'We are in this because we love it': Barcelona's vinyl veterans ride revival surge
Major label greed main obstacle to format's survival, say independent record stores
The vinyl revival is not new. Global sales have been increasing gradually since 2006, according to the IFPI, but in recent years Barcelona has fully embraced the resurgence of this much-loved analog format, with specialist listening bars, new record stores, and even a cultural association popping up across the city.
For one veteran vinyl store, the increased competition is a good thing.
"I love it," says Marc from Wah Wah Records in the Raval neighborhood, "because I am also a consumer and I also buy records."
"Every shop has its own personality, and every record buyer will have his or her favorite shop."
Personality is something Wah Wah, founded in 1992 by Jordi Segura, has in abundance. Overflowing piles of records poke out from every angle. As if the treasure trove that greets you initially wasn't enough, flashing lights guide you to the blues, jazz, soul, funk, and more in the back room.
"We have a bit of everything," Marc says, before clarifying: "Odd stuff, we don't have Taylor Swift."
Marc normally works with the shop's record label, which reissues limited editions of records of all genres from the 60s and 70s, including the likes of German spiritual experimentalists, Popol Vuh.
Finding himself "accidentally" at the counter in Jordi's absence, Marc is kind enough to talk to Catalan News about how the vinyl revival is affecting them.
"As a shop we have always specialized in vinyl. When everybody went to CD, we stayed with vinyl, so I mean it's not new for us. But now, we have a wider offer because all labels have gone back to vinyl."
As well as more labels choosing to release albums on vinyl, the other major change Marc has noticed is the proliferation of stores selling vinyl.
"We were one of the very few shops, not only in Barcelona but in Europe, which would have a nice selection of vinyl. Now every shop selling records sells mostly vinyl."
"Basically, we have more competition," he says. "I think it's good. I mean, we love vinyl, so the more vinyl the better for us."
Barcelona's oldest record store
Barcelona oldest record store still selling new vinyl is family-run Surco, in Gràcia. Founded by Beatles fans Carlos and Marisol in 1974, it is celebrating 50 years in business.
The couple's son, also called Carlos, tells Catalan News Surco is in fact the oldest store in "Catalonia also, for sure," and probably Spain, although it's "difficult to know," he says.
"When my parents opened the store in 1974, that was the heyday of vinyl," Carlos says, but when it comes to records, older doesn't necessarily mean better, he explains.
"At the time we had the petrol crisis, so the quality of the vinyl itself wasn't so good. And that's amazing because we're talking about the time of the Pink Floyd discography and all that, which are classics."
"Sometimes we find it amusing when people are looking for first editions of everything. Maybe nowadays, some of the editions are much better quality."
Surco has had its ups and downs over the decades.
"The 80s was when I was growing up in the store, and it was great to have so many customers coming here. The 90s was when the CD had its rise, so it was also good for sales," Carlos says, explaining that the store continued to sell vinyl alongside the new digital format.
"But the beginning of the 2000, that was maybe the hardest moment."
As sales declined, Carlos says it was his parents' constant effort and good relationships with "loyal clientele" that kept the store going.
"I think that's why we are still here nowadays, when vinyl is now a thing again."
An object you can love
And why is vinyl now a thing again, in the age of streaming, of Spotify, of endless choice and personally tailored algorithms?
"It's an object that you can really love, that you can collect, you can admire the cover. And there's a personal relationship with that object in some way that all collectors know very well," Carlos says, with a knowing grin.
For Marc, there is "a ritual with a vinyl that you don't have with Spotify for instance, which is the big sleeves, liner notes, the turning of the sides."
"When you are an artist and you record a vinyl you organize the recording in a different way," he says. "You have to think which is the song that starts side A, the song that closes the side, the song that starts side B, the song that closes the side."
Major label greed
While streaming accounts for the vast of total revenues for recorded music, vinyl has showed remarkable resilience. Sales in Spain have tripled in five years. In Catalonia, revenue from vinyl surpassed CDs in 2023 for the first time since the 1980s – €5m for vinyl versus €4.8m for CDs, according to figures provided to Catalan News by the culture department.
Is there any threat to the vinyl revival? Marc and Carlos are in agreement.
"I think it's something that will stay, because it's been so long now and vinyls are still here," Carlos says. "For us, the big problem, the obstacle to that, is the greediness of the major [labels]."
"Prices are getting higher and higher so they can maybe kill the nice business that we have," he adds.
"If they take a little bit of responsibility over it, vinyls have a long life ahead still."
For Marc, one aspect of the resurgence in vinyl "could be described as a bubble, because major labels are just going after money."
"They are here to make to make money, they saw that there was a big rebirth in vinyl, and they started producing vinyl. They even bought vinyl pressing plants," says Marc, leading to production problems for smaller labels and "awfully expensive" records.
But despite their concerns, both vinyl veterans are optimistic about what the future holds
"I think it's going to be here forever," Marc says, "because it has been here forever.
"It's from the late 40s early early 50s, and after that there's been reel-to-reel tapes, there's been those 8-track cartridges, there's been cassettes, there's been LaserDisc, CDs, MiniDisc, streaming, everything, and vinyl has survived."
And, as Carlos says, the stores will survive too, because, "people who sell music, we are not into it as a business really. We are in this because we love it."
Listen to the podcast below to learn more about the vinyl revival in Catalonia: Record year – Barcelona's booming vinyl scene.