Last semester, Professor Ana Goni-Lessan gave her students at the University of Houston an assignment: Produce a short documentary about something that matters to you.
The class was split into threes, and it didn’t take long for Karen Favela, a media production senior and longtime music lover, and two of her classmates to decide on their topic: Vinyl. She, fellow media production senior Will Lindsey and creative writing senior Daniel Maman set out to learn about Houston record stores and the customers who frequent them.
“I bought my first record at 19, even before I owned a record player,” Favela says. “It was at a concert, and I wanted something to get autographed after the show, and a record seemed like a good collectible. Shortly after, I researched record players and speakers and have been a vinyl fan since.”
Favela’s record collection is still in its infancy – comprising roughly 25 records – but her affinity for the vintage format is shared by much of her generation.
“I embrace the convenience of streaming, but when my favorite bands release new music, I get it on vinyl,” she says. “[With vinyl] you get the whole package: the art, the quality and the album as a whole body of work, from start to finish and in order.”
Favela grew up playing the cello in an orchestra, and says she's currently learning to play guitar. As a musician herself, she was drawn to the nuance offered on vinyl records.
“I think that when you have a musical background, you are kind of nerdier and more of an ‘active listener,’ which vinyl easily lends itself to,” she says, noting that the owners of Heights Vinyl and Cactus Music moonlight as musicians and DJs.
Owing to their proximity to one another and diverse catalogs, Favela and her classmates decided to highlights these two stores alongside Vinal Edge in their short documentary.
“They should be in competition, but they all have their niche,” Favela says of the three record shops. “Cactus has a general collection and attracts the younger crowd with their in-stores; Heights Vinyl with their funk and soul; and Vinal Edge has their extended rock collection.”
Along with many people interviewed in her documentary, Favela agrees that some music just sounds better on record. She points to one of her favorite albums – Death Cab for Cutie’s Narrow Stairs – to demonstrate her preference.
“It’s very production-heavy and was recorded on tape and tracked live in the studio as a whole band,” she says of the group’s sixth studio album. “I may be crazy but you can pick up on that.”
In 2012, the Pacific Northwest indie-rockers released a Record Store Day Exclusive that featured a full orchestra, which came with a free MP3 download. Favela says the digital version pales in comparison to what she heard on vinyl, but preferring one format doesn’t mean she has written the other off.
“I think most record collectors can be Spotify subscribers, because at the end of the day, if you love a song or album so much, you will want to listen to it anywhere,” she says. “Spotify lets you consume and discover new music and curate playlists with such ease, so I don’t fault subscribers.
“However, vinyl fans are the ones who pay for the art because they care about the artists and the work that was put into creating an album," she adds.
In the group’s documentary, Alexandria Chargois of Heights Vinyl speaks of records as an especially honest form of music. Favela agrees and thinks the vinyl sales will continue to rise if artists continue to add goodies to their records.
“Fans want the limited editions,” she says. “I think fans want something special and tangible in a world where there is so much of everything.”
What began as an undertaking in the finances of the three shops turned into a tribute to the art form and community at large, making for a more affectionate documentary than was originally intended.
The three students spent three months’ worth of weekends making the film and, during that time, each of them developed a kinship with the record stores they visited.
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“I hope this little video convinces people to try vinyl and fall in love with their local record shops,” Favela says. “My groupmate Daniel loved Vinal Edge so much, he said he wanted to start a band just so he could have an in-store performance there.”
Just so long as he presses his music to vinyl, that should be fine.
Favela, Lindsey and Maman's seven-minute film is below. Enjoy.