The vinyl record has made a comeback. In the first half of 2020, records outsold CDs for the first time in 34 years and by over $100 million.
The new documentary Vinyl Nation, now showing online via A/perture Cinema's Virtual Cinema, is a celebration of the ancient art of listening to music on a turntable. It's a cross-country love letter to the diverse group of people that listen to, sell, and make records.
The documentary even winds up in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, at hi-fi shop Ember Audio + Design, where co-owner Chris Livengood shows up in a significant role in the film.
WFDD's Eddie Garcia spoke with Vinyl Nation co-directors Kevin Smokler and Christopher Boone about their film.
On the stereotypes and diversity of vinyl fans:
Christopher Boone: That started at the very beginning of our process even before we started to reach out and try to get people on the phone to see who would be good interview subjects for the film. We knew we wanted to have a diverse array of characters because we just felt, again, that stereotype that had been portrayed in the media wasn't exactly the truth. Record collectors have always been diverse. It's always been male, female. All races. All ages. I have a teenage daughter and she's into records. And so that was a thing that was really interesting to me.
We realized that this story had a lot of different facets and we really needed a lot of different voices to tell that story. And I think that's what also makes the film special, and makes it easily accessible to a wide audience as well. People hopefully see some of themselves in the characters that we have in the documentary.
On Winston-Salem and Ember Audio + Design:
Kevin Smokler: It was clear to me that Chris Livengood was incredibly articulate about audio equipment and sound. And what is actually going on with your ears, and between your ears, when you're listening to music. And he wasn't interested in feeding me a line about why I needed expensive gear. And by the time Chris and I were talking about people who should be in our movie, he no longer lived in San Francisco where I lived. He had moved back to his hometown of Winston-Salem.
And it was clear to both of us that he was going to be able to answer the question we knew everybody who watched our movie about vinyl records would have, which is: Do vinyl records sound better? And we thought he would be a good person to anchor that conversation. Spoiler — we do not answer that question definitively in Vinyl Nation.
On the sound of vinyl:
CB: It depends on a lot of things. I wouldn't say vinyl necessarily sounds better than other formats. It just depends on the experience that you're looking for in terms of listening to music. I certainly listen to Spotify on my smartphone when I'm taking my dog for a walk, but I'm not really connected to the music when I'm listening that way. When I really want to connect with the music, I want to put on a record. I want to put it on the turntable. I want to drop the needle and spend some time with it.
KS: To me, what is special about records is the entire ritual and place they occupy in one's home and how you can share them with people. I am sure that if it was Sunday morning and I was making breakfast with my wife, and the light was just coming in through the window, I could put on Roberta Flack's Killing Me Softly via Spotify. And it would be somewhat of a special experience. But it's twice that much when I put the record on, and the record is 40 years old, and I know it's been through 10 pairs of hands before it ever arrived in our living room.
*This interview has been lightly edited for clarity