LPs Today and Tomorrow: The Vinyl Frontier:
As a youngster
growing up in Milford, Michigan, my daily routine would include hightailing
it home after my third grade classes to beat my sister to the front door. With
a window of perhaps 30 minutes before my older sibling arrived, I would sneak
into her room and delicately remove The Beatles Abbey Road from
her collection of pop and folk LPs, place it on her BSR turntable, lower the
tonearm, and quickly get lost in the sounds.
Even on her small
system and $50 turntable, I could sense the magic in the grooves. The sister
unit would soon arrive, by which time I would be out and goofing off, but for
those 30 minutes it was just me and The Beatles, beginning a lifelong relationship
with vinyl, gear, and Rock and Roll.
Would I have become just as entranced had my clandestine endeavors involved
dropping a CD into a crummy-sounding (by comparison) Walkman? Well, probably,
yes, but I would be infinitely poorer for the lack of vinyl experience. As the
record spun and the sounds flew through the air and into my prepubescent head,
I examined the cover art for clues to deepen the listening experience and expand
my quest for more and more sounds. Cover art was a big part of the vinyl relationship,
just as maintaining its precious grooves and album sleeve would become as I
fell further under its spell. Assembling a quality stereo to enjoy the music
with more vigor would also become a life-changing and expensive part of the
That love of the sound, feel, and physical allure of vinyl (not to mention its
easy on the pocket costs), both in 33 and 45RPM formats, is why vinyl maintains
market share even in this digitally-dominated era.
I think there will always be a market for vinyl, says Scott Wenzel,
producer for Connecticut-based Mosaic Records. There are enough people
who say, Why would we buy CDs? It sounds so much better on LP. They
will always want it, whether they have a CD player or not. They look for LPs
at stores, ebay and garage sales.
With the rise of vinyl-espousing hip-hop and electronica DJs, as well as the
graying of the baby boomers and the discovery of 70s music on old vinyl,
often by the children of those boomers, the 33 record has tenaciously clung
to consumers fingers long after the major record companies pronounced
the compact disc as perfect sound forever and the supposed end of
vinyls decades - long reign.
Well, vinyls reign is over, for the most part. But though it is finished
as a mass-marketing tool, the LP has gone underground to those who truly love
and understand what the medium is about. Not only have many records never been
reissued on CD, most vinyl aficionados claim that even a relatively inexpensive
turntable can produce better sound than CD. Vinyl sound is easy on the ears,
instrumental and vocal images are larger as they emanate from the speakers,
and the overall sound is more natural and lifelike. Gone are the piercing treble
and unnaturally stolid bass of the CD. Playing records also requires more care
and feeding, but that is part of the Zen of LP maintenance, with its concomitant
Just as there are more turntable (and tube amp) manufacturers than ever, there
are a number of record companies dedicated to creating and reissuing music in
LP and even 45 formats. Not only are well-heeled audiophiles heeding the vinyl
call, but music lovers of all ages are discovering original LPs and the rich
sound of old favorites on the original vinyl vehicle. Newer vinyl labels move
only five to six thousand copies of their titles, but that indie status is part
of the allure.
Our most recent LP set is Miles Davis at the Blackhawk, Mosaics
Wenzel says. And we have a lot of Miles back catalog on LP including
In A Silent Way, Bitches Brew, the 55 to 58 quintet, as well
as Teddy Wilson on Verve, Stan Kenton on Capitol, Amos Milburn, and Eddie Condon.
We are doing everything from Mildred Bailey to the Four Freshman to New Orleans
to Curtis Amy on the Select label. It is what we feel is musically important
that hasnt come out properly.
