Shelby Lynne – Just a little lovin’

Quite famous this one. A lot has been made of the fact that its on vinyl, and particularly that its an all analogue recording on Studer 2 inch tape. To quote Shelby…

"My new album, "Just A Little Lovin'" was made on a 2-inch tape machine. I demanded it. I like working with engineers and producers who love and appreciate tape. I love the sound, smell, and feel of tape. That's why I enlisted legendary record producer, Phil Ramone, and the brilliant recording engineer, Al Schmitt. They didn't mind my insistence. They put up with my hardheadedness. Hardly anyone uses tape anymore because they claim it's so expensive and it's just easier to use a computer. Most engineers can operate any computer rig in studios these days. But if you ask them to run a Studer and put on a reel of tape, they run down the hallway screaming for Mommy. I'm sorry, but I can't get turned on looking at a computer screen. First of all, it's not more expensive. By the time digital users spend the time and money to buy the software needed to put that "tape sound" on their digital record, they have spent more time and money than I have. While their downloading "tape sound" software, I'm kicking back on the houseboat drinking beer with a fishing pole in my hand listening to Django."

 

So there you have it. Tape is marvellous and, well, actually it is. The sound off this LP IS warm, IS finely detailed and sounds well, beautiful. And full, and has excellent bass and treble and pretty much all you could ask for.

The album is itself a collection of songs made famous by Dusty Springfield, that wonderful songstress from the 60s with a husky voice to die for and a knack for putting every emotion into her songs. The songs are from a variety of writers but Dusty made them her own.

Shelby doesn't just try to replicate the Dusty originals for that would be futile but she puts her own spin on each one. This basically means stripping each song down to its barest elements, plucked guitar, brushed cymbals, solitary vocal and reducing the pace. She reduces the pace a LOT. We're in Norah Jones or Diana Krall territory here. Which is great if you're a fan. But I'm not. They're too slow, dare I say too boring for me. I'd have to be real tired or getting real romantic for this record to work. But as its on vinyl I'd have to get up every 20 minutes which, well defeats the point. I could of course buy it on CD, but then, well that defeats the whole Studer analogue 2 inch tape argument, doesn't it?

For the record, the songs are

1. Just A Little Lovin'
2. Anyone Who Had A Heart
3. You Don't Have To Say You Love Me
4. I Only Want To Be With You
5. The Look Of Love
6. Breakfast In Bed
7. Willie And Laura Mae Jones
8. I Don't Want To Hear It Anymore
9. Pretend
10. How Can I Be Sure

'Breakfast in Bed' jazzes things up a little in an electric fashion, while 'Willie and Laura Mae Jones' countrifies things a little.

I got the repressing which is meant to be an improvement on the problematic first pressing. I still notice a lot of noise and am getting some extra sibilance…well more than sibilance issues. So the original tape sounds like it was pretty good but the pressing could be way better. Pity. Packaging is minimal but then again this is a cheap record. Maybe they should have charged more and made it perfect.

The Doors Restoration

(NB :This is the text included in a leaflet that came with the Doors box set. Because of the way its copied its a bit all over the place. So apologies in advance.)

