Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Sony's New Toy For Consumers

LAS VEGAS, Feb 26, 2008 /PRNewswire

Providing a clever approach for converting vinyl records to digital files, Sony today unveiled a turntable system with USB output. Got a stack of old records that you would like to get onto your iPod? Sony's PS-LX300USB may be just what you need. The turntable can be connected to any standard Windows PC via a USB cable, where your 33 1/3rpm albums or 45rpm singles can be captured and edited via the included Sound Forge Audio Studio software. Prefer to listen the old-fashioned way? The PS-LX300USB also works as a standard record player--just connect it to a receiver with a dedicated phono input (or, with the help of a phono preamp, any standard stereo input will do).

It offers a belt drive system for reduced motor noise and rotational stability, in addition to a static balance tone arm with a bonded diamond stylus for precise tracking and low record wear. A supplied moving-magnet phonograph cartridge and built-in phonograph pre-amp allows for compatibility with A/V receivers without a phonograph input.

The turntable is packaged with Sound Forge Audio Studio software for simple professional-quality audio editing and production on a home computer, allowing for MP3 playback on portable music players.

How does it compare with USB turntables from Ion and Stanton? We'll find out when the $150 PS-LX300USB hits stores in March

Album Cover Art History

Forty Years That Changed Society

by Robert Benson

In part two of our four-part discussion with Vinyl Record Day Founder and vinyl businessman Gary Freiberg (www.RockArtPictureShow.com & www.VinylRecordDay.org), we focus our attention on the history of album cover art.

CDs and computer files fail to give an artist or group a proper canvas in which to display their visual art, to help create an image of who the group is. After all, not everyone buys a record strictly for the music.

“Album cover art historically catered to recognizing some customers will purchase an album just for the cover art,” said Gary Freiberg. “Now this commercial pursuit, perhaps the most creative product packaging there has ever been, has become an American art form with significant social importance.”

“Album cover art is a unique depiction of the evolution of our society,” explained Gary. “Since it was first introduced in 1939-40 it has evolved both in format and subject matter. Initially album covers were drawn illustrations; Alex Steinweiss, the creator of the art form, has a strong European poster influence. Steinweiss covers are among the few that are “signed” by the artist; his name is typically along the right side edge on the front of the album cover he designed. In the fifties technology advancements in photography replaced illustrated covers with head shots and scenes depicting “typical” life at the time, everyone was white, wore a tie or cocktail dress and had perfect children. It was Sgt. Pepper that changed it all graphically, creativity zoomed after that release and compared to what had been, the gloves came off on what was acceptable.”

Freiberg continues, “However; regardless of the graphic method, album cover art has always depicted our social values, racial attitudes, lifestyles, fashion and political views in a way that is only seen in the art form. It reflected who we were, who we were supposed to be, and at times, led who we became.”

Discussing the roots of album cover art Gary Freiberg adds, “When Alex Steinweiss was hired by newly formed Columbia Records to be their art director, he was the first in the industry to create advertising material to promote a company’s musicians. His background was in poster art and was heavily influenced by French and German artists. Steinweiss had a logical idea; he suggested discerning different artists and their music by having art on the paper packaging in place of the plain brown paper packaging that was customary when individual records were first introduced. The brown wrapped records promoted the record company; there was no promotion for the artist or the music other than the hole in the center that allowed reading what the record was. The idea had merit since there were no record stores, records were sold in the back of appliance stores. Steinweiss argued an art cover would make the customer stop, pick up and want to look at the record. Thus a better likelihood they would buy it. One of the first attempts, a record of Beethoven ‘hits’ had an 800% increase in sales.”

“History has shown this was pure genius, not just because it revolutionized the marketing of music, but for the accidental visual recording of a society that dramatically changed in the forty year tenure of album cover art.”

Continuing, Freiberg says, “Steinweiss may have been the catalyst to change the visual representation in album cover art but it was the record companies that brought the social changes into visual form. Several record companies, Specialty Records, who gave Little Richard, Larry Williams and others their break, the Jazz label Bluenote and later Motown, were particularly influential in promoting civil rights when this country was experiencing race relation changes that had been building for years.”

“Like Specialty, Bluenote was distinctive in that they did not hide their black artists on the album cover. It was common, with some exception, for record companies to hide black artists from public view,” said Gary.

“Were they racist or just reflecting society?” Freiberg rhetorically asked. “Having a black artist on the cover was very socially controversial at the time.” He then quickly adds, “But doing so was a reflection of what was happening in society at large and was a part of the puzzle that coalesced into legislation changing racial equality.”

