Peter Saville & Factory – Joy Division New Order

Peter Saville on his album cover artwork

Next month sees the release of Total, the first compilation to combine the back catalogues of Joy Division and New Order – who shared band members, a record label and a sleeve designer. Peter Saville was a co-founder of Factory Records and credits the label’s unique culture for providing him with a creative freedom on a par with its bands. “I had the opportunity to make the kind of objects I wanted to see in my life,” says Saville, who went on to design the England football strip, art direct adverts for Dior and was creative director of the city of Manchester. Here, he talks us through his favourite designs for Joy Division and New Order sleeves

Vinyl Sales Rise. What Does it All Mean?


MAY 202011

Kids today, with their new-fangled desire to listen to music cut into grooves on big circular platters… Photo (CC-BYMatthias Rhomberg.

At first, it seemed like it might be just a blip: amidst generally declining sales of physical music, down sharply from their 1990s boom, vinyl sales were trending up. The reversal started with a slight uptick in 2007 – already noticeable as the CD had begun its collapse. That slight uptick has turned into a small boom. From a tiny 300,000 units in US sales in 1993, the vinyl record is projected to do some 3.6 million units in sales. Source:

Vinyl Projected to Grow More Than 25 Percent In 2011…

Let’s put some of this in perspective. Even with explosive growth, vinyl remains at the margins, representing 1.6% of physical sales in the US. In fact, part of the fetish around vinyl is evidenced by the fact that people would make this headline news – fans of the vinyl record are understandably eager to hear their format of choice is doing well. As a point of comparison, in the last 30 days, just one independent band website, Bandcamp, has done US$640,513 in profit for its members. That’s profit, not revenue, and it’s often going directly to artists.

You can also, via Digital Music News, compare to vinyl’s years as the dominant format, which makes this all look very niche:
The Vinyl Comeback, In Historical Perspective…. (Thanks, JP in comments.) That graph doesn’t show per-unit cost, and anecdotally, artists seem closer to the record release process than they once were.

That said, vinyl’s significance in the new world order is arguably more about its cultural meaning than its numbers. (Getting away from numbers – cough, digital – is the point.) Cutting a vinyl record today is about making a physical artefact of a release. It carries with it prestige. Its scarcity is part of its value, with exclusive 12″ releases again returning to the days when DJs were judged by the obscure gems in their collection, not the disposable digital hits.

And I can see any number of benefits to vinyl’s reemergence:

  • Bringing tactile back. Records as objects are a pleasure; I’m the last person to argue there. There’s a ritual to putting on a record that changes how you feel about the music, versus the seemingly-infinite, ephemeral digital jukebox.
  • Keeping vinyl DJing alive. At this point, it seems more about preserving the record and mixing rather than scratching, but vinyl remains essential for people DJing with turntables. Notably, unlike faking it with digital control vinyl, using actual records is also more reliable – a slight flaw or vibration won’t bring the whole mix to a standstill. (Analog most definitely fails more gracefully than digital.) That makes the presence of vinyl releases doubly important to getting to hear traditional DJ technique.
  • Keeping the cutters, and players, in business. The demand for vinyl records, whatever may motivate it, means everything from turntable repair to disk lathe shops remain healthy.
  • The sound is unique. I’m leaving perhaps the most significant point for last. The sound of vinyl does remain unique, precisely because of some of its limitations, and I don’t think any amount of fetishization would please some of its consumers if it didn’t sound good.

When I spoke to Anika earlier this year, she brought up the economic point, too – that vinyl keeps things physical, and supports artists. Now, financially, it may be a tenuous point – look at those Bandcamp numbers – but “support” for artists is more than financials alone. And viewed in a larger effort to express the value of music in tangible form, vinyl makes sense.

Vinyl, incidentally, doesn’t have a monopoly on tangible music. Even digital has made various plays on the concept – one of the most unique being Ghostly International’s effort last year to produce“totems” for Matthew Dear, physical objects that represented the spirit of the intangible music.


