Saturday, August 30, 2008

Another Spin for Vinyl

Vinyl records are in the news and I have posted three articles of interest, I hope you enjoy them. I love to see that the youth of our culture have decided to jump on the 'vinyl bandwagon,' and for all the right reasons. Hail Vinyl!

Another Spin for Vinyl


DURING his freshman year at Point Park University in Pittsburgh a couple years ago, James Acklin, now 20, felt lost among the social cliques on his new campus until he got to talking with a student who was in some of his classes. She seemed unusual, and it wasn’t just her look: thick-framed eyeglasses, bangs and vintage dresses. Then, one rainy day in February, the two skipped class and went to her apartment. As soon as she opened her door his instincts were confirmed: she had a turntable. So did he. They both spoke the language of vinyl.

Their bond was sealed as soon as she placed the stylus on an LP by the band Broken Social Scene, he said in an e-mail message. “There was this immediate mutual acknowledgment, like we both totally understood what we define ourselves by,” continued Mr. Acklin, who considers his turntable, a Technics model from the 1980s that belonged to an aunt, a prized possession. “It takes a special kind of person to appreciate pops and clicks and imperfections in their music.”

The ranks of vinyl devotees are growing. Lately, the anachronistic LP has experienced an unlikely spike in sales, decades after the mainstream music industry wrote off the format as obsolete. Major labels are expanding their vinyl offerings for the first time since they left records for dead nearly two decades ago, music executives said.

While the niche may still be small measured against overall sales of recorded music, the surge of interest in vinyl — and, particularly, its rising cachet among young listeners — is providing a rare glimmer of hope in a hemorrhaging industry.

“Even if the industry doesn’t do all that well going forward, we could really carve this out to be a nice profitable niche,” said Bill Gagnon, a senior vice president at EMI Catalog Marketing, who is in charge of vinyl releases. He said that people who buy vinyl nowadays are charmed by the format’s earthy authenticity.

“It’s almost a back-to-nature approach,” Mr. Gagnon said. “It’s the difference between growing your own vegetables and purchasing them frozen in the supermarket.”

The category virtually collapsed in the late 1980s with the advent of the compact disc. And despite the efforts of various subcultures of supporters — club D.J.’s, audiophiles, hardcore punks — to engineer a vinyl comeback, sales continued to wither as MP3s joined CDs as competition over the last decade. The industry had shipments of 3.4 million LPs and EPs in 1998 and just over 900,000 in 2006, according to the Recording Industry Association of America.

But shipments jumped about 37 percent in 2007, to nearly 1.3 million records. Three years ago Warner Bros. Records returned to the format when it opened, an online vinyl store stocked with reissues and new releases. At first, any vinyl release that sold 3,000 copies was considered a success, said Tom Biery, who oversees vinyl sales for the company. By comparison, the 2007 Wilco album, “Sky Blue Sky,” surpassed 14,000 copies.

Vinyl is suddenly chic, he said, even among people too young to have grown up with the familiar crackle of a needle carving through the grooves of an album. “I have friends who have younger kids — 13, 15 years old, even 10 — and all those kids want turntables,” he said. “Their parents are like: Wait a minute. What are you talking about?”

Mass-market retailers like Virgin Megastore and smaller record stores like Mondo Kim’s in Manhattan are devoting more floor space to the antiquarian 12-inch disc of late. Newbury Comics, a chain of 29 music and merchandise stores in New England, has sold 400 turntables since it started selling them in June, Duncan Browne, a company executive, said.

Despite the spike, records still represent a sliver of the music business as a whole. In 2007, for example, the industry shipped 511 million CDs. But given the declining interest in compact discs — those half-billion CDs represented a drop of more than 17 percent from the year before — any growth was welcome, executives said.

