Tables are turning at a textured, nostalgic decibel in downtown Braselton, harking the open doors of Carden Records — North Georgia’s newest source for new and used vinyl, CDs and cassette tapes.
The namesake of owner John Carden, the record store is the first of eight tenants to officially open inside The 1904 formerly known as the Braselton Brothers department store.
“I told my wife, ‘Vinyl’s coming back; now would be a good time to figure out how to open a store,’” he said. “Younger kids are getting into vinyl now; it’s kind of cool to watch them do the same thing that I do even now, listening to vinyl instead of streaming music.”
While streaming is convenient here in the digital age, Carden noted there’s a prevailing resistance to those platforms in favor of supporting artists’ livelihood.
“If you pay attention to music and the music industry, artists don’t make anything from streaming — it’s like pennies on the dollar that the actual artist gets paid,” he said. “So I think fans are starting to figure out that if they buy physical copies of music again, it supports the artist that they like more so than picking up your phone and paying them a percentage of a dollar for every time you play a song. Even if they don’t go home and listen to a CD or vinyl over and over and over again and they still stream, they’ve taken that extra step to make sure that the artist gets compensated for his or her art.”
With about 2,500 records comprising his personal collection, Carden himself is a key benefactor.
“The crackle and the pop of a vinyl record is kind of my thing,” Carden said. “My parents always listened to vinyl — that was their thing. When CDs came out, my mom kind of refused to transition for as long as she could. The quality wasn’t the same.”
Carden’s own connection to music was cemented with his first concert at age 14: Metallica.
“When I saw Metallica the very first time, that was my defining music moment,” Carden said. “You listen to this band, but then you figure out who led them to where they are, and who led that band to where they were and who their influences were and who they got their sound from. Then you start digging into subcultures of music from people that you started listening to.”
As far as genres go, Carden’s horizons are broad. He nurses a “huge” soft spot for 1980s English pop duo Wham! And George Michael solo, Turnpike Troubadours, Sturgill Simpson, Billy Strings, Metallica and heavy metal at large and an occasional jazz track. Owing to the influence of his parents and grandparents, he also steers toward country music patriarchs Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings, bluegrass and Neil Diamond.
According to Carden, the powers of music aren’t just cross-generational, but cathartic, a melodic balm to see the burdened listener through to the other side.
“I think anybody that loves music will tell you that there was a time when a certain group, a certain singer got them through something, and then there was another time when a certain artist made them happy after whatever else happened,” Carden said. “You can remember things in your life just because of a certain song. I can remember music that my grandfather used to listen to and what he was doing when he was listening to it, music my dad used to listen to and what he was doing. My mom used to clean house and play Neil Diamond at the loudest decibel.”
Stocking a modern-day record store with an eclectic mix of vinyl hasn’t been without its challenges and hiccups, Carden said, as the industry at large addresses supply issues following the 2020 fire at Apollos Masters Corporation that destroyed a large percentage of the giant’s lacquer plates used in vinyl production.
Another hang-up comes on the heels of more and more well-known artists returning to vinyl, which takes precedence over pressing records for smaller, independent artists melomaniacs may be itching to get their hands on.
“Adele pressed 500,000 copies of her new album right off the bat and companies that press (vinyl), that was their main focus: to get her album out,” Carden said. “When that happens, you can get plenty of her albums or a Garth Brooks album, but then something smaller that somebody else is looking for, you may wait for it three or four months.”
If a customer asks for a specific album, Carden said he’ll try his best to find it.
“I just have to get what I can and be upfront with people,” he said. “In every industry now, it seems like people are experiencing some kind of shortage, whether it be in the restaurant business, staffing issues, food supply issues — you just have to be honest with people and say, ‘Look, I can get it, I just don’t know when.’”
The good news, Carden said, is that vinyl sales are on the upswing.
At 42 million units, vinyl sales in 2021 doubled from the year before, according to a report from the Los Angeles Times, and the demand is only projected to increase.
“They project vinyl again to outsell itself to the prior year — ‘22 will be a better year than ‘21,” Carden said. “My distributor assures me there’s nothing on the horizon that would lead him to believe that anything (negative) is going to happen.”
Soundwaves of connection
With the shop up and running, Carden intends to offer a space where the bond between music and humanity can be further forged. He envisions hosting intimate acoustic performances, creating an avenue through which 20 to 30 people can connect with the stories behind the musicians’ art form.
“I have friends that are musicians, tour managers, booking agents; ultimately what I would like to do is give them a spot to come in and say, ‘Hey, maybe we’re not releasing a new album, maybe we’re releasing a new song, maybe we’re testing the waters to see what’s going to happen,’” Carden said. “When they’re on a bigger stage, they don’t have time to tell those stories and let’s be honest, songwriters are storytellers. So give them a spot where they can come share those stories.”
From Carden’s vantage point, music also wields the power to shore up common ground between its listeners, whatever walks of life they’re on — a phenomenon he feels Carden Records will further punctuate.
“Take a concert for instance — you have a venue like the Georgia Theatre, you have 5,000 friends that are in the same spot because they love music,” he said. “Music in itself brings people together. In a record store, you’re already buying music, so you connect with people that love that same kind of music.”
Carden said he searched in Commerce and Hoschton, where he resides, for a place to house his record store, but downtown Braselton proved the best fit for his vision.
“Braselton is unique,” he said. “This building in particular has tons of history. It’s kind of got a nostalgic feel. Put a record store in a place that feels nostalgic and it stays that way.”
Carden said the store will adopt regular business hours when The 1904 is fully occupied. For now, while foot traffic is on the lighter side, he aims to be on site Tuesday-Sunday afternoons, but advises customers to check the Carden Records Facebook page or call 678-437-5871 to ensure someone is there before hopping in the car, especially if they’re traveling from outside of town.
“Come by and talk — we’ll always talk music, we’ll always give you our opinion on somebody you should listen to,” Carden said.