Analogue Productions and its retail arm, Acoustic Sounds, and Sundazed Records
(along with Classic Records, the home of all Zeppelin LP reissues) are two of
the biggest players in the vinyl-manufacturing realm. Acoustic Sounds offers
180-gram vinyl records, priced between $15 and $30, by Isaac Hayes, Art Pepper,
Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, the Rolling Stones, Deep Purple,
AC/DC, and Creedence Clearwater Revival, with new titles by the late Eva Cassidy,
Jack Johnson, and David Elias. While Analogue Productions appeals to audiophiles,
Coxsackie, New Yorks Sundazed Records dominates the market for all things
Indie, Surf, Oldie, Garage, Psychedelic, Soul, Country, and even softcore porn.
Sundazeds biggest sellers include titles by the Byrds, the Stooges, Wilco,
Bob Dylan, and Otis Redding as well as finds by lesser-knowns like Fred Neil,
the Remains, Hal Blaine, the Chesterfield Kings, and Graham Parsons International
We do have a lot of audiophiles and older folks that remember this music
from the first time around, says Sundazeds Tim Livingston. But
it seems like more and more a lot of listeners aged 18 to 25 are really getting
into vinyl, buying turntables, discovering records and the 60s artists
we put out who are the originators of the music they listen to now. It is the
romance and the sound of vinyl. People realize that it is warmer sounding.
Brian Dornbach of New Jerseys Princeton Record Exchange says that no request
is too odd for his stores inventory of 100,000 used LPs. People
do request records that they think are impossible to find and we very often
have them. Most recently somebody was trying to find an Andy Griffith record
and being a Andy Griffith fan myself I was able to discern that she wanted was
What it Was, Was Football from an Andy Griffith collection.
Comedy records aside, PREXs bestsellers include the usual Beatles-Stones-Cream-Hendrix
titles, as well as a handful of new releases and CDs. What do they consider
to be a rare record? Not much, it seems. Even an original-zippered Sticky Fingers
only brings a meager seven bucks.
An original-zippered Sticky Fingers is not that uncommon,
Dornbach claims. A supergroup like the Rolling Stones sold tens of millions
of records so even though it is a different thing for a record to have a zipper
on the cover that doesnt automatically make it rare. We typically sell
that for around four to seven dollars.
Not so fast for Fred Cohen of New Yorks Jazz Record Center, whose regular
eBay auctions bring thousands for select LPs. Sonny Rollins Saxophone
Colossus on Prestige sells for $1500 to $2000, Cohen reports. Tommy
Flanagans Overseas on Prestige also sells for $1500, and Jackie McLean
on Adlib sells for $1500 to $2000.
But as with PREX, the bulk of Cohens 50,000 inventory can be had in the
eight to ten dollar range. A stickler for clean records and a strict grading
system (which is not always the case at PREX), the Jazz Record Center has customers
as diverse as Wynton Marsalis and Q-Tip, but the unflappable Cohen takes it
all in stride. His bestsellers include Miles Davis Kind of Blue,
John Coltranes A Love Supreme, Duke Ellingtons Sacred
Concerts, and Benny Goodmans 1938 Concert. But Cohen wont
easily confirm that the vinyls sound quality is typically better than
their digital counterparts.
Everybody says analog sounds better, but I couldnt say. In many
instances, people do not listen to music with their ears. They either listen
with their wallets or based upon what other people say. They presume that it
will sound better on LP, but oftentimes you can do a blindfold test and people
will be stumped. It will vary from CD to CD and record to record; it is all
a matter of engineering and production. But someone who is listening to the
music on an adequate system can tell the difference. That difference may not
be enough to make a difference, but you can hear differences.
As the boomers turn into seniors and their kids take over their collections,
vinyl will expand into the new century and beyond. Production and distribution
methods may morph and change, but vinyls legacy is both of the past and
In our lifetime, I think there will always be a vinyl market, says
Sundazeds Tim Livingston. We see it at shows like the WFMU record
fair in New York and through calls and emails. We meet a lot of these young
people who are just getting into it. We had a 22-year-old girl ask us, When
are you going to release the Sagittarius album on vinyl? That is
a really obscure, psychedelic record for someone so young to be asking about.
So I see it lasting for that collectors market and for the kids who are
also getting into vinyl.