This year Capitol/EMI is in the process of reissuing its first substantial vinyl catalog in decades. Some of those albums, like “Pet Sounds” by the Beach Boys, are classic rock leviathans aimed at nostalgic baby boomers. But many are albums by contemporary artists, like Radiohead and Coldplay, who appeal to young music buyers, Mr. Gagnon said. Most are pressed on acoustically superior 180-gram vinyl, and many are packaged in gatefold jackets, so they can serve as collectors’ items for young fans who might also have the music in its digital form.

With music so abundant on the Internet, record label executives said they needed to make physical copies of albums stand out as desirable objects in order to get people to buy them. Vinyl albums are up to the task: they are exotic because of their novelty and retro allure, and more physically imposing than CDs. (And the 12.5-inch album sleeve is an ideal canvas for cover art.)

Deluxe editions are trophies of sorts for passionate fans, Mr. Biery said. In September, for example, Warner Bros. Records will release a new Metallica album, “Death Magnetic,” in a five-record box version — each of 10 songs will get its own side — for about $115.

Many new-generation fans of vinyl view LPs as branded merchandise, like band T-shirts or posters, as much as a practical means of acquiring recorded music, said Matt Wishnow, the founder of Insound, an online music and merchandise company. In the last two years vinyl sales have expanded to about 50 percent from less than 20 percent of the company’s business, he said. (The median age of its customers, he added, is 25.)

In an era when “everybody’s music collection is the same” thanks to file swapping, collecting expensive, unwieldy LPs is a conspicuous way for the superfans to advertise their cognoscenti status, he said.

“It’s a customer who wants to have vinyl in their home the same way they want books in their home,” Mr. Wishnow said. For such a customer, he added, the message is, “ ‘When I can have all the music in the world in the palm of my hand, what does it say about me that I spend $15 to $20 for this format that is a pain to store and move and is easily damaged?’ ”

Young vinyl collectors said digital technology had made it easy for anyone — even parents — to acquire vast, esoteric music collections. In that context, nothing seems hipper than old-fashioned inconvenience.

“The process of taking the record off the shelf, pulling it out of the sleeve, putting the needle on the record, makes for a much more intense and personal connection with the music because it’s more effort,” said R. J. Crowder-Schaefer, 21, a senior at New York University who said he became a serious vinyl disciple a few years ago.

Along the way, devotees often cross paths with their parents, who are still upgrading their audio technology. Meghan Galewski, another student at New York University, bought her father, now 56, an iPod for a recent birthday. He bought her a turntable for hers.

“He thought it was stupid that I wanted this old technology,” Ms. Galewski, 21, said. She had to tutor him on how to use his iPod, then rifled through his stacks of records from the ’60s and ’70s to appropriate gems like his original “Woodstock” LP set.

But for Corinne Monaco, 17, who lives in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, her interest in vinyl provides a way to bond with her parents. Afternoons on the sofa listening to Jethro Tull and Jimi Hendrix albums with her father, she said, give her “a chance to see where he was coming from, with the music of his youth.”

INDEED, records force children of the digital age to listen to music in the rigid manner of previous generations, said Scott Karoly, 21, a student at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a recent vinyl convert.

No longer can they use a click wheel to sample songs from Miley Cyrus, Nas, Black Sabbath, John Coltrane and the Scissor Sisters within minutes. With vinyl, listeners cede control to the artist. They let the music wash over them, in the original order of songs, at the original pace. “I have a ton of music on iTunes,” Mr. Karoly said, “but with that music I get A.D.D. really quick. With my LPs, it’s like reading a book as opposed to clicking through articles on Yahoo.”

“When you put on a record,” he added, “it’s an event.”


Vintage vinyl- 200,000 records donated to SU

By Melissa Daniels

Of the many labels attached to Syracuse University, being an artistic epicenter might not be too high on the list. But the addition of more creative hallmarks is pushing SU toward becoming synonymous with arts and culture studies.

In early July, SU received the generous gift of 200,000 78 rpm records from the collection of Morton "Morty" J. Savada, owner of the renowned Records Revisited store in New York City, as announced by local and national media outlets.

