The ‘Vinyl Nation’ Documentary Hits All the Right Notes

by David Turner

Vinyl Nation, a documentary released earlier this year by the director/producer duo of Kevin Smokler and Christopher Boone, includes the tagline “A Documentary Dig Into The Record Resurgence”. 

Over the film’s 90+ minutes, it does just that by introducing the viewer to a wide range of people involved in the industry in all facets as well as a melting pot of vinyl enthusiasts. 

Vinyl Nation was filmed during pre-COVID spring 2019 at record conventions, record labels, record stores and pressing plants in 14 American cities. On April 18-19, 2020, on what would have been Record Store Day weekend, they partnered with the RSD organization and 200 independent record stores in 46 states to offer the movie digitally for one weekend with 100% of the proceeds going to the record stores.

Over that weekend, they raised $37,000 for independent record stores to help in the struggle to stay in business during a pandemic.

Jimmy Sorrells
Jimmy Sorrells@analog.music.devotee
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Vinyl Nation documentary speaks to me as a record collector. I meet people all the time that say "people still buy records" just like the collectors in the doc.
I love how it covers everything from how records are made to how crate digging makes you feel. As it was stated in the doc. "we are passionate weirdos." Record collectors are all races and ages. I love how this doc points that out and also interviews women and kids. Like one interviewee says "so many things have died out but not vinyl." Love live record collecting and listening to great music the way it should be heard. This is a documentary that you have got to see.

In the early moments of the film, you are taken to Mills Record Company is Kansas City, MO for the April, 2019 Record Store Day. Through interviews with a few of the customers waiting in line and with the owner, you get a real feel for this annual event that is typically the biggest sales day for the participating stores. 

The Jethro Tull “Stand Up” pop-up gatefold

Something that you immediately notice in this opening sequence is the diversity present. Not only are there some of the “Stereotypical” record consumers (that they describe expertly later in the film as being sort of like the comic book store guy from the Simpsons…ouch!, but yeah..), but you see multiple generations and people of color, men, women, and families all shopping for the RSD titles that they are hoping to land. 

The film does a fantastic job throughout in showing that the vinyl community has truly become a diverse reflection of the melding of different segments of the population around a newfound love of music in this physical, analog form. 

The joy found as we meet those interviewed fuels our ability to map out the different journeys each has taken to become vinyl enthusiasts. You can’t help but relate as you hear them talk about the excitement of breaking the seal on a new record, or discovering something just cool and fun about a certain pressing. Personally I loved seeing one talk about opening the Jethro Tull “Stand Up” gatefold and seeing the band popup! 

Thanks to time spent featuring multiple pressing plants and others involved in the actual chain of production, the film provides a surprisingly in-depth education of just what all goes into those 12″ beauties sitting on your shelves. While other documentaries have touched on the processes, Vinyl Nation goes a step further providing context on the history and other aspects such as issues around recycling and environmental questions. 

The film also succinctly provides you a timeline of the collapse of vinyl sales after the debut of the compact disc in the early/mid 80s and the lowest point in the mid 2000s when the last reliable customer base (DJs/12″ singles) moved on to digital. Time is also spent explaining how the onset of mp3s and the iPod along later with streaming services created their own challenges to the vinyl format. 

The Carolinas are well-represented as well. We’re introduced to Chris Livengood, owner of Ember Audio & Design in Winston-Salem, NC, who provides some real insight of the importance of the “Connection” music on vinyl can provide. He also adds some quite candid advice for others in high-end audio sales that will really hit home for some. 

Vinyl Nation doesn’t shy away from discussing the challenges facing the vinyl industry either. You’re privy to frank talk from industry executives and others about the rising retail prices of new pressings and quality control issues as well as the backlog that is threatening to shut out of a lot of independent artists and small orders. 

Ultimately, over the course of the film you’ll find plenty to identify with, you’ll learn more than you will expect to going in, and you’ll get a reinforcing shot of the idea of the word “Community” that we talk about when we say we’re all part of a vinyl community. 

HOW TO SEE THE FILM:

For the fall run of Record Store Day Drops, the film opened Friday Aug 28th in virtual cinemas with over 100 ticket partners, including arthouse cinemas and independent record stores in 35 states plus D.C., and strong reviews from The Houston ChronicleThe Detroit NewsBaltimore Magazine and The Chicago Reader.

In the coming weeks they will be partnering with the College Radio FoundationKEXP in Seattle, and DublabVinyl Nation will be available through Record Store Day Black Friday until Nov. 30th. 

In North Carolina: Virtual tickets are available currently through a/perture cinema in Winston-Salem, Alamo Drafthouse in Raleigh, Grail Moviehouse in Asheville, and The Sunrise Theater in Southern Pines

MORE INFO: 

https://vinylnationfilm.com/ and on Facebook and Instagram.