The Doors: Vinyl Restoration

The process of restoration and mastering this vinyl reissue took place over a three-month period, starting with the gathering
of all the original stereo and, where available, monaural master tapes as well as the 1:1 safety copies and original EQ copies. All the tapes were originally mixed from 1/2” 4 track and 1” 8 track to 1/4” 15 ips NAB analogue tape records, generally
on Ampex 351 tube/valve machines. (In the U.K. tubes are known as valves.) In 1968, starting with The Doors’ third album, EKS-74024 Waiting For the Sun, in order to optimize tape hiss we introduced the Dolby A-301 noise-reduction system. I believe that this album in particular was the first multi-channel recording in the U.S. to employ Dolbys; it required five stereo units, four for the 8 track recorder and one for the stereo mix.
It all began in January 1967 with The Doors EKL-4007 monoaural and EKS-74007 stereo. You’ll have to forgive my suing the old Elektra nomenclature numbering system of its releases; I know the albums by their numbers and it’s kind of fun to hold on to the memories of that fabulously creative time through these albums. Just Google these numbers, EKS-74007, EKS-74014, EKS-74024, EKS-75005, EKS-75007, and lastly EKS-75011. All these numbers will take you directly to hundreds of portals that recognize The Doors release numbers.
To do the restoration from the original analogue tape masters, we purchased a new remanufactured Ampex ATR-102 with Aria Class A Electronics. At my studio I have one of the original Elektra Dolby A-301 noise-reduction units that was used on Waiting For the Sun and The Soft Parade. For the analogue-to-digital process, a Pacific Microsonics HDCD Model Two Processor
was set to the highest digital resolution of 192 kHz 24 bits, and that in turn fed into a Digidesign Pro Tools HD3 Accel system.
The original concept was to go pure analogue straight through to the lacquer masters – that is until we discovered the true physical condition of the master tapes, which varied from almost unplayable
to excellent. In the interest of keeping the quality at the highest level, we made blind listening tests with the original analogue source and compared it to the output of the Pacific Microsonics. We couldn’t tell the difference sonically, and that further
convinced us to do the restoration
in the digital domain.
The first album, EKL-/EKS-74007 The Doors, had its own set of problems, or should I say solutions. Previously in print I’ve said that this album, as the world has heard it since its seminal release in 1967, has never played back at is correct speed and pitch. We went through
the process of correcting, from the beginning of each side, from almost on speed, with “Break On Through”, to slightly over a quartertone flat by the end of “Light My Fire”. The same condition occurred on Side 2 from “Back Door Man” to the finish of “The End”. The speed correction was applied to both the monoaural and stereo versions. During the actual lacquer mastering process, Jac Holzman, Bernie Grundman, and I thought it best to go with the original, slightly off-speed masters, because our overriding purpose was to bring you new vinyl discs, mastered with the highest attention to detail and quality that not only sound better and quieter but also contain the exact music on the original discs.
For a bit of history, here are the unsung original mastering engineers. Sydney Feldman mastered the first two albums, The Doors and Strange Days at Mastertone Sound in NYC, and his system was all Westrex. The Third, Waiting For the Sun, was mastered at Contemporary Records by Bernie Grundman. The lathe and full cutting system still exists today in the basement of Bernie’s studio. Armin Steiner at Sound Recorders Studio mastered the fourth album, The Soft Parade. For the fifth and sixth albums, Morrison Hotel and L.A. Woman, we mastered with Bob McCloud at Artisan Recorders in Hollywood on his Neumann lather. All of the electronics for the cutting systems were tube.
For the new lacquer masters we weren’t under the same technical constraints as we were when the albums were originally released, so our emphasis was to make a more open representation of what the original
tapes really sounded like. The Soft Parade is a good example. It went through three different stages, the original mix through double limiters,
one set for peak and the other for RMS. Then the next stage was to EQ and limit again to achieve a measure of premastering. The third was mastering at half speed. Half speed gave you clearer high end, but you lost a great deal of bottom end. Imagine a bass, its lowest note dropped down an octave. Not only couldn’t the playback machine resolve
those frequencies, but the poor cutting head gave up.
Enjoy these discs. Take care of them. They are treasures, and remember, as always, play it loud and part the waters. – Bruce Botnick, Ojai, CA, July 2007

Hugh Masekela – Hope

Over the last few years I've picked up a few records by Hugh Masekela. The south african trumpeteer has been releasing them for way longer than I've been born and I guess I still have quite a few to collect. A couple of years ago I bought his record on Bernie Grundman's 'Straight ahead' records, 'Almost like being in jazz'. It was immaculately produced and presented but the music left me somewhat cold. It was literally 'straight ahead' jazz but didn't seem to have much to stand out.

In 2004 Hugh performed live at Washington, D.C.'s Blues Alley and ran through a selection of his classic tracks from over the years. 'Grazing in the grass' is there as is 'Stimela(The Coal Train)'(Coltrane??).

Some like 'Lakuta' are fairly standard, but most appealing, jazz with the trumpet obviously to the fore, but for the most part this double 45rpm set is full of the african rhythms and also vocals from the townships of South Africa where Hugh might have grown up. Its a vibrant, thrilling set of songs, a classic collision of the best musicianship and the joy of African music. I can only imagine what it was like to be there that night. It would have been pure heaven for me.

The aforementioned 'Stimela' is the last track on the album, out of 7 tracks and is a ten minute epic. This political tale of the trains that run to the mines in South Africa from all across the continent send the blood cold and the music is shocking and thrilling, tension builds and you are drawn into a frenzy. You stamp your feet and shake your head as you bow your will to that of the music. It reaches into the deepest emotions, most primitive feelings and is thoroughly rivetingly gripping.

Not only is the music of the highest quality, the musicianship peerless but the sound quality, particularly for a live environment is equally stunning. The realism, space and depth is astounding, the detail wonderful. We are blessed that such an excellent engineer was on hand that night to capture the performance. And that Analogue productions elected to put this out on the 45rpm dbl lp set that we have here. You can't get better sound than this and you really should snap this up before it is gone. Its $50 dollars but you'll never regret it. The only downside is the packaghing is flimsy and minimal, but the inner sleeves are the plastic lined paper ones that do keep your records in excellent condition.

Because Sound Matters Update : 23052008


Lots of current vinyl has been added to becausesoundmatters.com including the first copies off the presses of Foxboro Hottubs' killer garage inspired romp, Stop Drop And Roll !!!
By now you probably know this outfit contains members of Green Day ripping it up late night and capturing it all on a 1/4" 8 track recorder. Glorious Rock-n-Roll I tell ya, dig the awesome art too. Play it loud!!!  Standard weight LP + CD. Hey, we also have the out of print "Mother Mary" 7 inch single. Get em' while we got em' in stock.

Stop Drop and Roll- $18.98
Click here to Purchase

Mother Mary- $4.98
Click here to Purchase


Speaking of 7 inchers, we also have out of print copies of Built To Spill "Don't Try/The Source" plus we are about to add a bunch of recent singles to the store. We are even thinking of becausesoundmatters.com exclusives over the coming weeks… maybe a singles club is in order once again, hey we could call it the 50th Anniversary Loss Leaders Club or something cool like that.
Don't Try/ The Source- $4.98


Click here to Purchase


The first two Metallica reissues are in the store now, we have a fancy splash page with all the details. We are working on  Master Of Puppets, …And Justice For All  and Metallica now to be out over the summer.