The monetary worth of the collection totals about $1 million, but the value it brings to SU is immeasurable, said Dean of Libraries Suzanne Thorin.

"These aren't just for music people," Thorin said. "You can see in political science or history or in arts and science where you would want to look at music and poetry. It really resonates with a lot of the departments in the university."

The records, currently stored downtown at The Warehouse Gallery, will be part of the Belfer Audio Laboratory and Archive, a division of SU devoted to the study of recorded sound. Belfer is now home to the second largest collection of 78s, surpassed only by the Library of Congress.

The Savada collection catalogs a wide variety of early 20th century music - mostly jazz and big band. A variety of blues, broadcast, comedy, country, folk, gospel, Hawaiian, Latin, musical theater, polka and spoken word recordings make up the entire collection. Popular artists included in the collection include legends like Tommy Dorsey, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Benny Goodman.

But Savada's specialty was finding rarities, making the collection a field of hidden treasures for those studying music and society during the early 20th century.

Recording dates range from 1895 to the 1950s.

Melinda Dermody, head of the arts and humanities department in the library, said Savada's collection is an asset because of not only its size but also the unique variety of material.

"He had a very good time collecting in the heart of New York City," she said. "The opportunities that came to him with his reputation, with the location of the store, allowed him to get a lot of wonderful recordings."

Savada founded Records Revisited in 1977. He set up the store on the previous site of his family's clothing manufacturing company, just across from the Empire State Building in Manhattan.

The store was his life, said his youngest son Alan, who helped build the shelves in the store the summer before it opened.

Running the store made Savada an expert on jazz and popular 20th century music.

Throughout his time running Records Revisited, Savada often worked with filmmakers who were looking for a particular piece, including multiple times with director Woody Allen.

One year, when he took his son Alan to a Yankees game as part of a birthday ritual, he stopped and chatted with a friend of his - a friend he introduced to his son as Count Basie, legendary jazz pianist and bandleader.

After decades running the store, Savada became unable to spend long days working the way he used to.

"He slowed down the last couple of years," Alan said. "He used to go in there at 9, then he would go in at 10."

In January 2006, Savada underwent surgery that left him unable to work the same long hours.

"He tried to go back afterward, but he never could," Alan said.

Savada passed away in his home in Harrison, N.Y., on Feb. 11 at age 85.

Savada's eldest son, Eli, said SU was chosen as the sole benefactor of the collection because his father was familiar with Belfer through the Association for Recorded Sound Collection. Eli's daughter, Shira, graduated from SU in 2005.

"He didn't want to sell it," Eli said of his father's wishes. "And he didn't want it split up."

When the records arrived in July, the first box opened by Thorin held recordings of poet Carl Sandburg. The second box held a record from Julliard-trained pianist Hazel Scott, who became the first African-American woman to have her own television show in 1950.

"The third record box I opened had Duke Ellington and his band," she said. "On the record jackets there were little pencil markings by, I assume, Morty Savada, saying who the individual musicians in the band were. He used to use Records Revisited as a place for people to come and talk about the recordings, so he knew who was in Duke Ellington's band at the time."

Theo Cateforis, a music history professor at SU, said the collection amplifies what has long been the strength of the library. Belfer already had an extensive collection of pre-World War II and early Americana recordings.

"One of the attractions with a collection like this is you will find a lot of recordings that have not been released," he said. "You can't get them on CD, can't get them on MP3. They're recordings which really are historic."

The records themselves are pieces of history; 78s are thick, heavy records that are larger than the 33 rpms more often seen in music stores or on public display. Together, the records in the Savada collection weigh approximately 60 tons. It took six Fed Ex trucks to deliver them from the store in New York.

Studying the records is multidisciplinary: there's the music, the way it was recorded, and the historical context, Cateforis said.

"This is an institution where you can think of a number of different programs and people who can benefit from something like this," he said.