Sound, above all, is cited as the primary rationalization for vinyl’s resurgence, but that’s where I feel a bit more conflicted:

  • Mastering digital for vinyl isn’t the same as a “direct-to-analog” process. Here’s where things get weird. Remember in the early days of CDs, seeing the letters “DDD” and hearing about fully digital signal flow? Now, we have an oddly inverted situation. People are making music almost entirely inside computers, with software like Ableton Live, doing a digital master, and then printing the whole thing to … vinyl. There’s nothing to say that can’t work, but it seems to me a potential mismatch of source material and recording medium. (More on that in a moment.)
  • Psuedo-science, go! Let’s face it: there’s plenty of voodoo around “digital,” and plenty of voodoo around “analog.” In the digital domain, the faux science tends to manifest itself as unsupported claims about the value of absurdly-high bit rates and sample rates, or, if you’re really unlucky, gold-plated digital interconnects. In analog, you’ll routinely hear people claim that analog captures “more” sound, because digital leaves “gaps” between samples, missing that both are constrained first and foremost by the transducers. Analog or digital, these are based on misunderstandings about fundamental characteristics of how sound is reproduced and heard from recording media. I think it’d be unfortunate if the genuine value of vinyl and the unique characteristics of its sound were obscured by claims about recording that simply aren’t true.

Vinyl itself is surely not to blame here; it should just raise some questions. Presumably, not all digitally-produced music really fits vinyl as a medium. And the right way to make that fit work is to really listen and apply some scientific understanding of the process.

Vinyl is that it is a unique medium, one with imperfect recording characteristics. That means whatever the source, you do need to mix differently, which makes a recent piece in Electronic Musician very admirable, indeed. (Disclosure: I have never mixed and mastered for vinyl, so I canonly look upon this as an enthusiastic listener and interested observer. I welcome feedback from those out there who are more qualified to investigate the questions I’m asking.)

Learn Mixing | Tips for Mixing for Vinyl [Electronic Musician]

Gino Robair, one of my favorite EM writers over the years, goes through some detail about preparing mixes for vinyl as the delivery medium. Part of what you’ll find is a reminder of why engineers were excited about digital in the first place: there’s a greater ability in digital recordings to capture certain details of the high and low end that would distort in an analog recording. So long as you go into the reality of these limitations with your eyes (or make that ears) open, it can be a good experience as a producer, and for your listeners.

This raises still more scientific and perceptual questions, though. I’m not entirely convinced – I haven’t seen evidence in either direction – that it’s in any way necessary to use a 24-bit, 96kHz master for a vinyl release. (Gino points to the example of Arcade Fire using that as the master.) It certainly can’t hurt, especially in the era of cheap storage. But as in direct-digital delivery, the question is whether you really gain from the higher-resolution file. The only way to know for sure would be to do lab-style experimentation and find out, and as readers have lamented on this site before, there’s not a whole lot of that going on.

Yeah, we still love you. Photo (CC-BYKaren Horton.

Vinyl’s good; vinyl’s unique. (So, too, are cassette tapes and other media with which music producers have been re-discovering of late.) It just means that any claims about vinyl’s resurgence should be scaled against the growth of other distribution outlets, and that we should ask honest questions about sound, not just accept either digital or analog claims of “quality” without evaluation.

So, I purposely raise the points above more as a question than a statement. I’m curious to hear from people who are producing and consuming vinyl records, in terms of what they’ve found satisfying and what they’ve found disappointing. (I mean that, in particular, in regards to certain releases – I’m sure some are better than others.)

And I also wonder whether it’s possible to begin to appreciate digital recording with foresight as much as it is vinyl with hindsight. How can we make the most of the format we have today? How can we understand it, in virtual form, as physical object?

