In the music business, turns out black is the new black.
Vinyl records went out of style in the late ’80s when the music world jumped on the fast train from Analog City to Digital Town.
But what a difference 30 years makes.
While 8-track tapes will likely never make a comeback, records have been resurrected.
Which means… those old records that have been gathering dust in your basement, attic or storage unit are gaining in popularity again.
And — bonus — they may be worth something.
Everything Old Is New Again
If you’re like me, you were raised on FM radio and vinyl.
I rarely missed American Bandstand and Soul Train on Saturday afternoons… I got up early to stand in line at the Ticketmaster outlet when the latest concert tickets went on sale… And I never left a concert without the T-shirt to wear to school to prove I was there.
I saved my allowance and later the earnings from my first job at the local 31 Flavors to spend on the latest hot-selling albums from the bands I faithfully listened to every week on Casey Kasem’s American Top 40.
Album sticker price back when I started buying them was around $7.98. (To put that in perspective, my hourly wage at 31 Flavors was $1.65.)
In the intervening years, albums fell out of fashion. But interest has picked back up of late — vinyl sales grew nearly 12% in 2018, with sales up from 8.6 to 9.7 million.
The buyers are mostly over 35. Although increasing numbers of the under-35s are discovering the pleasures of vinyl albums as well…
Ironically, what killed the record album is also responsible for its resurgence: compact discs.
The record has been around since Thomas Edison invented the phonograph in 1877. Vinyl records as we know them today — LP (long play) records that play at 33 1/3 RPM (revolutions per minute) — appeared in 1948.
The CD, or compact disc, is the creation of Philips and Sony. The first ones came on the scene around 1982. But they didn’t really start to catch on until the smash Dire Straits album Brothers in Arms hit stores in May 1985 in CD format.
By 1988, CDs were outselling vinyl and by 1991 had also vanquished the cassette tape.
Fast-forward to 1999 when Napster ushered in the music file sharing era, which gave way to streaming and on-demand channels, eventually killing CD sales. They’ve practically disappeared from store shelves. As of last summer, Best Buy stopped selling CDs altogether — even online.
Guess what Best Buy does sell?
Why the big comeback?
Simply put — nostalgia, and a more desirable sound. The sound isn’t necessarily “better” per se, but it has a richness and fullness that fans say CDs just couldn’t duplicate.
And thanks to Record Store Day — an annual event that “celebrates the unique culture of a record store” — the vinyl revolution continues to gather steam…
Record Store Day is the brainchild of music store owners in Baltimore. Conceived in 2007, the inaugural event took place on April 19, 2008. Now it’s held twice each year — one day in late April and on Black Friday in November.
A well-known musician or group is designated as the day’s ambassador. Past ambassadors have included Ozzy Osbourne, Iggy Pop, Dave Grohl, Jack White and Metallica. In 2017, St. Vincent was the first female ambassador.
Many big-name recording artists wait until this day to release their latest work as well, which generates interest — and demand.
These days, a new vinyl album sells for somewhere between $15–25. However, some vintage records have set some pretty amazing price records…
The top-10 highest prices for records of all time range from $25,000–2 million.
You’re probably wondering how the Wu-Tang Clan made it to the top of the list…
It’s a fascinating story: The band set out to make an album of which they would only allow a single copy to be sold.
It was a double CD set with a total of 26 songs, named Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, quietly recorded in Morocco over a period of six years. The idea was to create a piece of fine art that would sell for a high sum, to return music to the value they believed it had lost due to piracy and streaming.
The band exhibited and played the album only once in 2015 in New York City for a small group of art glitterati including collectors, dealers and critics. Then it went up for auction.
Later, the buyer was revealed as notorious Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO Martin Shkreli. Shkreli attempted to sell the album on eBay for $1.2 million in September 2017. Before he could, he was indicted for fraud and federal authorities seized his assets, including Shaolin.
Presumably the album is still sitting in an impound locker somewhere.
Now — this should be music to your ears — it’s time to make some money.
Got old records? Go get them. Got any friends who have old records? Go look at them. Then get busy online checking value. There are a number of sites that sell or auction vinyl records, but here are a few to get you started:
Once you start to get an understanding of what has value — and if you find this exercise entertaining — you can have some fun on the weekends scouting flea markets and estate sales to see if you can turn a profit.
Here’s an example: I bought the first pressing of Blondie’s Parallel Lines in 1978 for $7.98. Today, that would be about $31.35.
Here it is for sale at auction for $60.00. That means my album just about doubled — while keeping pace with inflation.
It’s easy to calculate your gains like I did in the Blondie example. Simply go to www.inflationcalculator.com. Enter the price the album originally went for and the year you bought it. It will spit back the price it would be in today’s dollars, plus how much it’s appreciated in percentage terms.
(Obviously, if it’s a recent acquisition, skip this step and just calculate your gain based on the difference between the purchase and sales prices.)
It won’t take long to put some extra money in your pocket. Money you can use to invest in other unconventional wealth generators — wine… whiskey… gold… silver… stamps…
Whatever tickles your fancy, we’ve got you covered.
To your wealth,
Editor-at-large, Unconventional Wealth
Steffi Baker is the editor-at-large of Unconventional Wealth. For the past 10 years, she worked with a small strategy consulting firm that dealt exclusively with wealth-management companies, helping them market themselves to ultra-high-net-worth clients.
Through this line of work, Steffi attended events in London and New York and hobnobbed with household names and international...