Asked about the influence of the respected Bluenote label, Freiberg explains what made this company revered among record companies.

“They had a very, very unique and cohesive integration; the recording, the pressing and album cover art were all combined to present the product. There leadership was not confined to who they put on the album cover. Designer Reed Miles was the primary graphic artist and he wanted to know the mood and the intent of each one of the records that Bluenote produced. His goal was to then integrate the cover art so that it would reflect and be consistent with the mood of the music. It was a step forward that other companies emulated but perhaps not until Sgt. Pepper accomplished.”

In our next article, we will discuss the Beatles’ majestic and historic Sgt. Pepper album with Gary and why it is so popular and innovative, as well its role in the historic album covers of all time.


YouTube Videos

YouTube has some fascinating videos and I will share a few that have captured my interest:




Wearing their art on their sleeve

As I have stated before, every now and then I read a great article and like to share it with my readers. Author Joe Burns was kind enough to allow me to reprint his wonderful article about picture sleeves. Joe's article originally was printed here: www.wickedlocal.com/

Wearing their art on their sleeve

By Joe Burns

YARMOUTH - It was never just for the record.

Back when vinyl was the final word in music marketing, the picture sleeves that covered the doughnut-hole 45 RPMs served as more than dust protectors; they were colorful come-ons designed not only to sell the single, but the artist as well.

Less common and more fragile than their LP cover cousins, they’ve become scarcer over the years. Ripped, discarded, soiled and written on, many didn’t make it past the ‘50s and ‘60s. Fortunately some survived and were rescued by Chip Bishop of West Dennis, who’ll be exhibiting items from his collection of pop culture artifacts starting Feb. 20 at the Cultural Center of Cape Cod in South Yarmouth.

Bishop’s introduction to record sleeve art began 51 years ago, in Woonsocket, R.I, when he was 12-years-old.

“I wanted to have a career in radio,” Bishop says, recalling his boyhood ambitions. “For Christmas I got a tiny little radio transmitter and I set up my own radio station in the basement of my parents’ home. Bishop’s AM radio signal reached about a mile, but that was far enough to find an audience, and soon he was getting requests.

“I started collecting records for my little pirate radio station, whatever I could afford. It was 79 cents a record at the time. I could afford maybe one or two a week,” Bishop says. “And that’s how it started.”

When he was 15 Bishop began hanging out at a real radio station — WWON in Rhode Island, which proved to be a boon for his record collection.

“The manager of the radio station would give me all the records that they weren’t going to play. They were an adult music station and they weren’t going to play Little Richard, Fats Domino and Elvis so he gave me the records,” Bishop says. “That led to a lifetime of collecting that was interrupted by college and getting married and raising a family. But I got back to it and started hitting yard sales and flea markets.”

Picture sleeves weren’t on Bishop’s mind when he was a boy.

“That was a bonus,” he says.

But by the 1970s Bishop’s interest in the art that accompanied the records was piqued by collectors’ magazines that began to feature them.

“It turns out that the sleeves are more valuable than the records because relatively few of them survived,” Bishop says.

At one time his collection of 45s was up to 4,000. That number has since been sliced nearly in half. The large majority of those records don’t have picture sleeves. Most are protected with the more common paper jacket with the hole in the middle to display the record label. Bishop says the less common picture sleeves came into their own in the era of the teen idols, when girls would buy records and pin the pictures up on their walls.

“It started for real with the coming of Elvis in the mid-‘50s. They were marketing tools, often times to introduce an artist who people weren’t familiar with,” Bishop says, noting that as rock and pop stars were being turned into movie stars, the sleeves were also a means of promoting movies such as “High School Confidential” (Jerry Lee Lewis) and “Where The Boy Are” (Connie Francis).

”It took off again in the mid-‘60s when The Beatles came on to the scene, because Americans didn’t know who these British lads were,” says Bishop whose collection also includes art from that period as well.

Picture sleeves didn’t end with that era, those 7-inch squares of art are still found today, protecting, new vinyl recordings, but you won’t find them in Bishop’s collection. He’ll be showing about 200 sleeves mostly from the ‘50s and the ‘60s and across a wide range of music from Little Richard to Annette and everything in between. Also on display will be a vintage record player from the era. CDs custom made by Bishop for the occasion will provide musical accompaniment.

The covers, along with the vinyl discs that they protected, provided something that, in this day of iPods and MP3s, most miss out on – the sensory experience that comes from handling a record and admiring the artwork.

“In this word of downloading music they don’t get that,” says Bishop, using a non-monetary measure in determining their value.

“They’re old friends from my youth,” he says. “Great memories from a much simpler time.”