At the end of the day, “analog” is not real. (Hence the name.) A recording is an artificial and imperfect snapshot of an event that occurred in the past, frozen in time in an impossible way. It’s what is beautiful about recording, and what terrified, or at least confused, some of those who first heard it. It is a technology conceived as a precursor to email, as a kind of business memo. It has become to many what music is, rather than the reflection of musical performance. It has had a devastating impact on many forms of live performance, emptying bandstands and causing live players their livelihood before anyone became concerned about whether the record industry that was left would lose its financial well-being.

The “record,” whether it’s a cassette tape or a FLAC download, is strange and unnatural, with the ability to bring to life dead musicians and performances that never existed in one place.

And yes, we do really love it.

My Vinyl Love

My Vinyl Love

Vinyl Love

In the early nineties I was just reaching adolescence.  This was obviously a momentous time for me in many areas, and I will spare you all of the glorious physiological details, but what I remember most fondly was the receipt of the most influential gift of my life.  My father’s friend, Mark, an engineer with more than a passing interest in late night acoustic guitar jams, was discussing music with my Dad.

“It’s such a shame that I have all of these records and never listen to them,” Mark said.  He glanced around our living room, which proudly displayed my father’s impressive vinyl collection.  “Do you want to hold on to them for me?”  He asked Dad.

“I barely listen to mine as it is,” Dad told Mark.  It was true.  It was 1993, and dad’s Nick Drake, Velvet Underground, Leonard Cohen, Beach Boys, The Kinks and Bruce Springsteen albums were gathering dust, flanked by glistening new Compact Disc racks.

“I’ll take them,” I said, glancing up from the Bulls game I was watching.  If anyone would listen to them, it would be me.  As long as I could remember, I’d been hauling up a stool, putting on headphones, and spending hours sorting through my dad’s jazz, soul, folk and rock records.  I would wake up on Saturday morning and spend the entire day making the best damned mixtapes any sixth-grader had ever heard.  I was interested in the compendium, not the genre:  I’d veer from Smokey Robinson to The Go Gos to The Who in three short moves.  Audacious, I know.

“Do you have a record player?”  Mark asked me.

“No, I don’t, but I could play them on Dad’s.”

“Uhh, no you can’t,” said Dad, who was under the impression that I was too careless with his equipment.

“Hell,” Mark continued, “if you take my records, I won’t need my player.  I’ll give you both.”

So it was that, at the age of 13, already vinyl obsessed – vinyl sick, really – I came into possession of my very own Technics-210 turntable.  I hooked it up to a Sansui AU-999 amplifier and Mark IV speakers and I was rocking.  My initial collection consisted of a couple dozen 70s country-rock albums, highlighted by the entire Neil Young catalogue, some John Prine, Allman Brothers, Emmy Lou Harris and Leo Kottke.

The next day, I took whatever savings I had and removed it from the bank in the form of a crisp $100 bill.  I strolled up to the dingy, smoky confines of Iowa City’s Record Collector.  Already, the used CD racks dominated the space with their Salt-n-Peppa, B-52s and Crash Test Dummies albums priced at ten bucks a pop.  I walked right past and sidled up to my new home: the record rack.  If my world had changed the day before, my mind blew a circuit with what I saw next.

Abbey Road – $4.  Blonde on Blonde – $6.  Notorious Byrd Brothers – $3.  London Calling – $6.  The Heart of Saturday Night – $3.    I had stumbled into the very bottom of a commodity bust, and was able to buy up the most delectable items at foreclosure rates.  I did the quick math.  I could walk out of there with 20 records that day, choosing from the best works of popular music of the last 40 years.  (Incidentally, I still remember the conversation I had with the leather-clad, dreadlocked, sunglass-wearing, chain-smoking clerk.  I walked up with my tower of records and my $100 dollar bill.  When he looked askance at the Benjamin in my 13 year old hand I said, “it’s a long story.”  He replied, “It’s just cool you’ve got it, man.”)