Metallica: Kill 'Em All- $29.98
Click here to Purchase

Metallica: Ride the Lightning- $29.98
Click here to Purchase


Madonna and Justin "4 Minutes" remixes  on 12 inch is out now.

Madonna and Justin "4 Minutes"
Click here to Purchase

More News:

Mudcrutch vinyl + Audiophile CD will be popping up in becausesoundmatters.com by the 3rd week of June. That is an amazing sounding record, hence the audiophile CD we are including. We will also be posting a great interview with Co-Producer Ryan Ulyate who explains the recording process and how it came to be… the debut record of Mudcrutch 30 years later.

ZZ Top "Fandango" is almost out, for real. Pressing this week… Rickie Lee Jones, James Taylor "Mud Slide Slim" and other catalog arriving soon.

Please check out the store often, it has been a long process but now I have help to keep all our records current, do exclusives, have up to date info, a blog that anyone can post to and over the coming couple of months a whole new design. Thanks for you support and buy lots of vinyl!!!!!!!!!

 

 

New Universal vinyl re-releases

As you may have read elsewhere Universal plan to continue their vinyl releases with the following titles in July. All will be pressed on 180grm vinyl and supposedly with original artwork. No news yet on their mastering. These follow hot on the heels of the 'cheap' Sony/BMG releases and the 'expensive' releases from Warner. What titles are you after? What quality do you want? At waht price?

 

ABBA – The Album – Polydor – July 8
Aerosmith – Pump – Geffen – July 8
Blind Faith – Blind Faith – Polydor – July 8
Busta Rhymes – Blessed – Aftermath – July 1
Cat Stevens – Tea for the Tillerman – A&M – July 8
Cream – Disraeli Gears – Polydor – July 8
Def Leppard – Hysteria – Mercury – July 8
Elton John – The Captain & The Kid – Interscope – July 8
Eric Clapton – 461 Ocean Blvd – Polydor – July 8
James Brown – Live at the Apollo – Polydor – July 8
Jimi Hendrix – Axis: Bold as Love – Geffen – July 8
KISS – Alive! – Mercury – July 8
Marvin Gaye – I Want You – Motown – July 8
Nick Drake – Pink Moon – Island – July 8
Peter Frampton – Frampton Comes Alive – A&M – July 8
Police – Zenyatta Mondatta – A&M – July 8
Steely Dan – Gaucho – Geffen – July 8
Supertramp – Breakfast in America – A&M – July 8
The Game – LAX – Geffen – July 8
Van Morrison – Tupelo Honey – Polydor – July 8

Wisely – Wisely

The new, and third,  Wisely record is his first available on vinyl and is a treasure trove of wonderfully recorded laid back pop or blue eyed soul. It arrived here in perfect time for the summer and would be suitable for a long hazy summer evening on a recliner with a beer in hand. The only problem is that you'd have to get up after twenty minutes to flip sides. And again after another twenty minutes to start playing it again.

  'On my way' starts off with a heartfelt lyric sung over a most appealing wurlitzer. Its a slower track. 'Cracked world view' is another slower paeon to breaking up and features the mellotron. The whole record displays this attachment to warm and inviting vintage sounds.

 Things really kick off on third track, 'Tokyo Arbor'. Its got a completely addictive vibe, this one, mining the same seventies territory so beloved of current artists such as Josh Rouse. ' 'Only losing me' is less poppy and more bluesy and is sung in that honest, expressive way.

Side one almost ends with the glorious upbeat and, well, bouncy pop you might expect of a song called 'California'.  Covering the same kind of territory as 'Tokyo Arbor' its the second highlight on this album. But before we get to the label we have the Nick Drake -esque simple folk and guitar plucking of 'Through any window'. Enjoyable and very well recorded.

 'Ella' is really lovely, a song about the joys of love, not the breakup. It continues with that mellow upbeat vibe and has some gorgeous percussion, pedal and steel guitar. Third song on the album that is so infectious. You'll be tapping your foot, nodding your head and clapping your hands! You might even be singing along!!

 'Nothing but wind' is something more experimental, a spoken word monologue about the speaker's wishes, desires from life. Its slightly haunting and nicely complimented by piano and glockenspiel.

'Vanilla' is about a girl called, err 'Vanilla'. Unless he's just broken up with an ice cream. Its slightly soppy. Possibly melting in the sunshine.  Actually, I've just realised that's part of the lyric! Shockingly he mentioned the dreaded 'CD'. I still can't keep my foot still.

 The next song, is to these ears, the worst on the album. Its a soft rock track and Wisely insists on repeating to us the fact that he's going to make love tonight and how beautiful its going to be. I find this rather irritating. There are redeeming features in the music but I'm finding it really hard to get  past the simple lyric. He also says 'Yowl!'. Its called 'Its gonna be beautiful'.

 Lightly strummed on a guitar with beach boys harmonies is 'Unfamiliar'. More lush instrumentation does kick in later in the track. 

Perfectly titled 'I'll be singing' ends the album in a joyful and jazzy fashion, even including treated vocals. You might just join in. 

