Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The Vinyl Revolution (Again)

I overheard a report on Marketplace that CD sales are dropping, but vinyl sales have nearly doubled over the last year. The digital age has finally caught up to CD's. Soon they will go the way of the 8-track, LaserDisc, and HD DVD. However, the more important part of the story is the part about vinyl sales souring. Music fans are turning to vinyl in a digital age to fulfill that primal need that cannot be satisfied with more advanced technologies.

And why not? No longer are there the problems often associated with vinyl: portability and availability. The ability to take your music with you has been solved in two ways. First, many record labels (mainly indie, primarily Merge and Saddle Creek) are including codes for download with their vinyl releases. Now one may buy a record and download the album at no additional cost. The second way vinyl has been digitized is through the invention of several affordable turntables that convert the music to digital files. Sure, you may not have one of these turntables yet (if you have a turntable at all), but someone you know will have one soon. Then it will only be a matter of time before everyone is over at said friend's house converting their records to mp3 files.

Availability is really only an issue for true music fans who seek vinyl, but that may change. Indies have long championed vinyl, but record stores who still carry vinyl are either dying out or only stocking a couple of copies in this format. No need to worry. Online outlets such as Insound sell nearly every album on vinyl. Plus, with the combination of greater demand and people like my uncle who sold off his extensive collection of 70's and 80's rock and punk records, used record shops and eBay should be well-stocked for years to come in vintage vinyl.

Current demand is even beginning to outpace current production. Take Animal Collective's much anticipated Merriweather Post Pavilion. The band opted to release the vinyl version (with digital download) weeks before the CD is due in stores. My copy was supposed to arrive yesterday. Instead, I received an email from Insound explaining that they were already out of copies and that there will be a delay on my shipment.

Not to worry, I have an order consisting of albums re-issued on vinyl that should arrive by the end of the week. This is another thing bands and labels are doing: they are re-releasing albums that either never received the vinyl treatment or have regained cult status in a time of a vinyl comeback. This gives me a chance to revisit many of my favorites on vinyl hear them through new ears.

Personally, I prefer to listen to an album on vinyl. First of all, the sound is better. Sure, CD's and digital recordings are sharper and more precise, but you can't feel the music the way you can when the needle is dropped over the groove and it hisses and cracks at every empty moment. Secondly, one is forced to listen to an album in its entirety, or at least a half at a time. Artists record albums for a reason. The intention is not for the listener to skip around and only choose a few songs they like. Enjoy the whole thing the way way you sip a good scotch or puff a quality cigar.

I have made a commitment to share music with my daughter using the format. Of course, my current vinyl collection is about half of my CD collection, but that is changing. I've recently spent a lot of time on eBay scoring albums by Archers of Loaf and Pavement as well as an old Silver Jews 7". Insound now has a vinyl newsletter that updates me on the release dates for vinyl, new and old. So far, all my music purchases in '09 have been on vinyl. I plan to continue this practice throughout the year.

So, go dust off your old records, head down to the local record store (if there still is one where you live), or buy that record player at the garage sale down the block. It's time to join the vinyl revolution. Do it fast. I hear we're running out of oil and we can't make records without oil.

In the meantime, tell me about your vinyl love. Do you have a record that still takes you back to a better time as soon as you hear the needle on the groove?

Do you have a turntable? Do you have a turntable that converts records to mp3's? If so, can I borrow it?

Do you have a record that you're looking forward to buying in the coming year? Is there a great store where you purchase all your records? Or is this the first time you realized people still listened to records?

Whatever your connection, I'm all ears...or eyes as the case may be. Tell me in the comments what place vinyl has in your life.


bdegenaro said...

I still mostly buy CDs (a lot of indie rock, local Detroit bands I like, older soul and funk), and use i-tunes for filling in gaps ("I've always wanted that Misfits song," etc.) or buying new songs that come from full-length CDs I know I'll never buy (e.g., that Estelle/Kanye West duet).

BUT...I also have an old turntable and a pretty decent record collection. A lot of first-wave punk, 70s and 80s pop (Cass Elliot solo albums), Aretha Franklin. Some from when I was a kid (Chipmunk of my favorite all-time records that I wouldn't dream of listening to in any other format), some bought at garage sales and flea markets over the years.

When I taught at Miami of Ohio, we used to go to loads of estate sales, auctions, etc. Used to get a lot of really, really cheap records that way. Scouring flea markets and similar sites for records is, for me, one of the joys of the vinyl world.

One thing I've noticed at flea markets in particular is that, in certain regions, it seems like every vinyl collection has a certain title. For example, at damn-near every place in southwest Ohio I ever broused old records, there was at least one copy of Genesis' Abacab. No idea how to explain that one. On the other side of the state (I grew up in Youngstown), you'll always find every friggin' Michael Stanley Band title, which makes a little more sense because they're from Cleveland.

Not sure I could get into buying new titles on vinyl. For me, CDs just make more sense right now: small, easy to convert to mp3s. Though, as you say, the latter is becoming true for records as well. Good post...I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this.

GE said...

Ah, vinyl. I too love it. The sound. The experience. The artwork. Guess who doesn't love it? My wife. She seems to think records take up a lot of valuable real estate. (Keep in mind we live in a NYC apartment.) Most of her threats to banish them to the basement end with, "Besides, you don't even listen to them." Well, she's sorta right. I do put a record on every now and then. But the ease of digital streaming is hard to ignore. But, I'll fight to the end to keep them on the shelf. In the meantime, has anyone tried any of those turntables that convert to digital. I'm very curious...

douglas said...

I claim to have haulted my collecting years ago, but this week I added original pressings of Prince's Sign o' the Times (w/ the original sticker on the cover) and T.rex's The Slider. Be careful w/ some of these reissues b/c they are remastered from a digital source instead of the original analog tapes---for much cheaper and much better sound, it's sometimes better to seek a used copy. A couple of resources for audiophiles who critique new reissues, check out these sites....

BRIAN said...

I've been collecting records for about 5 years and damnit if I'm not addicted. I can't walk into a record without walking out with at least one under my arm. I don't know if you've found this, but I've noticed that there are definitely some albums and artists that I really search for on vinyl but rarely come up on my iPod.

Have you seen this yet? I really wish that I had the money to buy this guy's stash.

Juliet said...

I am a certifiable vinyl junkie. It's a serious addiction. I've been collecting since I was about 13, but back then the only things available were older albums. Once the indie vinyl revolution started revving up (sometime early in my college years), I was there on the frontlines.

Here in Dayton, the place to get new vinyl is Gem City Records. For used records, I generally start at Feathers, a local antique store with a very good selection curated by a friend of mine. I've made trips to Columbus to Magnolia Thunderpussy and down to Cinci to Shake It.

...and this is probably the part that makes me seem a bit crazy, obsessive: I have in fact, planned vacations around record store trips.

Here's an interesting tidbit that shocks most: I actually play A LOT of vinyl on the radio. I've been extremely blessed to work at stations that understand the value of keeping turntables in their booths.

I haven't gotten one of those new fancy converter turntables yet for lack of funding. However, most of what I'm buying new comes with those handy dandy mp3 coupons. And actually I have the ability to convert to mp3 at the station so I suppose a digi turntable hasn't been really high on the shopping list just yet...but someday I'm sure I'll get one. A bunch of my fellow vinyl lovers around here have them and seem to really like them.

comoprozac said...

Those are all great comments. Thanks everyone.