According to a press release issued last week by the Recording Industry Association of America, for the first time since 1986 — the year songs such as Madonna’s Papa Don’t Preach, Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer and Falco’s Rock Me Amadeus were topping charts all over the globe — sales of vinyl records outstripped sales of compact discs for the initial six months of the year.
Hey, Mr. Mister, it wasn’t even close. The RIAA report stated that between January and June, audiophiles doled out US$232.1 million on vinyl albums as compared with just less than US$130 million on their digital counterparts. And while that bit of news was music to the ears of Planet of Sound owner Dave Wright, it certainly didn’t come as some big surprise.
"Vinyl is definitely on the upswing and has been for a while, which is precisely why we started carrying it in the store about 10 years ago," says Wright, whose cosy, 800-square-foot shop at 1109 Henderson Hwy., which stocks a healthy number of LPs in addition to CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays, even an assortment of long-considered extinct LaserDiscs, will celebrate its 20th anniversary in November.
"It’s not just people who grew up listening to vinyl, either," he goes on, sporting the office uniform: sneakers, dark jeans and an aquamarine-coloured, zip-up hoodie, the latter of which only partially conceals a well-worn, Joy Division T-shirt. "The other day there was a gal in here who I would have put at around 14. She picked up the Tea Party’s Edges of Twilight plus an album by the Wallflowers, the one that had their first big hit on it (we think he means Bringing Down the Horse). As she was taking out her debit card to pay I was like, how do you even know about these groups? Don’t they predate you by at least 10 years?"
According to Wright, the teen said she grew up listening to the two bands, along with dozens of others from the ’80s and ’90s, while poking through her parents’ CD shelves. Now that she was old enough to start a music collection of her own, she preferred to have copies on vinyl, she said.
"I told her that was so good to hear," he says, standing in front of a wall display boasting such rare gems as a 1968 pressing of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Two Virgins album and — you’re getting verrrry sleepy — Relax With Reveen, a spoken word record by late master hypnotist Peter J. Reveen. "Later I was thinking, man, how cool is it that we get to be a part of that experience? I mean, I was right around her age when I started buying music so to have that come around full circle? It was a great feeling, no doubt about it."
Wright, a 45-year-old married father of two, grew up on Brian Street in North Kildonan, about 10 blocks from where Planet of Sound now rests. Like he mentioned, he was 14 or so when he spent his allowance on music for the first time, picking up pre-recorded cassette versions of — "This first one is going to be embarrassing," he cautions — Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ’Em by MC Hammer and Rank, a live set by English band the Smiths from an outlet of the now defunct HMV Canada in Kildonan Place.
By the time he was in high school he was catching the No. 11 bus practically every Saturday, to spend the afternoon combing through downtown music meccas such as Records on Wheels and Pyramid Records. After attaining a commerce degree from the University of Manitoba, he secured a manager’s job at Disc-Go-Round, a new-and-used music shop that had three locations in the city. He remained there for three years but left following a disagreement with his boss over what he was being paid or, more specifically, not being paid. He decided to strike out on his own while, in his words, he was still young and stupid enough to do so.
Many times when he was riding Transit Tom downtown to music-shop, he wished there was a suitable option closer to home. He decided to remedy that situation by establishing Planet of Sound — named after a track on the Pixies’ 1991 release Trompe le Monde — in November 2000 in a vacant space formerly occupied by an accounting firm.
"I didn’t have much in the store at first, probably around 1,100 items split between used CDs, VHS tapes and DVDs, which were just coming into vogue," he says, pegging his current inventory at around 30,000 units. "I fully admit it, those first few years were tough. I was the only one here. I worked 11 (a.m.) to 8 (p.m.) seven days a week for basically no pay because everything I made went towards rent (for the store). Luckily I have very supportive parents who, more power to them, allowed me to stay at home for as long as I needed to."
As stock increased so did sales. In 2010 he hosted a memorable, in-store performance by iVardensphere, a band from Edmonton well-known in the industrial music scene, to toast Planet of Sound’s 10th anniversary. He recalls wandering across the street during the morning sound check to gauge whether the show’s volume was going to affect neighbouring businesses or not. "You could literally feel the ground shaking from the bass but funnily enough, nobody on the block complained," he says with a chuckle.