 Its a real feelgood album. The playing is excellent throughout and while Wisely is no opera singer, his light tenor voice is most appealing and perfectly suits that lazy summer mood. While the record could drop a couple of tracks(I'll let you guess one) the rest deserve to be all over daytime radio, not to mention your car stereo. Not to mention your turntable!! 😉  The excellent overall sound of the album elevates it above most of today's music and deserves a high recommendation.

 Its a 180g rti pressed album. Attractive outer sleeve with good protective inner sleeve but no pictures. Lyrics and details are printed on the back.

 

 

 

Joni Mitchell – Blue

Well fellas,
I finally gave the new "Blue" a listen tonight.

I warmed up the system playing Coltrane's A love Supreme, Cannonball Adderley's Somethin' Else and for female vocals, the perennial favorite West Of Oz by Amanda McBroom and Lincoln Mayorga.

Ok, now some impressions of the new record:

Overall the sound is very smooth, with tremendous vocal presence while the various instruments, specially strings, seem to be more palpable and fleshed out, compared to the original 1971 pressing.

Following the advice of several fellow members, I washed the record with my usual record formula. However, I still noticed some surface noise. As with other RTI pressings, the noise may be reduced with further playings. Only time will tell.

The surface noise on this particular recording is hard to miss given the low level passages, the simple acoustic setting and the overall dynamics of the recording. This is no compressed Rock N' Roll recording! 

I took some small notes while listening to the album.

Here are the expanded notes for each cut:

Side 1

All I Want: Great cut, some wandering of Joni's image at the beginning of the song, then it centers quite nicely. I'm figuring she was swaying a bit around the microphone or something…

My Old Man: Some pregroove echo heard. Great, strong piano reproduction. Was this a Bosendorfer? I can imagine Donald Fagen listening to this in '71 and wanting to reproduce this sound on his Steely Dan albums!
Excellent vocals on this cut as well.

Little Green: The vocal here has more body than on the original pressing. This also reflects on the instrumentation which has a nice weight to it. Not overblown but just enough to provide a good foundation to the song.

Carey: Pretty good bass and natural sounding instrumentation giving the cut some extra warmth. The original record was a little shrill here.

The background vocals are quite easy to follow, another plus.

Blue: Vocal is quite deep and intimate here, very "breathy" quality at times. Nicely showcased. The effect of Joni's stepping away from the mike at the end of the song, indicates good dynamic contrast. Piano decay at the end also good.

Side 2

California: Side 2 opens with a very strong track, the best so far. Great bass, dynamics and detail. Guitar resonances and harmonics are very convincing. A very strong vocal performance and reproduction as well.

This Flight Tonight: This is a challenging track. It has a lot of things going on at the same time. Clearly the most complex arrangement on the record. It has a period "trippy" quality to it. Joni's Vocal sounds more subdued here with less "bite". Plenty of warmth.

I'm guessing there was quite a lot of overdubbing on this, compared to the more sparse tracks with just piano and vocals. Therefore, the sound quality suffers a bit here. The weakest track in terms of absolute fidelity, IMO.

There's an intermittent and short duration "swirl" heard on the right channel, which at first, I thought it was a sound effect of some sort. I'm convinced it's just some noise that crept in the mixing process.

This is not really distracting, since I've heard the song for years and it never bothered me. However, when listening critically, such as for this review, it's plainly evident.

Also evident is some distortion on Joni's vocals right at the last verse of the song. Ms. Mitchell is reaching the climax of the song and her voice climbs in the high registers causing the distortion. I'm guessing the mike just couldn't take it.

To confirm my findings, I played a "needledrop" of the original pressing through my Squeezebox music player, and there it was. Same distortion artifacts.

So my conclusion is that this is all master tape related and nothing Kevin or Steve could do about it.

River: This is just Joni and the piano. As simple as it can get. Surface noise gets a little in the way here, quite predictably. Again some pregroove echo. I can hear the piano very faintly before the track begins.

The piano, by the way, is as commanding as it should be. The vocal has nice presence as well. A tough track to play well on the old pressings, specially in case of "thrift store" specials. The piano would generally distort or crack on the well worn records. Nice to hear it cleanly reproduced on a brand new pressing.

Case Of You: This has become my favorite song on this recording as of late. Tremendous emotional energy. Joni's performance gave me goosebumps. As good as it gets!

The subtle guitar string "squeaks" more clearly audible in this version, giving it a more realistic feel. The subtle percussion and taps on the guitar body are clearly defined and contribute to a solid foundation of the song. This one is a winner and clearly worth the price of admission!

The best track on this record in terms of both sonics and performance, in my humble opinion.

Last Time I Saw Richard: The test for inner groove performance. Excellent way to close the album. Never falters. Resolution is excellent despite the smaller groove diameter, the sign of a good mastering job. Very intimate vocal with good dynamic contrast.
__________________
Marantz 7C, 8B and 10B
       

Gift puts a new spin on an old record collection

 http://www.star-telegram.com/living/story/662003.html

Gift puts a new spin on an old record collection

Special to the Star-Telegram

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So there I was happily if begrudgingly cleaning out the cluttered basement when I came across a box of 45 RPM, brittle, black vinyl discs. I think they were called "records."

