Austin record convention appeals to buyers of all ages

By Lisa Wheeler

It’s 9 a.m. on a seasonally balmy April morning in Austin, Texas. Charles Davis, 55, of San Antonio is standing outside his car, studying a notebook of neatly typed pages. “These are the Eddie Arnold records I have, and these are the ones I want,” he said.

Meanwhile, Thomas Harrison, 18, of Austin admitted to a different strategy when it comes to finding the “old school” rap vinyl that he collects. “It’s all up here,” he laughed, as he pointed to the knit cap on his head.

Whether you coveted The Sugarhill Gang or a mint copy of “My Mother’s Sweet Voice,” the spring 2005 edition of the twice-a-year Austin Record Convention brought out collectors of every musical interest to a new venue, which more than secured the event’s status as largest record show in the United States.

“In October, we had 290 dealers in 39,000 square feet at the old Crockett Center” said convention organizer Doug Hanners. “Now (in the new Crockett Center) we have 60,000 square feet and 330 dealers [from 167 businesses].”

Pascal Perrault of Paris, France, carefully placed the needle on a 45 he found in one of the many booths neatly arranged, amid plastic milk crates and cardboard moving boxes, and bursting with vinyl, in the massive hall. “Oh I like this one,” he smiled and turned his ear closer to the tiny speaker on the battery-operated turntable, as Dick Curless twanged about a tombstone every mile. As one of the many foreign buyers at this year’s convention, he was searching for blues and soul during this trip. Curless’ country offering wouldn’t make the cut, but Perrault was just getting started. “I’ve only spent $135 so far, but it’s only noon,” he said smiling. “I’ve been known to spend $10,000 at these shows. I usually have to ship it all back when that happens.”

For dealers, some who travel from as far away as Japan to set up, the Austin Record Convention offers the opportunity to see and be seen by collectors and fellow dealers from around the world. “I made half of my profit in the first hour of the show, on Friday, on early birds and dealers,” said Joe Schwab of Euclid Records.

More often than not, general admission collectors aren’t the only ones searching for prized possessions for their collections. In between setting up shop, most vendors strike up deals with one another before the masses arrive.

Those who come to sell are also discovering that in spite of the availability of digital media and the instant gratification of single-song MP3 downloads, vinyl is the format collectors desire. “I sold a mint, still-in-shrink copy of Eddie Cochran’s LP Singing To My Baby for $700,” said Rerun Records owner Rod Branham, of Chelsea, Mich. “Vinyl sales are still good for me. I’ve been selling for 25 years, and I have no desire to switch over to compact discs,” he admitted.

Whether a dealer decides to stay true to vinyl or any other format, diversity is key to sales. Schwab, who is based out of St. Louis, Mo., specializes in jazz but knows the value of having variety in his stock when attending the Austin show. “I sold a second-state, stereo Beatles Butcher Cover for $1,200,” he said.

Meanwhile, standing next to a table scattered with a crate of 12-inch singles, Harrison gave a thumbs up and pointed to a small collection of vintage rap he’s purchased, most recorded seven years before his birth, in 1987.

“I think there is a younger generation that has developed a real cult following for vinyl as a collectible,” said BlueBeat Records owner and convention dealer Charlie Lange, of Boulder Creek, Calif. “A lot of them will buy a 45 record for $2 to $3, instead of buying a whole compact disc for $18.”

Even though the vinyl trend still appears to be #1 with a bullet, it can frustrate some dealers who must keep track of fickle buying trends. “Last year I did really well with Northern Soul,” said Branham. This year, I couldn’t give it away — I might have sold three in the three days I was here.”

“I don’t know what the big deal is with Northern Soul,” said collector Barney Koumis, who regularly makes the pilgrimage to Austin from London, England, in search of ’50s and ’60s era rock and rockabilly. “The U.K. loves rockabilly,” he admitted, as he showed off his recently acquired copy of the single “Split Personality” by Smokey Joe Baugh and Clyde Leoppard on the Flip label. “I bought this for $400 — I’ve seen it sell for $2,000. I’m happy.”

New to the Austin show this year was the presence of eBay University. Representatives of the online auction site held classes during the convention, aimed mainly at dealers, who are increasingly using the service to supplement their full-time sales. “If you can’t beat them, you join them,” said one dealer, who didn’t want to be identified. “Look, I’m not stupid. I could have a store and pay rent and wait for someone to come in and buy. But why, when, for a couple of bucks, I can sell this album to some guy in Germany.”

Although it is convenient to buy music from dealers around the world with a mouse click, Japan-based dealer and collector Tsuyoshi Fukuda would rather travel the globe for his soul, funk and hip-hop collection. “I just got back from a show in Toronto, and I’m leaving next week for a show in New York — I’m shipping all of this back to Japan today,” he said, as he showed off a 4-foot high stack of vinyl.

“I think, in a lot of respects, outside of eBay, there aren’t a lot of places to buy vinyl except at the record shows,” said Euclid’s Schwab. “Not only can you buy, but you can also make contacts for vinyl. I don’t do a lot of record shows, but it builds a customer base for me, both here and with my eBay sales,” he said.

In spite of the larger venue and the increase in dealer participation, the quest for Eddie Arnold vinyl eluded Charles Davis, who spent the better part of his Saturday hunting for additions to his collection.

“I guess I’ve gotten everything I can get here,” he said, before heading back to San Antonio. In spite of walking away without crossing one thing off of his typewritten list, he didn’t feel discouraged. “I’ll be back next time, you bet.”

The next Austin Record Convention is scheduled for Oct. 28-30, 2005.

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