Vinyl May Be Final Nail in CD’s Coffin

Vinyl May Be Final Nail in CD's Coffin
By Eliot Van Buskirk 10.29.07 | 12:00 AM

As counterintuitive as it may seem in this age of iPods and digital downloads, vinyl — the favorite physical format of indie music collectors and audiophiles — is poised to re-enter the mainstream, or at least become a major tributary.

Talk to almost anyone in the music business' vital indie and DJ scenes and you'll encounter a uniformly optimistic picture of the vinyl market.

"I'm hearing from labels and distributors that vinyl is way up," said Ian Connelly, client relations manager of independent distributor alliance IODA, in an e-mail interview. "And not just the boutique, limited-edition colored vinyl that Jesu/Isis-style fans are hot for right now."

Pressing plants are ramping up production, but where is the demand coming from? Why do so many people still love vinyl, even though its bulky, analog nature is anathema to everything music is supposed to be these days? Records, the vinyl evangelists will tell you, provide more of a connection between fans and artists. And many of today's music fans buy 180-gram vinyl LPs for home listening and MP3s for their portable devices.

"For many of us, and certainly for many of our artists, the vinyl is the true version of the release," said Matador's Patrick Amory. "The size and presence of the artwork, the division into sides, the better sound quality, above all the involvement and work the listener has to put in, all make it the format of choice for people who really care about music."

Because these music fans also listen using portable players and computers, Matador and other labels include coupons in record packaging that can be used to download MP3 versions of the songs. Amory called the coupon program "hugely popular."

Portability is no longer any reason to stick with CDs, and neither is audio quality. Although vinyl purists are ripe for parody, they're right about one thing: Records can sound better than CDs.

Although CDs have a wider dynamic range, mastering houses are often encouraged to compress the audio on CDs to make it as loud as possible: It's the so-called loudness war. Since the audio on vinyl can't be compressed to such extremes, records generally offer a more nuanced sound.

Another reason for vinyl's sonic superiority is that no matter how high a sampling rate is, it can never contain all of the data present in an analog groove, Nyquist's theorem to the contrary.

"The digital world will never get there," said Chris Ashworth, owner of United Record Pressing, the country's largest record pressing plant.

Golden-eared audiophiles have long testified to vinyl's warmer, richer sound. And now demand for vinyl is on the rise. Pressing plants that were already at capacity are staying there, while others are cranking out more records than they did last year in order to keep pace with demand.

Don MacInnis, owner of Record Technology in Camarillo, California, predicts production will be up 25 percent over last year by the end of 2007. And he's not talking about small runs of dance music for DJs, but the whole gamut of music: "new albums, reissues, majors and indies … jazz, blues, classical, pop and a lot of (classic) rock."

Turntables are hot again as well. Insound, an online music retailer that recently began selling USB turntables alongside vinyl, can't keep them in stock, according to the company's director, Patrick McNamara.

And on Oct. 17, launched a vinyl-only section stocked with a growing collection of titles and several models of record players.

Big labels still aren't buying the vinyl comeback, but it wouldn't be the first time the industry failed to identify a new trend in the music biz.

"Our numbers, at least, don't really point to a resurgence," said Jonathan Lamy, the Recording Industry Association of America's director of communications. Likewise, Nielsen SoundScan, which registered a slight increase in vinyl sales last year, nonetheless showed a 43 percent decrease between 2000 and 2006.

But when it comes to vinyl, these organizations don't really know what they're talking about. The RIAA's numbers are misleading because its member labels are only now beginning to react to the growing demand for vinyl. As for SoundScan, its numbers don't include many of the small indie and dance shops where records are sold. More importantly, neither organization tracks used records sold at stores or on eBay — arguably the central clearinghouse for vinyl worldwide.

Vinyl's popularity has been underreported before.

"The Consumer Electronics Association said that only 100,000 turntables were sold in 2004. Numark alone sold more than that to pro DJs that year," said Chris Roman, product manager for Numark.

And the vinyl-MP3 tag team might just hasten the long-predicted death of the CD.

San Francisco indie band The Society of Rockets, for example, plans to release its next album strictly on vinyl and as MP3 files.

"Having just gone through the process of mastering our new album for digital and for vinyl, I can say it is completely amazing how different they really sound," said lead singer and guitarist Joshua Babcock in an e-mail interview. "The way the vinyl is so much better and warmer and more interesting to listen to is a wonder."

The Beatles – Love

I'm 34 and have never been a huge Beatles fan. They've always been there, overheard in other people's lives, on the radio, growing up. I never discovered them for myself and everything they ever pioneered I heard first in other people's music. What I'm trying to say is that I never really learnt to appreciate the splendour and the genius that were the Beatles.