The box was labeled "L.A.'s Records, 1970s" and because my wife is Leslie Aun, that would make sense. I put the old cardboard box on a table and started flipping through it. Some records had been played so frequently that the black vinyl grooves had worn down to white ruts. Clearly, this was music someone cared about.

My wife was born in 1964, so in the 1970s she was in her late childhood to pre-adolescent years. And the song selection revealed it. Here was a treasure trove of torrid, tepid pop rock from a little girl's life, no doubt played for hours alone in the bedroom with a Close 'n' Play turntable.

And that's when I had a diabolical idea. Leslie's birthday was coming up, so I decided to put these 45s on a CD, make a witty label for it and give it to her as a "it's the thought that counts" birthday gift, which would send the nostalgia factor off the charts. And if not, at least we could laugh about it.

Stanton, the Hollywood, Fla., electronics company, makes a USB turntable that lets you turn vinyl and audio cassettes into MP3s, which means once the music is recorded on your computer, you can burn it to a disc. The Stanton T.90 USB Turntable is a professional DJ tool that lists at $455, but you can get it for a lot less online.

First, you download the Cakewalk Pyro 5 disc into your computer. Cakewalk is a music-editing program that lets you convert, rip and copy tracks from other sources, and it loaded quickly without taking up very much space. (A bug: Every time I opened Cakewalk I got an error box telling me the CD-R library was not fully installed and to uninstall Cakewalk and try again. I did that three times with the same result and finally figured it didn't matter for what I was doing.)

You plug the T.90's USB cable into your laptop and tell Cakewalk to open up "Make CDs of Your Cassettes and LPs." Not having a handy audio-video receiver, I plugged the output cables from the Stanton into an old boom box, just to monitor the music, not judge its digital quality.

I cleaned off Shaun Cassidy's That's Rock 'n' Roll and put it on the T.90 platter. It took some adjusting, but I finally got the tone arm to stop skidding the needle across the disc. This would be a recurring problem. For some reason, no matter how I set the tone arm skid control, the arm would skate across the first two or three songs before settling in the middle of the album.

There was only faint recognition of the song in the microphone volume box, although I could clearly hear the tune through the boom box, meaning my computer was hearing something but not very loud. I checked all the volume levels — the program, the computer, the T.90 (which, as it happens, doesn't have a volume control) — and grew more irritated by the minute.

Then I checked Windows' "Manage Audio Devices" to see any recording options and noticed that my computer's built-in microphone was still operating. I changed it to default to the external mike.

Suddenly the "Record Volume" bars rang into the upper register and I was good to go in creating a file called "Leslie's Birthday CD."

Or, actually, 15 different files that went from "Leslie's Birthday CD 1" to "15." Each time you "Stop Recording" you have to rename the new file instead of just stacking songs on one another. It took me about three hours and 15 minutes over three mornings, but I finally finished and had the song list ready to put on a CD.

Cakewalk gives you the option of cleaning up the clicks and pops that are indigenous to vinyl, but I left them in to drive home the point that, hey, I made this by hand, not just by ordering it from Amazon.

So there it was, a disc loaded with my wife's favorites, among them: I'm Easy by Keith Carradine, Welcome Back (Kotter) by John Sebastian, Boogie Fever by the Sylvers, Heaven on the Seventh Floor by Paul Nicholas, and the coup de grace, Don't Give Up on Us, Baby by David Soul (yes, Starsky from Starsky and Hutch).

My wife's younger sister was going to be in town for Leslie's birthday, and I thought I would play the CD of lame, middle-of-the-road pop from Leslie's past on the house 5.1 system and we could all laugh at the memories and remark how terrific Leslie's taste in music is these days (Jordan Zevon, Arcade Fire, Madeline Peyroux).

And so with me and her sister watching, Leslie opened the wrapped CD and gazed at it in wonder for just a second before taking it from her hand and putting it into the CD player. I hit "Play" and out came Shaun Cassidy warbling like he did in 1977, with all the clicks and pops intact from the well-worn vinyl.

My wife looked confused. Her sister didn't laugh. So I skipped to the Carradine cut. Same reaction: No one laughed. So I skipped to Boogie Fever, and there was a giggle, but they were still dumbfounded.

Then I blurted, "I spent a week putting these songs on CD from your box in the basement. Don't you appreciate that?"

And Leslie asked, "What box?"

"The box of 45 records, the box with your initials on it — 'L.A.' — songs from your childhood. Don't you recognize them?"

"Those were my records, not Leslie's," said her sister — Lindsay.

And just then David Soul started singing, and we finally got the laugh I'd been waiting for.

 http://www.star-telegram.com/living/story/662003.html

The silent return of vinyl records

http://old.thejakartapost.com/detailfeatures.asp?fileid=20080525.M16&irec=17  

 

The silent return of vinyl records

M. Taufiqurrahman, The Jakarta Post, Chicago, Illinois

There is one good reason why the movie High Fidelity, based on Nick Hornby's best-selling novel set in London, was shot in Chicago.

The largest city in the Midwest has been long known as a Mecca for indie rock and the place where a countless number of bands built their credibility. In the days of yore, little-known bands like Slint, Silver Jews, Tortoise or big arena rocker Smashing Pumpkins built their fan base in Chicago while laboring in obscurity under the tutelage of labels like Touch and Go, Drag City and Thrill Jockey Records.

