Sunday, August 8, 2010


I always find these articles interesting, we are not the only country enjoying vinyl again!


Avijit Ghosh

Back in the 1970s, upper middle-class drawing-rooms in India were considered incomplete without a record player and a cache of albums to its side. That was a time songs couldn't be downloaded by pushing a button in a retail store or on a computer keyboard. Albums were like friends for every occasion. There was no greater joy than placing an LP gently on the turntable, watching the needle settle in the groove and letting the sound of music take over.

Then cassettes, CDs and MP3s came and colonized music stores. By the early 1990s, vinyl records had vanished from drawing-rooms and receded from public memory like a forgotten melody. Vinyl junkies would still scrounge around for their fix at curio and collectors' shops and ‘chor bazaars'. But, like all outdated technology, the vinyl record seemed headed for a slow, painless death.

No longer. Taking its cue from global trends, the vinyl — made from polyvinyl chloride, hence the name — is being revived from its comatose state in India. From last October, EMI Music India has released more than 125 titles at retail outlets in Chennai, Bangalore, Kochi, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Gurgaon. Cities like Pune, Delhi and Kolkata are next on the list. The titles range from GenThen favourite Fleetwood Mac's "Rumours" and Eagles' "Hotel California", to GenNow's Arctic Monkeys ("Humbug") and Radiohead ("Pablo Honey"). More than 1,000 units are up for sale. "It feels good to have revived the format," says Anand Srinivasan, EMI's senior manager, international labels.

Music company Saregama is also exploring the market. "We are checking with stores on the demand for LPs and should have feedback in about a month, which will help us decide whether to press and import some," says its vice-president, Atul Churamani.

The vinyl's reappearance democratizes listeners' choice. But nostalgia doesn't come cheap. The new ‘old' LPs start at Rs 695 and special four-LP sets are tagged at Rs 5,995. Freebies are thrown in as a lure. Pink Floyd's "Dark Side Of The Moon" comes with posters and stickers, which are not available with the CD format. Music industry executives say prices are high because India does not have any record-pressing plant and the albums are imported. "But if sales go up, prices will come down," says Srinivasan.

Those in the business are optimistic. Mangesh Shinde, chief manager, Reliance TimeOut, says that retail response has been positive. Though vinyl occupies no more than six feet by 10 feet of space in their Gurgaon outlet, about 150 records have been sold in the past four months. "One music aficionado drives one-and-half hours from Kottayam to Kochi and buys 10 to 15 LP records each time," he says.

Global trends indicate the market has grown in the last five years. Nielsen SoundScan, a data information system that tracks sales of US music products, says 2.5 million vinyl records were sold in 2009, 33% more than in 2008 and more than any other year since the survey began in 1991. But this January, The New York Times put things in perspective by pointing out that "vinyl remains less than one per cent of the overall sales."

Nonetheless, there's a new buzz about vinyl in the west. Vinyl addicts say listening to music in the old analog format offers a more rounded, richer sound, rather than the clearer but soulless audio of the digitised mode. This has prompted record companies and musicians to woo this growing minority of vinyl-lovers. In 2008, Warner Brothers reissued Metallica's back catalogue only on vinyl. Churamani of Saregama adds, "We have released three LPs in Europe over the last couple of years via the licensing route. The latest is Charanjit Singh's "Ten Ragas To A Disco Beat", which has just come out about a month ago."

But music lovers like Chandan Mitra are not optimistic about vinyl. There's a huge market for the software, says Mitra, by which he means vinyl records of Hindi film classics and popular Western music of the 1950s and 60s. "But procuring hardware is a huge problem. Most have junked their old turntables. For those who still own one, maintenance is extremely difficult. I got mine repaired from Old Delhi but it conked out again after a fortnight. Besides, turntable needles aren't readily available," says Mitra, a newspaper editor and Rajya Sabha member.

That's a familiar complaint. Add to that a basic fact — vinyl's rivals, such as CDs, MP3s and USB ports, are more convenient and can even be played while on the move.

Yet hope floats on the "hardware" front too with retail stores planning to sell turntables soon. "We have ordered turntables from Austria. The shipment is expected to arrive mid-August. In fact, we have already booked 10 orders in Bangalore," says Shinde. They will cost anywhere between Rs 19,500 and Rs 99,000.

So can vinyl make a comeback, especially when an entire generation has grown up enjoying free, if illegal, music without guilt? It won't be easy. For too long have the young defined music by easy availability and mobility. Press a phone or iPod button and Sonu Nigam comes alive. In comparison, records and turntables seem horribly prehistoric. Churamani agrees the demand will probably be "collector-centric or a fad for the younger generation". In other words, it will be sharply niche; something that would give the serious music lover something to brag about to his MP3-listening neighbour. For Srinivasan of EMI, the jury is still out. He is waiting for October to review the annual response.

But for those who liked the old LPs, there is once again the chance to enjoy music in a different way — looking at album artwork, reading the back cover, rather than relegating music to a formless, digitised happening. For them, life is on song once again.


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