Love, then, is ideal for someone like me. Comissioned and created for the Cirque de Soleil, a gathering of performance dance artists. The whole thing then landed up in Las Vergas onstage and was, apparently such a success, that EMI decided to release the thing on vinyl. Well actually it was really meant for a surround sound DVD-A. There has then been a belated vinyl release. Obviously and perhaps this is a stereo only release. I guess it could have been a quadrophonic release. A few years ago there was a technology called Q-sound which gave pseudo quadrophonic sound through normal stereo equipment. Roger Waters' 'Amused to death' was one such release and there was a Madonna release too. But anyway i digress.

Love is not just a series of Beatles songs. It is a collage of snippets and excerpts of Beatles songs, mixed up mashed up and overlaid. In the stereo version at least though, nothing sound out of place and all is more or less instantly recognisable. other sites will go into the details of what is added where  but suffice to say that the whole reocrd sounds like a typical mix party tape of some of the best music ever. For me, a non-believe, it simply teaches me that some of the best music ever comes from this one band, four individuals with a relatively vbrief recording career.

Ideal for me then. For Beatles fans? I don't know. You won't be hearing anything that you've never heard before. the difference are mild, not earth shattering. And yet those differemces might annoy you. Or you might relish the thought of hearing such familiar favourites ina slightly different context.

Or you might be a completist and never remove this from teh shrinkwrap.

The record is designed to be loud but neverthless offers quite respectable sound and doesn't grate for me at least. The music does not in nay way sound like it was recorded 40 years ago.

The packaging is quite nice but not spectacular. For such an expensive package you get well pressed records, 2 180grm discs, silent, in a gatefold sleeve. Inner sleeves are my favourite platic lined paper sleevs. The most impressive aspect of the packaging is a 12" colour booklet filled with pictures of
 the Beatles and the dancers nicely mashed up in themselves.

Amy Winehouse – Back to Black

Amy exploded onto the pop scene this year with her second album, Back to Black, and onto the front pages of the tabloids with her various antics involving her boyfriend/husband and drugs. Her most famous song is Rehab and kickstarts the album here. 'They tried to mke me go to Rahab, I said no no no'. Probably for her own sake she should have gone. Whether going or not going would make any difference on the quality of the music we don't know. We may find out on her next record. Meanwhile we can count ourselves blessed that we have this one. Producer Mark Ronson gets as much credit as Amy for the sound on this album. Its a vintage motown sound, very much in thrall to its influences. When teh songs and tunes are as wonderful and as classic as the ones on this album, regurgitating the Motown feel is no insult. To either party.

In my opinion, the above mentioned song, Rehab, while it certainly makes an instant impact, is teh worst song here. Its repetitive and quite annoying. Luckily, being the first song on the album its easy to skip and allows us to reache the sublime content that follows.

I won't do a song-by-song analysis. But the songs have a mostly lazy swing beat to them. Half cabaret, half slowset. With a plentiful helping of curious sounds and brass backing. ABove all, Amy's classic nasal delivery sings us through her breakup and the pain of love. But the fabulous mucial backing stops things ever getting too morose. We are even treated to some reggae lite on 'Just friends'.

This is simply one of the best albums of 2007.

Sound quality is a mixture of smooth vintage sound and horiffic distortion and overproduced nonsense. In their quest for a vintage sound, all the buttons have been pressed. Many of the percussion is stupidly distorted and the overall sound is highly compressed. Having said that, if you don't listen too closely it sounds just fine. It certainly doesn't shriek. There's an inner picture sleeve with the lyrics and some photos of Amy before she turned into a skeleton. Universal have presented the album on a fairly good heavyweight pressing. Vinyl definitely the way to listen to this album.

Mario Lanza- You do something to me

You're as likely yo see Mario Lanza on the television as hear him on the radio. His appealing looks and delightful voice made him a popular movie star and he starred in many films which were also a showcase for his undeniable talent. He was a highly popular tenor who sang a veriety of highly romatic songs.

Often adapted from the classical repertoire with added lyrics, the names of Bizet, Verdi and Rimsky-Korsakov appear on this record alongside themore contemporary names of Porter and Hooker-Friml. Nothing sounds too different or out of place and this is certainly a record to woo any girl.

To quote the sleevenotes

'"All my life I liked fun." Mario Lanza once exulted. "I'm young and alive". I like people with heart. Even today when people get gloomy around me, I swear in high C and say, 'Let's get going…you're fracturing me with this misery!'"

With this typically Roman candle explosion, Mario Lanza has succintly expressed the basic characteristics which have been a propelling force behind his phenomenal ascendance in the world of music'

Sound quality is mono and somewhat historical, but the music itself is highly enjoyable. Your mum will love it and you should too. I daresay your wife or girlfriend will also thank you for it.