Recently big acts the likes of Wilco and the Breeders repatriated to Chicago to work on their new albums.

But the ultimate reason for the movie being shot in Chicago is the fact that the windy city is home to a large population of independent music stores manned by people who are as devoted as the characters of Rob Gordon and his cranky clerk Barry.

In fact, on a fine day of spring, hungry vinyl fetishists will likely find one of those High Fidelity moments in one of Chicago's record stores.

Earlier this month, in Kiss the Sky Record store in Geneva, just outside Chicago, I got into a tense argument about the best five rock records of all time with the store manager, Steve.

Steve Warrenfeltz, the 50-something record store owner, could not reconcile his choice of The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart Club Band and Rubber Soul, The Kinks' Village Green Preservation Society, Jimi Hendrix's Are You Experienced? and Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon with my top three picks: Television's Marquee Moon, Gang of Four's Entertainment and the Smiths' The Queen is Dead.

But the upside to having an argument with a bohemian record store manager is that you end up getting a vinyl of the Byrds' Sweetheart of the Rodeo for just US $3.

"The good thing about running a record store is that we will always bump into crazy people like you guys," Warrenfeltz told me before I left the store.

Yes, it is this kind of record store that can be found in the Chicago-land area: stores run by dedicated vinyl junkies like Steve, a guy who once worked as a roadie for the Kinks in the mid 1960s and who was more than happy to leave his well-paid job for corporate America only to pursue his labor of love.

For a totally different experience, I recently checked out Dave's Record in downtown Chicago.

This store takes rock snobbism (or using the popular election jargon elitism) to a new level. The sign on the door to Dave's Records says it all. "No CD's!! Never had 'em!! Never Will!!"

Located in the upmarket Chicago District of Clark Street, Dave's Record caters to the need of hipster college kids who scavenge rare copies of Marquee Moon or the Minutemen's Double Nickels On the Dime.

A trendy-looking clerk sat up on his platform watching over me salivating over thousands of rare vinyl records.

And when I paid for my purchase, the clerk gave me a disapproving look. He was also probably baffled by my purchase of Marquee Moon, Pixies' Doolittle and Young Marble Giants' Colossal Youth.

Or it might have been that I was the first Southeast Asian to visit his store.

Even deep in a Midwestern county like DeKalb, music addicts can still find a decent store that keeps a steady supply of both new and used vinyl records at low prices.

Located in the midst of Northern Illinois University (NIU)'s dorms and lecture halls is DeKalb's oldest record store Record Revolution, or Record Rev for short.

"Record Rev started up in September 1973, back when Dark Side Of The Moon was at the top of the charts. We started out selling LPs at $4 including tax! Now 34 years later, we are still selling LPs at $4 (in our used department)," store owner Mark Cerny said in the record store website.

The last time I went to the record store, an Indonesian friend got a free LP for buying records worth more than $15.

But the greatest compliment came from one of the store's clerks, who praised my pal for purchasing the Arcade Fire debut album Funeral on vinyl. I think they became friends after that.

Such is the joy of being a vinyl addict these days, the warmth of human interaction absent from the aisles of Wal-Mart, Target or Best Buy or when one presses the "buy song" button on iTunes.

The proliferation of MP3s, both legal and illegal, has cheapened music, giving true music fans the strong conviction to distance themselves from the crowd and embrace vinyl records.

In recent years, in the midst of slumping CD sales, the sale of vinyl records has soared through the roof.

Time magazine reported last year that 990,000 albums were sold on vinyl, up 15.4 percent from 2006. Music rag Spin also reported that the Chicago-based Music Direct, a purveyor of turntables and new and reissued vinyl has seen the format's sale surge by more than 300 percent in the last three years.

The rise in the sale of vinyl has driven record companies, indie labels in particular, to issue the work of their artists on vinyl with a price lower than that of the CD format. The price tag for the Shins' debut album Oh, Inverted World on vinyl is $8, while the CD format is available for $13.

Vinyl has also become the weapon for musicians to lure fans to buy more of their work. After releasing their new album In Rainbows on MP3 format late last year, British avant-garde rockers Radiohead in January released the album in a box set containing two vinyl discs and extended liner notes.

Last month, Warner Bros dusted off its vault and reissued Metallica's back catalog only on the vinyl format. As of now, only Ride the Lightning and Kill 'Em All are available on the market. Metallica's thrash metal masterpiece Master of Puppets will only come out on vinyl on June 10. Next in line will be reissues of early releases from Green Day and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

On May 20, San Francisco-based record label 4 Men with Beards released Velvet Underground debut album Velvet Underground & Nico for the American market. In the past, 4 Men with Beards has bought the rights to classic records like Aretha Franklin's Lady Soul, Dusty Springfield's Dusty in Memphis and Buzzcock's Singles Going Steady and has started pressing them for the American market.

There is no time like the present to become a vinyl junkie.