SU has been receiving its share of gifts this year, with the one-year anniversary of the Billion Dollar Campaign kickoff approaching. Coincidentally, Belfer was granted $250,000 from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in March, meant specifically for cataloguing 78s.

The collection adds to the campaign dollars, Thorin said, and helps Belfer gain national visibility.

"Paths are not straight in getting gifts," she said. "It takes awhile. One thing leads to another, and if you're lucky and have good relationships with people you will bring something as wonderful as this."


Record labels, stores make room for vinyl

By Jed Gottlieb

Jed Gottlieb writes about music, film and pop culture for local, regional and national publications.

Sound matters.

It’s a slogan every record label should endorse. But in the present digital era of CDs and mp3s, sound quality has tanked as labels crank the volume and wash out the dynamic range audiophiles loved about vinyl. Indie labels kept putting out wax by underground artists long after the majors tried to kill off vinyl, but you were out of luck if you wanted to hear that warm bottom end vinyl gave Led Zeppelin, ZZ Top and countless other classic artists whose LPs went out-of-print during the CD boom.

Now, with the second coming of vinyl, the “Sound matters” slogan has been picked up again by Warner Bros. Records to promote a massive slate of big 12-inch reissues. In a strange everything-old-is-new-again twist, Warners and the other desperate majors are sinking money into the format they couldn’t get rid of fast enough in the ’80s.

Now Warners has launched an online vinyl store ( as part of its fresh commitment to re-pressing many of its long-out-of-print catalog albums. Of course, committing to vinyl isn’t hard when obsessive fans are snapping up big-ticket sets: both the $30 double-album package of Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” and $60 three-disc box of Cream’s “Royal Albert Hall: London” sold out their initial pressings.

“Selling 3,500 copies of the ‘Royal Albert Hall’ set is pretty amazing,” said Warner Bros./Reprise Records VP Tom Biery, who’s in charge of the company’s vinyl initiative. “But it’s not about making huge profits, because vinyl sales are still a small fraction of overall sales. (About one percent of current music sales are vinyl). It’s about branding us. People at this big record company are really committed to having things sound right, sound great. And we want people to know.”

Next month the label plans to rollout a 50th anniversary archive series including James Taylor’s “Mud Slide Slim,” the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Blood Sugar Sex Magik” and more.

Following Warner’s lead with two equally impressive re-issue campaigns are Capitol/EMI and Sony BMG’s Legacy records. On Tuesday, Capitol/EMI launches its “From The Capitol Vaults” series with previously out-of-print-on-vinyl titles including the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds,” Steve Miller Band’s “Greatest Hits 1974-78” and the first six Radiohead studio albums. In mid-September, Legacy rolls out reissued platters by Charles Mingus, Boston, Johnny Cash and more.

“Who knows why people are interested in Blue Oyster Cult again?” asked Legacy A&R director Darren Salmieri. “Maybe it’s Guitar Hero? Who knows? What we do know is that people are craving better sound quality and they want these core classics.”

What began as a fringe trend in small, independent record shops is on the verge of coming above ground. Even Best Buy - which has slashed CD shelf space in the past decade - has started stocking vinyl in some stores. It’s a move that shows vinyl’s 37percent sales spike in 2007 has finally trickled down to major retail chains.

“These stores don’t have extra space for anything,” said Universal/Motown sales VP Wayne Chernin. “So if they’re giving vinyl room, they really think it’s going to be profitable.”

If the world’s biggest record companies and Best Buy are onboard, can it be long before Target and Wal-Mart jump on the LP boom? EMI A&R and Creative VP Jane Ventom says yes.

“I hope (to see vinyl in more chains) but I don’t think it’s going to happen,” said Ventom. “I’m not even convinced this trend will go on much longer. The numbers just aren’t that significant. That said, we’ll happily take the sales we can get. There is that small, steady customer demand for vinyl, and we want to fill that demand whatever it is.”

Because for some people, sound really does matter.