Houston Record Convention Returns to Bull Vinyl Market

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At this point, the struggles that the record industry have been facing are well documented. Physical album sales are on the decline, and overall album sales fell 9% in 2014. Even digital album sales decreased at a similar rate over the course of last year, due in most part to the rise of streaming services like Spotify.

But olne area where album sales have been increasing is vinyl, where sales increased by 52 percent in 2014 to more than 3 million records sold. While it's nowhere near the volume that sales were back in the pre-CD era of the '70s, it represents a steady and robust growth area in an industry in decline.

Record collectors in Houston have a wealth of great stores to pick from, from larger shops like Cactus Music to smaller, more specialized ones like Vinal Edge Records and Sound Exchange. This Sunday offers another chance for local vinyl enthusiasts to get their fix. The Houston Record Convention, which is put on by Dave Ritz six times a year, will put on its first show of 2014 at the Hilton Houston Southwest.

Ritz, who has been putting on the show since 1978, expects the show to pull in about 3-400 people, drawing in dealers from all around the Southwest, from places as far as Wichita, Ks. and Mobile, Ala., and collectors all the way from Europe. The trajectory of the show has more or less resembled that of vinyl sales over the past few decades.

"We went through a phase back when vinyl was king, when we were pulling 500-600 people a show," Ritz says. "It slowly went down and vinyl collectors were all old guys."

After spending some years selling records wholesale, Ritz worked to build a community of collectors from Beaumont, Corpus Christi, College Station, and other places who became regulars at these shows. Now, the vinyl resurgence has made the conventions more popular again.

"It's changed in the last couple years. Records have become kind of hip," Ritz says.

For those looking to check it out, the show, the collection should be fairly varied. According to Ritz, a good amount of genres are represented, including blues, country, metal, Latin, comedy, punk, and rare world music. The show focuses less on contemporary music and more on hard-to-find, more valuable collectibles like Texas psych records and punk records pressed on smaller labels in limited runs.

"You'll see a lot of rare Beatles stuff like the butcher cover, which is probably the biggest collectible," Ritz says. "There's rare Led Zepellin stuff, and jazz records priced around $300. A guy at the last show bought 3 prog-rock records for over $3000."

Ritz's ties to the Houston music scene go far deeper than just the convention. He was the owner of Infinite Records, a record store in lower Montrose that Ritz ran for around 15 years before closing down in 1995. He originally started the convention as a vehicle to promote the store and sell more products. He also owned a video production company called Video Works that would film concerts, and worked with artists like the Dead Kennedys, Replacements, and Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Ritz had many reasons for shutting down the store in 1995. According to Ritz, the record companies were undercutting smaller stores by offering lower prices to big chain stores to a point that places like his couldn't compete. Between that and concerns about the safety of his neighborhood, he decided to pull the plug.

"After 15 years of doing the store, I had enough of it," Ritz says. "At that point, I was going to shoot somebody or somebody was going to shoot me."

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From there, Ritz went into wholesale before eventually leaving the music industry completely, his only remaining ties being the convention. Disillusioned with the industry, he's now content with providing a space for people to gather and find deals. Where he used to do shows around the country, Ritz keeps it local now, and expresses an affinity for the record stores in Houston that remain.

"I remember Quinn [Bishop], who owns Cactus Music, when he was shopping at my store as a teenager," he says.

As for his own personal taste, Ritz has reached the point where he's seen so many records that he's just looking for something he hasn't seen before; his collection includes country, bluegrass, jazz, and all kinds of rock. One of his most treasured records is an acetate, a one-of-a-kind metal disc made by dubbing a master recording, of a Marx Brothers show at the old Shamrock Hotel in Houston.

For Sunday, Ritz is hoping for a good turnout and for people to make new discoveries. He implores readers that the convention is not just for hardcore collectors, saying he often finds people coming by to take a chance on new music, buying cheap records in bulk. For Ritz, the convention is as much for them as it is for the diehard collectors, a place for people who love music to find something they may treasure.

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