 

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Indie music stores find their niche

http://www.onlineathens.com/stories/052508/business_20080525017.shtml

Indie music stores find their niche

Story Photos – Click to Enlarge

Bradley Helms searches through some records last week at Wuxtry Records in downtown Athens. Wuxtry is one of two indie record shops in Athens.
Tricia Spaulding /Staff
Davin Beasley, a Schoolkids Records employee, walks down one of aisles stacked with CDs. The indie store also sells records and DVDs.
Tricia Spaulding /Staff
Independent record store Schoolkids Records sells new and used records.
Tricia Spaulding /Staff
Wuxtry also sells buttons bearing its name.
Tricia Spaulding /Staff

Click thumbnails to view

  |     |   Story updated at 10:40 PM on Sunday, May 25, 2008

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Despite the tales of gloom and doom, the disappearance of some 1,500 small music outlets and the increasing predilection of the young and old alike to acquire their favorite tunes digitally, to paraphrase Mark Twain, the reports of the death of the independent music shop have been somewhat exaggerated.

Although the song is over for iconic retailers like Tower Records, Record Bar, Camelot Music and Peaches Records, two independent record retailing survivors – Wuxtry and Schoolkids Records – are, to paraphrase Johnny Winter, still alive and well in the Classic City.

It's true, however, that the music business on the whole is on shaky ground. SoundScan reports that in-store album sales dropped 17 percent in 2007, while digital purchases have increased by 50 percent. And it couldn't have helped those affected when one of the country's longest-standing indie stores – Schoolkids Records – closed the doors of its Chapel Hill, N.C., branch in early April.

But the indies are determined to stay the course to remain open for those who still like to hold their sonic purchases in their hands.

"I just returned from the National Association of Recording Merchandisers' convention in San Francisco and although the overriding vibe was one of concern with all the stores that have closed and are closing, there were a lot of people there who were reporting their best (sales) numbers ever," said Scott Register of the Birmingham-based Coalition of Independent Music Stores, of which Schoolkids is a member.

"It basically comes down to the individual retailer's entrepreneurial expertise. And people can sit on their (behinds) and complain about the state of the industry or they can figure out new ways to get people in their stores," Register said. "Music is not going anywhere, and my guys know how to peddle music. They're saying, 'We've got no choice but to try to figure out how this works.' "

Register pointed to the success of the recent inaugural National Record Store Day, an initiative to remind consumers that music shops still have a place on the industry's landscape.

"National Record Store Day drove home the importance of independent retail stores in our communities," he said. "It was our answer to the overriding opinion in the press that we're going away sometime soon."

There's not much question that the Web-based iTunes store is outselling just about everybody else and big-box retailers like Wal-Mart, Borders and Barnes & Noble command a considerable share of the cheese, but there's something about an indie market that just can't be duplicated online or in the (shrinking) music section at Wal-Mart.

"Actually, indie stores, like indie labels, should be seeing more customers because the people who work there know music," said Bruce Burch, administrative director of UGA's Music Business Program.

"If we're going away, nobody's told us," Register said. "Guys are doing whatever they have to in order to stay in business and to keep their businesses relevant. There are stores closing in businesses all across the board, so what we have to do is work hard to continue to get people through the door."

The news of Schoolkids' closing in Tar Heel Country might have sent a momentary gasp along Clayton Street in downtown Athens, since the company that owned the Chapel Hill store also owns the Schoolkids in Athens and in Raleigh, N.C., but Rick Culross, who managed the Chapel Hill store, said the local store would "absolutely" remain open, despite the times.

"Forty-eight percent of people age 18-24 didn't buy one CD last year," said Culross, who opened the Athens store and now is situated in Raleigh. "We pushed ourselves on a market (in Chapel Hill), but then the market just went away. People started buying and sharing music online, which led us to losing half our market here. And people burning discs and sharing them hurts, too."

Culross pointed out that in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Schoolkids' Chapel Hill outlet was one of four music stores on Franklin Street, which were doing a combined $250,000 in sales each month. Now all those stores are gone, replaced by "sub shops and Tar Heel T-shirt stores," Culross said.

"We've been the only store on Franklin Street for the last two-and-a-half years and we weren't even doing a fifth of what we were all doing before," he said. "In a six-year period of time, $200,000 worth of music sales left this street."

One thing that might have saved the Chapel Hill store, Culross said, would have been help from the major record labels' reducing the price of CDs.

"You'd think that after years and years of manufacturing CDs, the prices would drop," he said. "But we're still finding price increases. In most businesses, when sales fall, you get folks in the stores by lowering prices. But you can't discount prices when (the wholesale price) keeps going up."

Faced with almost overwhelming competition from digital delivery and big store buying power – many mega-retailers sell CDs with little or no intention of making a profit, hoping folks will buy something other than music while they're trolling the aisles – the indies have had to think outside the box, developing different products and attractions to bring in customers.

One of the nation's most successful independent music stores is The Sound Garden, located in Baltimore and Syracuse, N.Y.

General manager Philip Ley said they've thrived in Baltimore because "we have the best prices," but the store also hauls in the revenue with a considerable used CD/DVD business and with the utilization of "in-store" promotions, whereby touring artists visit the store for acoustic performances or autograph sessions.

"We buy and sell used CDs and DVDs, which is a huge draw," said Ley, who's been with The Sound Garden for nearly 11 years. "We pay good prices, which makes us the first place a lot of people go to and it keeps them coming back on a regular basis. And new DVD sales are a huge part of our business.

"We also do a lot of in-stores (events) and signings, which often brings new customers to us. We try to make this an exciting place to be – not your average retail store. It's definitely an energetic place, a little more of a treat than your average retail experience."