A David fights the iTunes Goliath

A David fights the iTunes Goliath
Gary Scotti, the owner of the nation's oldest independent record store chain, talks about survival after the demise of Tower Records. Fortune's Devin Leonard reports.
By Devin Leonard, Fortune senior writer
October 4 2007: 8:35 AM EDT

(Fortune) — Gary Scotti has his good weeks and his bad weeks. Lately, there have been more of the latter. The owner of Scotti's Record Shops, the nation's oldest independent record store chain, has been whipsawed by the changes in the music industry.

A decade and a half ago, his family had stores in five New Jersey towns outside of New York City. He and his brothers, Michael and Jeff, oversaw 50 employees. Now Scotti is down to three stores. Soon, he may only have one – the chain's flagship outlet in tony Summit.
Gary Scotti of Scotti's Record Shops sees hope in the growing popularity of vinyl records and the closing down of Tower Records.

More from FORTUNE
100 years of power
Apple vs. Dell: 10 years later
The world's fastest electric car
Current Issue
Subscribe to Fortune

More video
CNNMoney's Jim Ledbetter and Fortune's Oliver Ryan discuss the rapidly changing online music industry.
Play video

More video
In this Fortune First feature, CNN's Richard Lui reports on musicians who are bucking the online music trend.
Play video

Michael left the business three years ago. Jeff exited last month. Why is Gary, 48, still hanging in there? "I enjoy it," he says. "I want to keep it going."
Charting the MyTunes revolution

Still, it's been rough. Some weeks, he doesn't collect a salary because the 50-year-old chain isn't throwing off enough cash. "I'm struggling personally to keep up," says Scotti. "That's just the way it is."

Who does he blame for his troubles? Lots of people. There are the kids who come to his stores and tell each other not to buy a new CD because someone can burn them a copy. Adults are just as bad. "Someone buys a CD, and they pass it around the neighborhood," Scotti says. With all that burning going on, it's hardly surprising that his CD sales have fallen by 50% in recent years.

Scotti grudgingly accepts that the public's music consumption habits aren't what they used to be. He's more furious with the big record companies. As far as Scotti is concerned, the major labels never bothered to package CDs in a way that would make them attractive to customers.

"I almost got thrown out of some meetings at BMG," he says. "This was back in the day of 'N Sync and the boy bands. I said, 'You guys are just promoting trash. You are not doing enough to get people to buy music. You're putting it out in these plastic jewel cases that are just crap. They fall apart right away.'"

These days, Scotti says, the labels spend all their time kowtowing to iTunes. Never mind that their vast majority of their revenues still come from CD sales.

It galls Scotti that the labels give iTunes exclusive tracks and allow the digital download site to sell albums before stores like his. "Then they give me a hard time about breaking street date?" he fumes, referring to when stores start selling a new CD before its scheduled release. "Does anybody in this industry have a brain?"
6 summer concerts that rocked

It's not all doom and gloom at Scotti's Record Shops. The owner is cautiously optimistic about the resurgence of vinyl.

In late September, another Jersey guy, Bruce Springsteen, released his new album, Magic, on vinyl a week before the CD went on sale. Scotti got his hands on 200 copies and sold them all within days in his stores and on his website. Those are big numbers for a small chain.

"Nobody else had it," the owner says proudly. "I know Best Buy didn't have it. I know Target didn't. I don't believe Amazon had it online either. " (It didn't.)

Scotti's isn't the only record store chain benefiting from the return of vinyl.

Michael Kurtz, head of the Music Monitor Network, a coalition of regional chains, says the collective sales of his members are up two percent this year, in part because of the demand for LPs. "Some of their stores are starting to look like they did back in the eighties with all the vinyl," he says.

Still, Kurtz concedes that his West Coast members are doing better than their East Coast peers like Gary Scotti. Why? Because they don't pay as much rent.

Ironically, the demise of Tower Records, once the nation's largest record store chain, may be Scotti's saving grace. The shuttering of Tower was a wake-up call for people who would rather comb through bins of record store music than download digital files on the Internet.

They know that if they don't support stores like Scotti's, they'll only have the thin selections of Best Buy (Charts, Fortune 500) and Wal-Mart (Charts, Fortune 500) to choose from. "I do feel that from customers in my area," says Scotti, hopefully. "They are trying to support us."

They'd better. He can't go on forever without a steady paycheck.

Squash your old vinyl records back into shape

Furutech DFV-1 LP flattener: squash your old vinyl records back into shape

I've been trying to think of the quickest way to explain Furutech's new DFV-1 device, so here goes. It's like a trouser press for your vinyl records, flattening warped LPs back into shape using a controlled heating and cooling cycle.

It even looks like a trouser press, see? You unlock it, put your record on the spindle, close the device and press a button to start the flattening process. Sadly, it doesn't actually play the record while steaming it (although that's not exactly a shock, given the process.

Anyway, the DFV-1 is available now in the States for $1,480 (around £735). Vinylphiles will be hoping it comes to the UK soon.