Once upon a time there was a satirical Israeli TV show called “Zehu Zeh” (That’s It), which had a weekly riddle for viewers called “Shirt and Record.” In 1993 the show went off the air and coincidentally, that same year the manufacture of records in Israel stopped as the music industry moved to disks.
The conventional wisdom was that records are dead and buried. Sales figures in the United States crashed to less than less than a million records ($10.6 million in sales) in 1993, from a peak of 340 million records (with sales of $2.5 billion) in 1978. Meanwhile, disk sales climbed in 2000 to a billion units and counting in the U.S. alone. And records became either fodder for flea markets or a collector’s item.
Yet unexpectedly record sales started to revive in the 2000s, starting in the U.S. and spreading worldwide. Two decades after it was declared dead, vinyl is back, in Israel too. Facebook forums on records have thousands of members and music stores made space.
Vinyl sales in 2015 amounted to 2% of global revenues from music, an increase of 54% from the year before, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. So, true, it remains a niche and many think it’s a passing retro fad. But the fact is that Israel today has 12 record stores, mostly in Tel Aviv, and big bookstore chains like Steimatzky offer records, too.
A few hundred crazies
Some Israeli musicians, such as Berry Sakharof, Idan Raichel and Assaf Amdursky have released vinyl versions of their latest albums in parallel with CD and digital.
Record collector Shimon Ben Noon says Israelis had shifted to disks, leaving records in the realm of a few hundred crazies for vinyl. He’d find and pick up records people had thrown out in the street. Today he estimates the Israeli record community at anywhere from 5,000 to 7,000 people.
Why would anybody return to vinyl? It’s part of a bigger trend of returning to origins, suggests Guy Grinberg, a partner with Elad Eizenstein in the vinyl-only store Beatnik in Florentin, Tel Aviv. And vinyl is how music was originally produced.
“Record consumers are looking for good music and a fun, interesting experience. Listening to a record is a ritual – it’s not like clicking on a file. There’s a whole experience with the product: It’s big and pretty, draws attention to detail, and while listening, you have to lift the needle and turn the record over.”
Books didn’t die with the invention of the Kindle, points out Eli Hayon of the Third Ear music store and café in Tel Aviv, and the Black Gold label. He believes records will survive too, whether for romantic reasons or because people like to hold the physical thing in hand, or because of the quality of the music, or lust of ownership. Or the urge to collect.
As hype around records built, fueled also by music celebs and articles on the topic, and social media of course, in Israel DJs flaunted their record skills at clubs. Musicians started demanding that their music be produced on vinyl too, Hayon says.
“We put out 12 new albums a year, by new artists or revivals of old albums. We produced records for the Jane Bordeaux band and the singer Ester Rada, and also reproduced the album Plastelina by Arik Einstein and the Churchills performing live. Other companies also produced vinyl, for instance for the band Teapacks and Idan Raichel. At least 50 vinyl albums were produced in Israel over the past year. Nobody thinks it’s great business, but things build up, and it’s already achieved some weight.”
A minimal edition of vinyl is 300 copies. Most Israeli musicians print between 300 to 500 copies and a handful order more than 1,000. Business is growing, but remains in the margins. But some musicians view it as a prestige thing, says Hayon.
“[Rock musician] Rami Fortis printed 1,000 copies of his last album and most were sold. He didn’t even put it out on disk because in any case, he makes his living from concerts and reality TV. Records are a matter of honor to him: He turned it into a label of quality. Artists come to me wanting to produce only on vinyl, even if just 300 or 400 copies, because for then vinyl is forever. There’s a connotation of eternity, in contrast to disks or the digital format. It’s like publishing a book in hardback. It has a distinguished and sexy appeal.”
Anna Haleta, resident DJ at The Block Club in Tel Aviv since 2003, never stopped using vinyl. “I saw no advantage in changing format,” she says. “With a touch of the hand you can see when a track is ending and can easily correct mistakes. It’s also the shortest way to create mixes. Working with records is very creative.”
Record turn sexy
As the trend of records takes on among younger DJs, too, feeing they’re suddenly now and sexy, record prices are even climbing a bit, Haleta says.
So, do Tel Aviv’s 12 record stores make enough to keep their owners in clover?
The Third Ear, which sells the full range of music formats as well as record players, and runs a club, is doing fine. But the vinyl-only shops only open at certain hours and their owners have other jobs. Beatnik is only open from 3 to 8 PM and a little on Friday, says Eizenstein. A more veteran store, The Black Hole in central Tel Aviv, only operates half of the week.
When it comes to prices, it isn’t a market for the frugal: The price of a new record begins a few dozen shekels and reaches up to 100 shekels and more. Second-hand records are greater in variety and may cost from a few shekels to thousands for rare records or special editions.
“Eighty percent of the records in my store cost up to 70 shekels,” says Eizenstein. “Of these, 40% cost ten shekels, not because they are bad, but because they are very common and therefore cheaper. A common record is one that achieved gold, platinum or double platinum status in the 1980s, which means selling 80,000 copies, and they’re easy to find. David Broza, for example, sold 200,000 copies of the album ‘The Woman With Me.’ When we buy entire collections from people, we sometimes even find two copies of this album.”
Newly produced albums can cost 100 shekels a pop, but then production costs are high. Nobody’s opening a factory to make vinyl records. Collectors aren’t looking for new albums anyway, says Hayon: They don’t want new, they want mint – or rarities like a Beatles or Pink Floyd album issued with a Hebrew cover.
Sometimes an album that flopped, like Shalom Hanoch’s record produced in London, singing in English in his kibbutz accent, can become a collector’s item and can sell for 700 shekels.