Nostalgia, sound, aesthetics, vinyl has it all

(AFP) – Beauty of the object for some, quality of sound for others, in 2022 vinyl sales exceeded those of CDs in the United States. Guided by his passion in his store in Greenwich Village, New York, Jamal Alnasr is relishing this return to grace.

“Who could have imagined that vinyl would come back to life?” smiles this 50-year-old man who, as a teenager, had left the West Bank to settle in New York.

In his store, the Village Revival Records, we can meet Vijay Damerla, 20 years old. The student concedes that he listens to music mostly online, but even though he doesn’t own a record player, he has started collecting vinyl records.

“It’s the equivalent of an artist poster, or even an album poster on your wall”, he explains, before adding: “except in fact, it’s a bit of a relic of the past”.

For Celine Court, 29 – and 250 vinyls – what matters most is a nostalgia for a warmer sound, which we would not find in digital listening.

“It’s so different,” she says. “There is this feeling of authenticity that emerges”.

– Metallica invests –

The return of vinyl is no longer a secret. But in 2022, their physical sales (41 million) exceeded those of CDs (33 million), for the first time since 1987, according to data released Thursday by the American Recording Industry Association (RIAA).

Superstores like Walmart have adopted this format and stars like Taylor Swift, Harry Styles or Billie Eilish keep pressing plants running at full speed. This week, hard-rock band Metallica even bought out one such manufacturer, Furnace Record Pressing, to satisfy demand for its own reissues.

For his part, Jamal Alnasr, has a revolving stock of about 200,000 vinyl records, not to mention CDs, cassettes and souvenirs.

“In the 1990s, when you were talking about vinyl, you weren’t very cool”, he laughs.

“I did this for 30 years”, and now “a new generation, kids, (come) to look for all the music of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s”, he explains.

“They know more than us, who grew up in the 1990s or 1980s,” he laughs again.

Jamal sells both new and used vinyl. Because of the high cost of manufacturing and distributing vinyl, his margin on new items does not exceed 5% and he relies on original collectibles to make up the difference.

In Greenwich Village, which has become one of the most expensive neighborhoods in New York, and where his monthly rent amounts to 15,000 dollars, his business lives permanently on a tightrope.

– “Physical experience” –

“Whenever I’m on the verge of sinking, I take everything I have personally and put it back into the business,” he laughs. “I think…I love my business more than I love myself,” he adds.

For a “VIP” – the record store has befriended stars like Lana Del Rey, Bella Hadid and Rosalia – Jamal Alnasr is ready to ship a record.

But he prefers buyers to feel the “physical experience”.

“I want people to come here, to rummage through the vinyls and get informed (…) They will see much more than the facade, there are a lot of hidden gems here”, explains the enthusiast.

The sale of physical musical media remains a niche. Listening on paid and ad-supported platforms grew 7% to record revenue of $13.3 billion in 2022, or 84% of total revenue, according to the RIAA of the music industry in the United States.

But for Celine Court, who hails from the Netherlands, streaming is “too fast, too easy”. “There is a better energy when you collect your vinyls, when you listen to them and are proud of them,” she explains.