A patron of Left of the Dial Records in Downtown Santa Ana browsing through LPs. Carrie Graham / el Don
In this era of Soundcloud, Spotify and other digital streaming services, music has become both more accessible and more disposable.
But in Santa Ana, one physical form of music is on the rise. It is not cassettes and it’s definitely not CDs. Instead, it starts with a crackle — vinyl.
Vinyl sales are growing industry-wide, while other physical forms are stagnant or plummeting. According to the Recording Industry Association of America’s mid-year report, vinyl is now a $224 million industry, with a nearly 13% increase in sales in the first half of 2019 alone. The number of CD units sold, on the other hand, were flat over the same period.
In Downtown Santa Ana, this trend can be seen at shops like Left of the Dial Records, Santa Ana Spin and Charlie’s Tattoo Supply, all of which stock both new and used vinyl.
“The CD is not a joy to own. It has difficult-to-read, tiny lyrics and unimpressive, small artwork” says Bill Michelle, the owner of Left of the Dial Records. “The 99-cent download made music almost disposable as you had nothing to show for your payment. Records often increase in value so they are fun to collect and listen to.”
Buying records is not just about owning something for is future value, Michelle says. To many, vinyl is a lifestyle that crosses genres and generations.
Over the last decade, Santa Ana has seen an influx of pop-up events like the Beat Swap Meet and In The Groove Record Swap. The city is also home to vinyl-focused collectives like Funk Freaks, members of which sell merch out of a storefront on Edinger and Grand and DJ exclusively on wax at venues like Original Mike’s, La Santa and the Observatory.
“I’d say 50% of my customers are from ‘my generation,’ as it was part of our upbringing,” Michelle says. “I have dozens of customers who have introduced their 15- to 26-year-old kids to records and have passed along my knowledge to them.”
CDs still make up about half of all physical music sales, but RIAA numbers show that may or may not be for long. Streaming services now make it up about 80% of the music industry’s total revenue and, along with vinyl, account for the only sales growth in the last year.
“I dumped 1,300 CDs from [inventory] about a year ago,” Michelle says. “I’d go entire weeks without anyone looking at them.”