the students I have now have it kind of easy, DJing with computers. It was a lot harder to beat match with just your ear.
What’s the biggest difference in using real records in terms of actual performance?
When you’re DJing with vinyl, you have to finesse it. You have to be gentle with it. You can’t just be rough. With a lot of controllers and computers, you can be heavy-handed, and it’s not going to affect you much. But with vinyl, if you’re forceful with it, the record’s going to skip.