Chris Leibrandt, owner of Ocean City's Grassroots Music Store, is a lifelong fan of vinyl records. He talked with us this week from Grassroots' new, expanded location (between 10th and 11th on Asbury), a hip and homey amalgam of guitars, amps, accessories, guitar lessons, and, soon, keyboards. It's pretty clear Chris especially enjoys focusing on the store's additional area: vinyl albums. As he describes the tactile nature of the product, the warmth of its tone, and its history, it's clear he's a man who loves what he does.
You must have been very good in a former life to get to do this for a living.
I've always been a music enthusiast, a record collector, even as a kid in Philadelphia. I have memories of gathering at the record store after high school, waiting for the newest Beatles album, or sitting around on the floor with friends, staring at album covers. So it was kind of natural to end up doing this. I've been a year-round resident of Ocean City for 10 years now, doing this in one form or another with basically the same crew.
How strong is the market, given the seasonal population?
Oh, it's strong. With guitars, to beat the box stores, it's key to offer the best price with name brands. And, with all products, we do a lot of Internet selling. We get a lot of exposure from our eBay store, and sales are strong. Some people in the tri-state area learn about us on eBay and visit us in person. We're also building our own Web site, grassrootsmusicstore.com, which we're launching in about two weeks.
Let's talk about the resurgence of vinyl.
There's a resurgence, but vinyl never really went away. Even through the '90s, you had groups like Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, Stone Temple Pilots -- they were all pressing records. Most people feel that vinyl just sounds better -- more natural, warmer. And people just kind of intuitively get it. Records don't have to be explained -- they're natural, they're analog. They kind of function like we do. We hear sound upon a wave form; it's not a bunch of ones and zeroes flying through a processor. And that's why people enjoy the cracks and the pops and the skips on records: they're imperfect, like us.
Some digital-age kids hear the word "analog" and think "neanderthal."
Digital didn't mean enhanced; digital means convenient. We think of CDs as freeze-dried music. But any audiophile will tell you that the quality is not superior, that you can't achieve the highs and lows from a CD that you can with vinyl. We've gotten rid of all our CDs. Here's a story. Last week a little girl, about 14, came in, and asked, "Do you have any Zeppelin on vinyl?" I asked whether she played records, and she responded with a gesture that said, "yes, because you can hold them." She was trying to express that they're tactile. You can pick vinyl up, and feel it, and get it, and even kids sense that.
So we've got audio quality, tactile nature of the experience ....
Don't forget cover art. People love that, so much that they might buy a record out of the dollar bin just so they can frame and hang the cover. Another factor is that the industry has brought records back for the sake of sales. Nearly all labels are releasing vinyl now -- Coldplay is one huge band, and all their stuff is on vinyl. Flaming Lips is another. And we're seeing a lot of classic rock -- the Beatles, Zeppelin, Floyd, Bob Dylan, The Doors -- as well as old jazz titles by Wes Montgomery, Miles Davis, John Coltrane. All of this -- and '80s punk -- it's all being reissued. And one more big factor is the collectability of vinyl.
What are people playing these on?
It's varied and kind of cool. Some people will go to garage sales and find old record players, or they'll climb up to the attic where they've had their record player stored. But new turntables are available. ... We sell some new turntables that are USB based, so you can plug them into your computer, and what's really big these days is transferring vinyl to a CD or to an MP3 file. You can actually achieve the warmth of tone of the analog recording.
What do you personally favor in vinyl?
I have a pretty eclectic base of music, from classic rock, through punk, and, of course, jazz. For me, it's the music as well as the collectability. And when you're talking about the appeal of vinyl, don't forget the experience. I mean, there's something romantic about picking up that needle and putting it down on that black platter.
Tunes, a music shop in Northfield — which is part of a chain of four other shops in New Jersey— participated in National Record Store day on April 16. According to co-owner Anthony Tedeschi, his small staff found themselves busier than ever with record sales.
Sedaka and the Globetrotters