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Photo by Barry Courter / Ben Vanderhart opened Yellow Racket Records in August of 2020 specializing in newly pressed records by new and old artists.

Vinyl records sales continued to set record numbers in 2021, according to a report on axios.com, and when Ben Vanderhart decided to get in on the action more than a year ago, he wanted to focus on a market that wasn't being served locally — newly pressed vinyl records. It has proven to be a smart move, despite the pandemic forcing him to put on hold some of the in-store promotional ideas he has.

"You can buy previously loved records at McKay or at an antique mall, but even there finding the really good ones can be hard because people tend to keep the ones they like," he said. "The good ones, like 'What's Going On,' who is going to give that up?"

Vanderhart's Yellow Racket Records on West Main Street in Chattanooga sells the Marvin Gaye album, as well as works by The Beatles and other classic rock artists, but they are newly pressed and sealed. The store also sells newly recorded albums by artists like Taylor Swift, Radiohead and local groups Call Me Spinster and Strung Like a Horse.

While vinyl record sales have increased every year for the past 15 years, the numbers are nowhere near where they were in '70s before the advent of digital formats and online services like Spotify and Apple Music. And, not every new release is put out on vinyl — nor should it be, Vanderhart said.

But there is a demand for new vinyl from the right artists.

"You have to look at your fans and the demographics," he said. "People come in all the time asking for [K-pop superstars] BTS, but they don't put stuff out on vinyl."

He said new works by country, independent and classic rock artists sell best.

Top 10 Artists of 2021 based on sales at Yellow Racket Records

1. Radiohead 147

2. Taylor Swift 133

3. The Beatles 130

4. Sturgill Simpson 121

5. Sufjan Stevens 119

6. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard 114

7. Phoebe Bridgers 107

8. MF Doom 91

9. Grateful Dead 88

10. John Prine 86

"You have to ask yourself, is my demographic interested in vinyl?" Vanderhart said.

He said most of the bigger vinyl printing shops will only print orders of 500 or more and that anything less causes the asking price for a record to be $50 or more.

Rock 'n' roll legend Mitch Ryder, best known for his days with the Detroit Wheels and their hit "Devil With a Blue Dress On," recently finished recording a dozen new original songs here in Chattanooga and said he plans to release it on vinyl. Ryder has lived in the Chattanooga area for several years and regularly toured overseas pre-pandemic. He has contracted to sell it only on vinyl in Germany, Switzerland and Austria with plans to do so in the United States, as well.

"I can't tell you why the general population has embraced vinyl again, but as an artist, the quality is enhanced," Ryder said. "Even though vinyl costs a lot to manufacture, it's worth it."

He said the entire vinyl experience is better for the listener.

Top Selling Albums of 2021 at Yellow Racket Records

1. “Evermore” - Taylor Swift

2. “Shore” - Fleet Foxes

3. “Cowboy Bebop” Soundtrack - Seatbelts

4. “Copycat Killer” EP - Phoebe Bridgers

5. “Stranger in the Alps” - Phoebe Bridgers

6. “Charlie Brown Christmas” - Vince Guaraldi

7. “Cuttin’ Grass Vol. 2” - Sturgill Simpson

8. “Whoa!” - Strung Like a Horse

9. “Punisher” - Phoebe Bridgers

10. “Star-Crossed” - Kacey Musgraves

"For the most part, if you have a turntable, you have a quality setup already, so it's going to sound better than on your phone or iPad. You also have the liner notes and you can read who's on the record, when it was recorded and where."

Vanderhart said fans have proven they want music on vinyl and that his shop sold more than 17,000 units last year. About 750 of those were special orders, which means the rest were from people who entered the store either looking for something specific or to just browse.

When he opened in August of 2020, Vanderhart said he had plans to feature in-person performances and signings by local and touring bands, and he has created a lounge-like feel with couches and a coffee shop, but much of that has been put on hold because of the pandemic.

"We did have a few events like the Strung Like a Horse album release party," he said. "That's why they are on our list of best-selling albums. They hung out for four or five hours, played some songs and signed albums. They sold 30 or 35 that day, and it continues to sell out."

Local group Call Me Spinster also did an in-store performance for the release of self-titled debut EP at the shop.

"I expect to see more of that side of the business this year," Vanderhart said.

Contact Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6354.

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