In 1993, records were not cool.  It would be another ten years before they were fetishized by hipsters from Portland to Austin to Brooklyn.  In 1993, people would look at you like you were either a total cheapskate or some weird, misguided antique collector.  Both of which, of course, I was.  I used to savor walking past all the college kids holding their eighteen-buck Skankin’ Pickle and Aphex Twin CDs.  “Suckers,”  I’d think as I strolled back to my five-dollar oasis that had been virtually untouched since I’d been there last.

Around 1997, with the release of DJ Shadow’s Endtroducting, I started to notice that I had company at the record racks.  These kids were a new breed, wearing oversized hoodies that said “Phat Farm,” Phillies Blunt beanies, and speaking in the patois of a hip-hop inspired vernacular.  They were looking for records to sample in order to emulate the brilliant analog breakbeat that Shadow created in glorious, genre-bending ways (by the way, if you don’t own Endtroducing, you need to close this window, open up right now and buy it – seriously, just buy it).  These DJs were after an organic sound in response to the highly digitized and cold sounds of Orbital and Roni Size/Reprazent.

And they were snatching up my tunes.  The good ones too, because I had moved on from the sixties and seventies stuff in about ’96.  Even in the mid-nineties, records from the punk and new wave eras were far more expensive than records from the psychedelic/country rock/prog-rock era.  The reason for this was twofold: 1) there were far less of them, as many had been released on cassette and 2) people who owned them were not getting rid of them.  But this type of record (the Stooges, Depeche Mode, Front 242 and Joy Divisions) created the first scarcity in the used vinyl market.  Fourteen bucks for The Head on the Door? What the hell?

But the roof didn’t blow off the market until about 2006, when it was clear that Mp3 was in and CD (thank God) was out.  The aural limitations of Mp3 were immediate to anyone with a high quality stereo.  The fact that Mp3 is a compressed format took away the fullness of sound, to the point where people who had minutes before transferred their music from CD were asking, ‘why does this all of a sudden sound really bad?’  Which, for the first time in generations, caused people to ask the inevitable question, “what format sounds the best, anyway?”

It has long been known that a vinyl record, played on a high quality system with correct RIAA calibration, sounds better than a CD (however, on lower quality systems, CD sounds profoundly better than record, so if you listen to your music on a boombox and have a Wal-Mart record player, you would probably do better with a portable CD player or an iPod).  So, the inevitable answer to all of those interested in finding accurate sound replication was: get a good record player and buy some high quality records.

Additionally, this renewed interest in sound coincided nicely with the burgeoning aesthetic movement Steampunk, whose tenets extol the virtues of all things analogue and low-tech.  As we become further removed from our technologies (can you change a spark-plug in your car?), pleasurable experiences become increasingly dulled (I don’t know about you, but I would rather test drive a ’65 Mustang than a ’11 Lexus any day).

Because listening to music is such an intimate experience, we are constantly in search of ways to break down walls that separate us from the bands we love.  On a CD, music has been fed through a computer, altered into series of 1s and 0s and reproduced on…whatever that crazy mirror looking surface is.  On a record, the band played into a microphone which created a vibration that scratched itself onto a lacquer, which is then transferred to metal grooves.  My record was then pressed from this metal master.  Only two steps from the band’s playing to my record, and I can watch it spin around and play in real time.  Additionally, the artwork on records is amazing.  Holding a record jacket in your hands, reading liner notes and flipping the disc makes music a participatory activity, not just songs on “shuffle.”  Finally, they are literally precious items.  If you don’t obsess over them a tad they degenerate into something less powerful and less intricate; the flower fades.  It’s nice to literally care for something so glorious as music.