Actor/comedian Brian Posehn, perhaps best known for his recurring role as geologist Bert Kibbler on long-running CBS series the Big Bang Theory, is another famous face who’s popped by. Asking himself what would be the strangest thing in the store he could get Posehn, who was in the city performing at Rumor’s Restaurant & Comedy Club, to autograph, Wright fetched an old Anne Murray album from a dollar-bin. That explains why there is a framed copy of Honey, Wheat & Laughter on the wall near the cash register with the greeting, "Dear Planet of Sound, you rule super hard! Brian Posehn" scribbled in black marker upon its cover.
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Like most independent music store owners, not just in Winnipeg but around the world, Wright was already planning ahead for Record Store Day, held annually on the third Saturday in April, when he was forced to shut down in mid-March owing to COVID-19. He reopened June 6 and is currently looking forward to the second Record Store Day of 2020. Because of the pandemic, this year the annual celebration of all-things-vinyl was expanded to three days, Aug. 29, Sept. 26, and Oct. 24, after being initially postponed. Not that flipping through this coming weekend’s hotly anticipated releases — they include the Ramones’ It’s Alive II, Tegan and Sara’s Tonight in the Dark We’re Seeing Colors and an alternate version of Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 classic, Rumours — will be anything close to normal, just yet.
"First of all we can only allow five customers in the store at any one time," he says, noting while his and wife Stephanie’s 14-year-old son Lucas is more interested in video games than music, their daughter Annabel, 5, keeps a small pile of CDs — some rockabilly, some classical jazz, zero Sharon, Lois & Bram — on her bedside table. "Also, for obvious reasons, shoppers have to maintain their distance. They can’t be standing shoulder to shoulder like they did in the ‘old days,’ glancing over at what the person next to them has in their hand."
That said, Wright acknowledges there is probably nothing in the store — not the David Bowie Pinups picture disc, not the season 20 DVD set of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, not even the Blu-Ray copy of John Carpenter’s The Fog (along with vinyl, horror flicks are far and away his top sellers) — somebody couldn’t track down on internet sites such as eBay or Discogs in a matter of seconds.
"At the end of the day, though, it all comes down to the thrill of the hunt," he says, speaking loudly enough to be heard over a Fiona Apple album playing in the background. "There’s nothing more satisfying than when I’m standing at the till, minding my own business, and I hear somebody audibly gasp when they turn up something they’ve been hunting for, for who knows how long. It’s infectious. Not only does it get them back in the store a week or two later, looking for something else on their hit list, it’s what keeps me going, 20 years in."
David Sanderson writes about Winnipeg-centric restaurants and businesses.
Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.
Dave Wright’s Planet of Sound isn't the only store selling vinyl records that is toasting its 20th anniversary in 2020. Championship Vinyl, the fictional record shop that served as the backdrop of the 2000 film High Fidelity, starring John Cusack, also turns the big Two-O, this year.
Tonearms up if you remember the scene from that flick when Jack Black, as record store clerk Barry Judd, responds, "Do we look like the kind of store that sells I Just Called to Say I Love You? Go to the mall," after a customer inquires if the shop carries a copy of the Stevie Wonder smash single. Wright recalls that bit of dialogue, for sure, but assures a reporter that neither he nor any of his three staff members would ever respond in such a manner if someone were to come into Planet of Sound looking for a title by, say, Kenny G or Barry Manilow.
“Sure, there might be some healthy ribbing with certain customers we know to have a sense of humour but no, we pass no judgement here, whatsoever,” he says, naming Depeche Mode's Violator, from 1990, as his fave album, all-time. “To me, music is music, whether it’s blues, disco, punk or whatever. It’s all good.”
When asked about another scene from High Fidelity, the one where John Cusack’s character boasts he can sell five copies of a particular group’s record, the Beta Band, simply by playing it for shoppers, Wright nods his head yes, saying similar scenarios have occurred at his locale from time to time.
“This is my current ‘Beta Band,'” he says, holding up a copy of Bleached Wavves, a three-month-old release by Canadian outfit Zoon. “This guy (Daniel Monkman) is literally from Selkirk. Every time I put it on people are like, ‘What is that? Can I buy it?’”