New Delhi: With smartphones and CDs, Bluetooth and USB sticks, music comes wrapped in all shapes and sizes and then, in a category all their own, are the sleek, black vinyl discs edged with notes of sepia and nostalgia.
Gently placed on a turntable with the needle ever so carefully put on the shiny disc for the tunes to start flowing, long playing records, confined to the archives till very recently, are back.
Purists have found their groove again, bringing back the age of slow, deliberate choices in music, a far cry from melody at the touch of a button, or a tap on a smartphone screen.
For some, the real music that reaches the depths of the soul still comes out of vinyl discs placed on turntables on a quiet afternoon.
Like Maninder Singh Rana, a 70-year-old businessman, who is dismissive of music on smartphones and his car stereo.
“That music I feel is ephemeral, it comes out of the speaker and disappears like a bubble. The sound of a record lingers on, you can feel it in the room even after it has stopped playing,” Rana said somewhat poetically.
True music connoisseurs like him still put their faith in the age-old medium of vinyl records that have made a comeback in the last few years.
Shop owners, who say they have old customers and new ones, are making sure they stock up on albums.
“The music quality of LPs is far superior to that of CDs and cassettes and those who truly understand music and swear by it don't want to compromise on that quality. These are the people who helped bring it back,” said Sunil Jain of Radio and Gramophone House (RGH) in central Delhi's Connaught Place.
Jain remembers the time the shop, which opened in 1951, had stopped selling vinyl.
“By the late 80s, the vinyl records business was dead. It seemed it would never come back. People were only buying cassettes and then CDs. But that didn't last long,” the second generation owner of the shop told PTI.
And then, around 2010, when cassettes were already a thing of the past and CDs had started becoming obsolete, vinyl re-entered the market, largely buoyed by quality customers, music lovers and collectors.
According to Jain, today's buyers are largely those who bought records in an earlier era and newer converts who have discovered the magic, Jain added.
RHG, which sells digital players, stereo systems, Bluetooth speakers and all things electronic, gets more than 70 per cent of its total business from records and turntables, Jain said.
Among the very few record stores in the city is Shah Music Centre in the crowded Meena Bazaar in old Delhi with a library of over one lakh titles.
Zafar Shah, the 41-year-old owner of the shop, credits the young and the curious for a majority of his business.
“We get a lot of young customers. While most come down here out of curiosity, a lot of them are actually serious about Pink Floyd, Beatles and old Hindi music of R D Burman and Bappi Lahiri,” he said.
With people interested in Indian music from across the world, Shah said he gets more business from mail orders.
“I don't have an online store, there are a few people who come here, but mostly people just call me or mail me to send them records,” he said.
While Shah has mostly retained the older way of doing business, through mail or in person, others like Jain and Anuj Rajpal of New Gramophone House have taken their collection online.
For some, business is booming. For others, like Joginder Singh Luca of Pagal Records in Hauz Khas Village, profit is secondary. The romanticism of music propels him forward.
“For me a record store is like a bookstore you have to discover. It's a place of culture. I don't sell records, I gift culture and I get paid for that I think,” Luca said.
The 39-year-old Italian Punjabi, son of Indian hockey player Inder Singh, came to India some five years ago and went out looking for records for his own collection.
This is, however, not a hobby for somebody with shallow pockets.
Hindi records begin at about Rs 1,500 and English ones at Rs 2,500, Luca sad. Rare prints go for much, much more -- like the Indian pressing of ‘The Doors’ for Rs 23,000, Randheer Kapoor's 1979 film ‘Dhongee’ for Rs 19,000 and a David Bowie album for Rs 28,000.
Turntables don't come cheap either.
Basic record players start at around Rs 5,000 and can go up to 1 lakh for vintage gramophones.
‘The market has also evolved according to demand and the need for multimedia turntables. Starting around the same range, these new-age players come with USB port, Bluetooth connectivity, inbuilt speakers and even WiFi compatibility. But those who buy vinyl for its real value don't go for the fancier versions. That is more distraction than ease,’ said Jain.
The thriving business may feel like an easy catch, but Luca said acquiring new records is a difficult task given that not a single company currently manufactures LPs in India, except for a few independent ones.
“New bands like ‘That Boy Robby', and ‘Barmer Boys' are producing on records. India is a country where only one label is printing vinyl -- Amarrass Records. Bigger companies like Sony and others are only printing abroad,” he said.
Luca hangs on to the present, organising jam sessions at his shop, inviting DJs and music enthusiasts. The future, for him, is something he will get to one day when he becomes the ‘biggest distributor of records in India’.
“Music is the food for the soul,” German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer had said sometime in the early 19th century. Traversing through one medium to another over the next two centuries, true connoisseurs have wound their way back to LPs.