So it was that hipsters from across the country cracked the vinyl code.  Gone are the days of three dollar Dark Side of the Moon and Purple Rain. Now, we drop 25 large on 180 gram pressings of The Moon and Antarctica and Illmatic. But, you know what?  It is totally worth it.  Those of us who were fortunate enough to build complete record collections on pocket change understand that the early nineties were a freakish moment in time.  Hell, we knew it then: “This is insane!” we’d say.  It was like being the only one awake in a lucid dream, like being drunk on power, like living in the wild west, and we knew that it couldn’t last.

Today, every record store worth it’s salt has a vinyl section.  New vinyl, used vinyl, audiophile vinyl and picture vinyl.  The bright side is that because records are so much more expensive, people are liquidating their collections to make some cash.  Those previously scarce punk and new wave titles are now increasingly available.  For us old school guys, there are some untrodden terrains:  Jazz records are still cheap (and magnificent.  Why, oh why, have I not been listening to Dexter Gordon my entire life?), Folk records are affordable (for the uninitiated, track down The Best of Richard and Mimi Farina).  You can also find records anywhere on the internet.

Happily, I’ve recently discovered a different kind of market where the sellers are unaware of their record’s value, offering a huge amount of quality titles at those old “1993” prices.  Just last week I picked up a sealed INXS/ Kick for $5, Souixsie and the Banshees/ juju for $4 and Kraftwerk/ Computer World for $4.  All near mint, and playing great. So, what is this oasis of awesome, cheap wax?  No offense, but some cats are meant to be kept safely in the bag.



Record Stores Revinylize OC

The vinyl boom is fueling a resurgence of record retailers

It’s a chilly day at the Lab, Costa Mesa‘s über-hip “anti-mall.” It’s the kind of place where people spend $30 on cotton T-shirts emblazoned with line drawings of birds. Amid well-heeled young couples strolling by, lattes in hand, and foodies munching on empanadas pulse the synthy rhythms of avant-garde industrial band Ashra, courtesy of a 12-inch platter of black polyvinyl chloride spinning at 33.3 rpms on a nearby turntable.

Dorris, left, and Melanie Lynn Thompson browse Creme Tangerine's selection of records inside  its trailer

Miguel Vasconcellos
Dorris, left, and Melanie Lynn Thompson browse Creme Tangerine’s selection of records inside its trailer

Creme Tangerine co-owners Parker Macy, top, and Jonathon Staph turned a refurbished vintage trailer into a record store at The Lab

Miguel Vasconcellos
Creme Tangerine co-owners Parker Macy, top, and Jonathon Staph turned a refurbished vintage trailer into a record store at The Lab

Located stage left of Urban Outfitters‘ towering glass doors is a small relic of the past—a baby-blue, chrome-trimmed 1957 Kenskill camper trailer. It’s where local bluesman/head-banger/entrepreneur Parker Macy has chosen to house his latest business venture, a record store named Creme Tangerine. After successfully running a small LP stand located across Bristol Street (outside specialty market the Seed), he and his business partner Jonathon Staph seized an opportunity to upgrade.

Macy is just one cog in a wheel of Orange County traders and retailers whose primary ware—vinyl records—is a sonic format many declared dead decades ago. But don’t try telling him that.

“This has been so much fun,” Macy says, referring to his trailer of records as the 26-year-old draws deep from an American Spirit Orange cigarette. “We may just do a few more of these.”

Record stores have been popping up all over Orange County and Long Beach in recent years—despite the economic malaise. Indeed, sales of new records have been on the rise for three consecutive years.

Costa Mesa’s Port of Sound Record Shoppe, owned by John Weir, opened a little more than two months ago. That same city’sFactory Records was opened by Dave Jamesin April 2010. Fingerprints Records, a Long Beach institution, needed more room to house its collection, so earlier this year , it moved into a 7,200-square-foot space.Fullerton‘s Burger Records was founded in 2009 and run by three friends from local band Thee Makeout Party!

