MISSOULA — Few experiences take you back in time as instantaneously as joining a needle to the groove of a record.
John Fleming knows that firsthand. He bought his first record when he was just 10-years-old. Standing in a sea of vinyls at Ear Candy Music in Missoula, the record store he’s owned for nearly 24 years, Fleming still prefers vinyl over any other form of music consumption.
“You get the whiff of plastic and vinyl, you get the smell, and then you have the visual, you get the liner notes. For me, it’s just a better tactile experience,” said Fleming.
He’s in tune with the rise and fall of the music industry, but what occurred during the pandemic, he never could have predicted. “Sales this year...through the roof compared to years previous,” said Fleming, “I mean, part of me feels bad because some businesses have really suffered in the last year, but ours is definitely not one of them.”
As we saw in the resurgence of sewing machines, puzzles, and bakeware, the pandemic forced people to reevaluate how their free time is spent. For many, they turned to the turntable.
Fleming credits the “record renaissance of 2020” to two factors. “One, I think people are staying home so they bought a turntable, then they gotta buy some records. I think the other thing is there's no live music, so the millions and millions of dollars, literally, that would have been spent on ticket purchases are not being used for ticket purchases. Fleming believes some of that money has been spent at vinyl stores like Ear Candy.
Even during a brief shutdown last spring, Fleming and his team saw record sales from their online platform. “Customers would say ‘I want this and that,’ and I would literally drive around town and drop records off on people's front porches.”
According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), Vinyls sold $479.5 million in 2019….that jumped to $619.6 million in 2020 -- a 29% boost.
“Some days it's like Christmas-type sales,” reaffirmed Fleming.
For now, he’s relishing in the country’s newfound appreciation for vinyl, and he hopes it’s more than just a passing phase. “For everyone that purchases a new turntable, there's, you know, hopefully a long-term customer.”
Ear Candy Music is at 624 South Higgins Avenue in Missoula; click here to visit the website.