Vinyl spins back

House Of Turntables at Plaza Singapura, one of three vinyl record shops run by Kevin Pang.

The CD is dead... long live vinyl?

As digital downloads and plunging CD sales lead to the demise of yet another big music chain in Singapore, boutique stores specialising in vinyl records have been opening and thriving.

Music chain Gramophone closed its last store at The Cathay for good in September, after 22 years of business and as many as nine stores four years ago.

HMV shuttered its four-year-old, 12,000 sq ft flagship store in Somerset on Tuesday, leaving only its smaller store in Marina Square.

Yet, three new boutique music stores have opened in the last year: House Of Turntables in Plaza Singapura, Vinylicious Records in Parklane Shopping Mall and Hear Records in Burlington Square.

And business has been good, report the owners - thanks to a revival of interest in the old-school vinyl format.

At Vinylicious, which opened in December last year, sales have been increasing by between 20 and 30 per cent a month since the start of its operations, says its owner Eugene Ow, 41. These days, he adds, the store sells an average of 1,500 records - both new and used ones - a month.

Unlike digitised music, he says, a vinyl record is far more tangible. "There are many senses at work. When you take a vinyl out of its cover, you smell its distinctive scent, then you touch the grooves and finally you put it on the turntable and hear and feel the music coming out of the speakers."

House Of Turntables sells about 200 records a month. Hear Records declines to reveal figures.

Mr Nick Tan, 42, founder of Hear Records, says that while the scene is small, it is vibrant. His store opened in March.

He says: "People don't just come to the store to buy records. They meet other music fans as well and we all end up talking about music."

The most prominent among these new stores is House Of Turntables, which opened its doors in October last year.

It is the second store under the House Of Turntables banner owned by music lover Kevin Pang, 43, who opened the first one at Bras Basah Complex in 2011. Before that, he also opened a vinyl store, Northstar, in an Ang Mo Kio industrial estate from 2009 to 2011.

The three business owners do not see one another as competition and welcome the arrival of more independent record stores.

Says Mr Ow: "If a customer comes to my store and I can't find what he wants, I wouldn't hesitate to refer him to other shops.

"In fact, on my days off, I go to other vinyl shops in Singapore to buy records for my personal collection."

Hear Records' Mr Tan says that new record shops can help to increase the number of vinyl collectors here.

"If there are 10,000 vinyl fans in Singapore, instead of fighting over these 10,000 potential customers, my belief is that we can work together to increase the number to 15,000 vinyl fans."

The standard music format from the 1950s to the 1980s, vinyls gave way to cassettes and CDs in the 1980s. However, the black analogue discs are slowly inching their way back into music fans' collections.

According to the store owners, this vinyl revival started gaining traction among local music fans in the last two years - on the heels of a global trend.

Last month, the British press reported that sales of vinyl records in Britain, while still not huge, are at their highest in a decade. In 2007, vinyls made up 0.1 per cent of music sales. British Phonographic Industry, a trade body representing the record industry, reported last month that the rate had gone up slightly - to 0.8 per cent.

Figures for vinyl sales in Singapore are unavailable and CDs still make up the bulk of physical music sales, according to Universal Music Singapore's marketing director, Mr Lim Teck Kheng.

He says that while vinyls are still "niche", more of the label's acts are putting out their releases on vinyl.

"It's not just the re-issues and releases by veteran bands such as the Beatles or Velvet Underground, but albums by current acts such as Lady Gaga and Chvrches are also available on vinyl," adds Mr Lim, 42, who has more than 5,000 records in his personal collection.

Chvrches' debut record The Bones Of What You Believe was released in September, while Lady Gaga's new album, Artpop, will be released today. Vinyl editions of new albums cost more, from $30 to $40, compared to CD versions, which cost about $20.

In April, vinyl collectors here celebrated Singapore's first Record Store Day, a global event in support of vinyl culture and independent record stores. Vinylicious, for example, sold limited-edition records by bands that include home-grown acts such as Bored Spies and I Am David Sparkle.

Vinyl fan Darren Tan, 32, says that he attaches more "sentimental" value to music coming from a record than from a digital format such as MP3.

He is one of the co-founders of audio-visual online project Vinyl Of The Day, which celebrates vinyl culture through their website, www.vinyloftheday.com, and social media.

He and the other two founders, Mr Kurt Loy, 32, and Mr Gerald Ang, 35, are also music producers and DJs who spin music the old-school way, with actual records, as opposed to using music on CDs or digital format.

Mr Tan says that he is seeing more fans in their late teens getting into vinyl. "I think it's because a lot of popular indie bands nowadays are putting out their releases on vinyl."

He also welcomes the opening of new vinyl stores here. "There's a lack of physical music stores for fans of vinyl here to gather and meet one another, and these new shops fill the gap."

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