Then there are the veterans—the independents who battled with chains such asTower Records, Blockbuster Music, Wherehouse Music and Music Plus; outlasted the competition; and lived on into the post-record-store age: Fullerton’s Black Hole Records, Cypress’s Bionic Records,Huntington Beach‘s Vinyl Solution, to name a few.

Why is there such a resurgence in a format that, a decade ago, was declared dead?

Nielsen Soundscan, which tracks record transactions at points of sale, said that while vinyl’s numbers dropped significantly after the advent of the CD, people continued to buy them in the 1990s. Between 1995 and 1996, sales of LPs increased from 794,000 to 1.2 million and held steady. Then, in 2005, the bubble burst. Sales of records tumbled to 857,000. They crept back above the 1 million mark in 2008, and last year, vinyl sales reached their highest numbers since the agency started compiling data in 1991. About 2.8 million vinyl records were sold in 2010.

“I don’t know that we’ve ever seen a format that’s had a resurgence like this,” says David Bakula, senior vice president of analytics at Nielsen Entertainment. “Even if you look at year-to-date [figures] this year, the numbers are 30 percent higher than they were this time last year.”

The 2010 list of the 10 best-selling LPs is heavily weighted toward the Coachella set and includes titles from Arcade FireVampire Weekend, Beach House, the National and XX.

So given the finicky nature of vinyl—constant maintenance, proper storage, the twin scourges of direct sunlight and dust, as well as quests for replacement parts for turntables—why would young people cheat on their iPods and computers? Anyone familiar with hipster culture knows that the lack of practicality in a thing is often inversely proportional to its hipness quotient (see fixed-gear bicycles, meticulously coifed handlebar mustaches or elaborately pretentious tattoos featuring Paul Klee paintings). Vinyl has integrity.

*     *     *

Macy’s tousled waves of blond hair drape over his shoulders and frame a shirt with T. Rex’sMarc Bolan on the front. He sports a laid-back demeanor and is given to referring to people he barely knows as “brother.”

He has just returned from Riverside, where he purchased a collection of almost 1,000 used LPs, which sit in scattered piles behind him on a large, square chaise longue alongside a cardboard box, flaps opened to reveal rows of thin cardboard spines embossed with titles such as Breakfast In AmericaOff the Wall and Bad.

Inside the cramped trailer, taller shoppers dip their heads to clear the low ceiling. The space emanates the smell of new wood, the result of a recent remodel. A sign near the door beckons customers to wander into where the “good stuff” is. Folks run their fingers along the tops of sleeves, ticking them back like pages in a flip book. There are copies of Miles Davis‘ fusion-masterpiece Bitches BrewBirth of the CoolHarry Nilsson‘s Aerial Ballet, as well as a clear vinyl bootleg of the Beatles‘ Yellow Matter Custard. There’s also a section dedicated to odd titles such as The Bible for Children, John Wayne Loves America and an entire lesson on how to learn Morse code.

Outside, Macy sits at a humming Smith Corona Electra 120 typewriter. He stabs at the keys, smacking numbers onto circular stickers used as price tags—no fancy computerized inventory system or, for that matter, a steady crew of employees here. Macy instead relies on help from his friends. He’s the first to admit he hasn’t perfected a system.


“Just trying to keep up with it all is something I’m working to be disciplined about,” he says.

Macy, whose father was a non-denominational Christian pastor, grew up in a strict household that frowned on rock & roll music, though he does remember his dad having an LP of Led Zeppelin IV, which Macy keeps on a shelf at home. “I treasure that,” he says, “my dad’s fucked-up sin.” He estimates he has around 5,000 LPs in his personal collection and a penchant for vintage records featuring trumpet players posed next to sultry, curvaceous women. As a kid, he remembers wanting to own a record store: “I wanted a store with velvet bins.”