Like everywhere else, overall sales have diminished in recent years but the Baltimore store – which is located in the city's funky Fells Point district – is "holding steady" and will soon expand to start carrying video games, Ley said. CD sales alone might have sustained the business, but it would have left very little wiggle room and no opportunity for growth, he said

And as far as the proliferation of downloading music is concerned, Ley brought up an interesting observation that could well be the key that keeps the indies alive.

"I think the downloading craze has leveled off," he said. "Young people who grew up downloading free music now realize it's no longer free and then at some point they realize they've got a lot of music on their hard-drive, but they don't have much of a musical collection. Those are the people we're trying to get in our store."

"It is a collection thing," added Wuxtry's John Fernandez, who also performs in multiple Athens-based bands including Olivia Tremor Control and Dark Meat. "It's cool to have things to show off to your friends. And if you lose your iPod, where's your music? And people love album art and liner notes, so we try to order imports with good packaging and art. That's something you don't get when you download."

A swelling interest in vinyl also is helping to drive the survivors.

"Vinyl is making and will continue to make a comeback," said Burch, who before coming to Athens had a notable career as a songwriter, publisher and producer in Nashville, Tenn. "Real music lovers hate to hear music through bad speakers or those ear pods. Vinyl has a warm sound that just can't be duplicated. In the next several years, a lot more people will get turned on to vinyl."

"There aren't nearly the number of record manufacturers that there once were, so the vinyl plants are overrun with business," Register said. "I told people three years ago to watch out for vinyl and people thought I was crazy. But it's not a fad – it's (high definition) for music lovers. We're seeing a resurgence, and it's not just older people. Teenage girls who have the 'Juno' soundtrack buy a vinyl copy because they want the artwork."

Dan Wall, who owns and operates Wuxtry Records in Athens (which sells new and used CDs, DVDs, vinyl and even cassettes and 8-track tapes) has his own take on the increasing interest in vinyl.

"Every format has been slotted to kill the format before it, but nostalgia keeps it all alive," said Wall, who has operated Wuxtry for 33 years. "In the 1990s, everybody wanted CDs and vinyl. Through the years we've become more of a specialty shop, but it's a well-honed situation. We're not elitist – a lot of people want records now. They're cheaper and sound warmer. We've really seen a rebirth of vinyl – it's got a new buzz. The new R.E.M., B-52's and Widespread Panic all came out on vinyl this year."

"Like everywhere, vinyl sales have increased, and kids are buying vinyl," said Ross Shapiro, who manages the Athens Schoolkids, which opened in 2000. "I don't know why vinyl is coming back – maybe there's some kind of therapeutic quality about not being able to change to the next song."

In the face of the crumbling music industry, how have Schoolkids and Wuxtry been able to survive?

"One of the great things about Schoolkids and Wuxtry is that you've got musicians working there who know their stuff," Burch said. "They know music, they love music and they have a passion for music. That's what will keep them alive."

"We've supported local music for years and have the most complete selection of old, out-of-print things," Wall said. "It's been a big part of our business. There have been so many great Athens bands through the years and they've helped us as much as we've helped them. Borders sends people looking for old Athens stuff here all the time."

Diversification has been a key for both stores, as Wuxtry does a nice trade in selling old stereo equipment (most notably turntables) and has hosted late-night events touting the release of albums from artists like R.E.M., the B-52's and Pylon, and Schoolkids has sold its share of tickets for local venues and has hosted several in-store performances.

"(Wuxtry has) sold more copies of the DVD "Athens, Ga.: Inside/Out" than anyone else in the world," Wall said. "The place that has sold the second-most copies is the Virgin Record store in Manhattan – the biggest record store in the world. We sell more of that disc than anybody. And we sell old stereos. There are times when I've thought about changing the name of the store to '20th Century Cultural Detritus.' "

Both Wall and Shapiro agree that revenues have dropped through the years, but there's still enough business to keep the doors open.

"It's not booming," said Wall, whose Wuxtry "empire" also includes the Wuxtry Café and the popular comic book shop Bizarro Wuxtry. "We made more money in the 1990s than we do now. … We don't attract the masses like we did in the '90s. It's more of an exclusive group that's partial to vinyl. But we still have a lot of kids come in here who love to get old turntables and buy old records."

"Business is up and down," added Shapiro, who is known around town as the leader of the popular band The Glands. "The percentage of student business from years ago and the not-so-distant past was probably greater than it is now. Sometimes, when there's a weekend when not a lot of students are in town but there are a lot of tourists, we might actually do better business."

"There's been somewhat of a decrease in sales in Athens, but it has maintained its level," said Culross of the local Schoolkids. "We peaked out there in about 2003 and we haven't really wavered from that point. We used to carry twice as much stock there as we do now, but it's been a good store and we'll keep the lights on and sell, sell, sell."

And Shapiro and Wall don't have plans to go anywhere.

"I've got nothing better to do," Shapiro said light-heartedly. "I'll stay here as long as I can."

"Essentially, even if the bottom drops out of the music business, we're so deep-shelf that we could continue as an antiques store," Wall said. "We've got what people want and they're still buying."

Published in the Athens Banner-Herald on 052508

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