PORTLAND, Maine – Think Katy Perry and vinyl, and a hip-hugging dress might come to mind.
The 27-year-old pop artist is among musicians going old school – releasing music on pressed vinyl records to help celebrate Record Store Day.
Perry, who’s too young to have thumbed through 45-rpm singles when she was a girl, joins an eclectic mix that includes David Bowie, Paul McCartney, the Misfits, White Stripes, the late James Brown and The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends with special vinyl releases to celebrate the hometown record store on Saturday.
All of that vinyl – more than 300 offerings – represents a bright spot for the roughly 2,000 indie music retailers facing stiff competition from online music sales and streaming music services.
"There would be fewer stores, if it wasn’t for the resurgence of vinyl," said Chris Brown from Bull Moose, a chain of 10 stores in Maine and New Hampshire, who hatched the idea for Record Store Day.
Now in its fifth year, Record Store Day got off to a raucous start with Metallica in San Francisco in 2008, a year after the idea was tossed out by Brown at a conference of indie retailers.
It’s evolved into an annual event that gave an 8 percent sales bump to stores last year and is now being celebrated around the world in countries including Brazil, Australia, Romania and Germany.
For a time, it was unclear whether independent record stores would survive mega stores like Tower Records, and then the move to online sales with the ubiquitous iPod and now the growing popularity online services like Rhapsody, Pandora and Spotify. Indeed, hundreds of mom-and-pop stores did shut their doors.
But about 2,000 stores remain in business today, and the number has been relatively stable over the past few years, said Ken Glaser, vice president of sales for Alliance Entertainment, the nation’s largest wholesale distributor of compact discs, DVDs and vinyl record albums.
"I still see a place for a strong indie store in every community that can support one. I just think there’s still the lure of people wanting to walk into a store and touch and feel things and talk to people," said Joel Oberstein, president of Almighty Institute of Music Retail, a market research firm based in Studio City, Calif.
These days, vinyl records play an increasing role in bringing people through the doors or music stores.
It turns out vinyl records never really died after the compact disc became dominant after its 1980s introduction. These days, a new generation of young hipsters is helping to drive demand along with people who grew up with albums and audio purists who think vinyl albums still sound better than today’s digital music.
Last year, vinyl albums sales grew 39 percent, with about 3.9 million albums being sold, and sales are up about 10 percent so far this year, according to Nielsen Soundscan.
Record Store Day last year represented the biggest day of the year for vinyl sales.
Perry, for her part, is releasing a 12-inch pink vinyl single "Part of Me" with "Tommie Sunshine’s Megasix Smash-Up" on the flipside. Arcade Fire is releasing "Sprawl II" as a 12-inch vinyl single, and Bowie is releasing a 7-inch "Starman" picture disc. McCartney is rereleasing a 7-inch single with "Another Day" and "Oh Woman Oh Why." Two never-before-released James Brown tracks from the upcoming "Live at the Apollo 50th Anniversary" will be released on a single.
Many of the offerings will be unique pressings.
The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends are releasing a swirly-colored double LP featuring collaborations with a number of artists. White Stripes is releasing a red-and-black single with "Handsprings" and "Red Death at 6:14." The Misfits, a punk band, will release the 1982 "Walk Among Us" on colored vinyl.
David Bakula, senior vice president for analytics at Nielsen, said he thinks there’ll always be room for record stores because they cater to hardcore music fans and offer special formats.
"Thank God there are still those music fans out there who’re interested in supporting these stores and supporting these formats and supporting these bands. You have a perfect consumer ecosystem there where demand is met by supply," he said from his office in Los Angeles.
At Bull Moose in Portland’s Old Port, Pat Markley was thumbing through the new and used rock CDs Thursday night. He said he likes shopping at a store because he gets to hear new music, and because there are people to help if he’s looking for an obscure music titles.
"I could spend hours looking around here – and I have. I’ve been with my brother and sister and I’ve annoyed them to no end," Markley said.