Dorris, left, and Melanie Lynn Thompson browse Creme Tangerine's selection of records inside  its trailer

Miguel Vasconcellos
Dorris, left, and Melanie Lynn Thompson browse Creme Tangerine’s selection of records inside its trailer

Creme Tangerine co-owners Parker Macy, top, and Jonathon Staph turned a refurbished vintage trailer into a record store at The Lab

Miguel Vasconcellos
Creme Tangerine co-owners Parker Macy, top, and Jonathon Staph turned a refurbished vintage trailer into a record store at The Lab

*     *     *

Rand Foster opened Fingerprints Music in Long Beach 19 years ago, and he continues to run it today. His store represents the epitome of hi-fidelity cool: hip digs, well-stocked, knowledgeable staff.

An open space that lets in a flood of natural light through skylights, the high ceilings sport criss-crossed two-by-fours; an assemblage of autographed posters signed by bands who have played in the store adorns the exposed-brick walls. Though the aisles are full of new and used CDs, LPs and kitschy rock & roll action figures, the space more closely resembles a trendy SoHo loft than a music retailer.

This past Record Store Day, the Foo Fightersplayed here for a small crowd of fans granted access after pre-ordering the band’s new LP through the store. And though he’s riding the current wave of interest in vinyl, it’s clear from Foster’s store’s history, even after the format was eclipsed by other options, it never completely went away.

“About 10 years ago, my staff came to me, thinking about getting rid of all the records, that it would give us so much more room for CDs,” he explains. “I said, ‘But then we can’t say we’re a record store.'”

Both Foster and Factory Records’ Dave James have their own theories on the resurgence of vinyl.

James—who ran Costa Mesa’s Noise, Noise, Noise until 2005—says the rise of the CD occurred at a unique time in music history. “I opened up Noise, Noise, Noise in 1991, and right after that, the rave movement came around, which really brought vinyl back in a big way. The DJ got really popular again, the underground hip-hop movement exploded, and the third wave of punk kind of brought vinyl back. Vinyl’s really been a punk-rock thing also.”

Foster attributes the boom of vinyl to the digital age. “We’ve entered an age when so much music is consumed digitally. If you don’t want to consume music digitally, the LP makes so much more sense. It’s a much better experience from what you hold in your hand to the sound experience to the larger artwork.”

*     *     *

Other experts attribute the phenomenon to a mixture of factors.

In Los Angeles, Infrasonic Sound Mastering co-owner/mastering engineer Pete Lyman has worked with numerous indie artists who’ve released albums and EPs on vinyl for the past 10 years. He has worked on recordings for Matt and KimOmar Rodriguez-Lopez, and People Under the Stairs, among others. He admits there’s an element of novelty at play—but, he adds, going the vinyl route has a lot to do with artistic control.

“When we’re mastering the record, artists are pretty specific about how they want the tracks to flow—the order, the spacing between the tracks. A lot of that gets lost when people are just putting their iPods on shuffle,” he says.

And then there’s selling the LP. “For a band on tour, it’s another way to make money,” Lyman says. “It’s something to sell at the merch table unless you’re selling a tiny drop card for MP3s, which is a great thing to do—it’s just not as exciting as leaving with a slab of vinyl.”

Christina Rentz, publicist for Arcade Fire’s label, Merge Records, says it’s usually the artists who insist on releasing records on vinyl. Still, it’s been beneficial for the company. Vinyl releases by Mountain Goats, Telekinesis and Wye Oak were all very successful. “We’re excited as music fans in the resurgence of vinyl,” says Rentz. “It gives you more satisfaction to hold. Especially with the free digital download you get. You’re still getting your iPod fix.”

Exciting as it may be, new vinyl sales make up less than 1 percent of today’s music market. If you look at graphs produced by the Recording Industry Association of America going back to 1973, the visual representation from vinyl at its peak to the current day fell sharply after 1982. That’s when Sony Phillips developed the compact disc, effectively smashing the LP’s supremacy. But for more than a century leading up to the year when Abba’s The Visitors was mass-pressed on a 16-bit rainbow-infused disc, records were the bee’s knees.

