The Arts

Wisconsin Vinyl

New York Recording Laboratories (NYRL) — a subsidiary of the Wisconsin Chair Company of Port Washington, Wisconsin — was created to promote the chair company’s phonographs. Pictured here and below are two of NYRL’s Paramount Records, which were made of shellac instead of vinyl. Tom Caw

For 12 consecutive years, retail sales of vinyl records have increased in the United States.

This growth, as documented in Nielsen Music’s 2017 U.S. year-end report, is especially apparent during Record Store Day (RSD), an event celebrated by independent record stores each April to promote vinyl sales.

“[Our] attendance for RSD has grown every year,” says Dave Zero, owner of MadCity Music on Madison’s east side, which has participated in the event since it started in 2008. He keeps tabs by tracking the store’s increasing RSD sales numbers.

On campus, staff members at Mills Music Library have noticed students’ growing interest in vinyl in recent years. Tom Caw, the music public services librarian, says staff and librarians across the country have reported an increase in people requesting, listening to, or checking out long-playing vinyl.

“I think part of the allure for the vinyl listening experience is that it’s a physical interaction with a device, and I think people are used to having access online to streaming media,” Caw says. “The interactive physical experience is something you can’t replicate online.”

The library’s record collection is robust: it includes about 50,000 individual titles (plus another 30,000-some duplicates) that are 33 1/3 and 45 rpm (revolutions per minute), as well as some 100,000 78 rpm records.

A subset of these items, part of the library’s Wisconsin Music Archives, represents the state’s music. Among this collection are 78s from Paramount Records, one of four record labels produced between 1917 and 1933 by the New York Recording Laboratories.

Well known for its blues and jazz series, Paramount Records’ discography contains music with connections to UW–Madison. Recordings include those dating back to the 1920s from the Wisconsin U Skyrockets — directed by Jesse Cohen ’24 — and from the Haresfoot Recording Orchestra, part of the UW’s Haresfoot Club that existed from the late 1800s to the mid-1960s. The archives’ collection preserves a unique compilation of Wisconsin-centric music.

Published in the Spring 2019 issue


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