*     *     *

According to the Encyclopedia of Recorded Sound In the United States, the earliest device capable of recording and replaying audio was invented by Thomas Edison in 1877. The machine featured a brass, grooved cylinder around which metallic tinfoil containing audio information was placed. Though there’s some discussion regarding the first audio recording to be played, many agree it was Edison’s warbled voice singing the words “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”


The record player evolved from the cylinder to the gramophone to the 12-inch; by 1949, records were produced on a substance discovered by scientist Waldo Semon, who had been working on developing a synthetic adhesive. Originally used to make golf balls and shoe heels, the substance was known as polyvinyl chloride. The vinyl era of music was born, and soon, a slew of legendary rock recordings was produced.

Elvis PresleyChuck Berry and Johnny Cash used a system that took a sound source directly from the microphone and, hooked to a lathe with a gem-equipped cutting head, inscribed audio directly onto a piece of lacquer-covered aluminum to create the “stampers” that would press an LP.

Dorris, left, and Melanie Lynn Thompson browse Creme Tangerine's selection of records inside  its trailer

Miguel Vasconcellos
Dorris, left, and Melanie Lynn Thompson browse Creme Tangerine’s selection of records inside its trailer

Creme Tangerine co-owners Parker Macy, top, and Jonathon Staph turned a refurbished vintage trailer into a record store at The Lab

Miguel Vasconcellos
Creme Tangerine co-owners Parker Macy, top, and Jonathon Staph turned a refurbished vintage trailer into a record store at The Lab

That process soon gave way to recording first to magnetic tape, then to digital recording. Infrasonic’s Lyman has done his part to resurrect the analog arts, continuing to offer his clients vinyl mastering. He has even done a direct-to-vinyl recording session for Beck. This process isn’t for everyone; each lacquer plate runs $30 and allows for one take to get it right (two, if you flip the lacquer over). It definitely requires musicians to be well-rehearsed.

The machine in his studio is known as the Neumann lathe. Built in the 1950s, it was once the property of RCA records. These machines are no longer made, and parts are hard to come by, so Lyman contracts with a technician with a machine shop who makes parts when necessary. Working with it, he says, is akin to “driving an 18-wheeler down a cobblestone street.” But the effort is rewarded in the final product.

“I prefer the sound of vinyl 90 percent of the time over a 16-bit compact disc,” Lyman says. “There is something the medium does that actually changes the way [the music] sounds—in a pleasing way, I think.”

And there’s an entire subculture of audiophiles that agrees. These music fans can afford to drop six figures on a turntable.

Dan Meinwald distributes high-end audio components for European electronics company EAR and serves as an industry consultant to the Los Angeles and Orange County Audio Society. At 58, he has been listening to vinyl records since he was 15 and enjoys everything from classical Indian music and subgenres of jazz to Jimi Hendrix. He estimates he has 5,000 records in his collection.

“I never stopped buying records and playing records,” he says. “It was very obvious CDs didn’t sound very good in the beginning. . . . I have lots of CDs now, and I play them all the time. But when I really want to sit and listen to music carefully, I play records because they sound better.”

That’s because on vinyl, audio waves captured with microphones are directly reproduced by the playback system, giving the listener a true analog of the original event. With digital formats such as MP3s and CDs, sound waves are captured by the microphones the same way, but they’re converted into bits and stored in a computer. Those bits are then replayed on a CD in what Meinwald refers to as a “digital approximation.”

“There’s all kinds of subtleties in music. If they’re not there, you miss them—even if you’re not aware of missing them. I think digital still does not do a good enough job,” he says. “To me, LPs just simply sound more natural, more like real music than CDs do. [CDs] always sound a little bit sterile. But it’s gotten better, quite a bit better.”

According to Nielsen’s Bakula, vinyl’s real or supposed sonic advantages pose little threat to the digital format.

“Certainly over a 128K digital file, there probably is a [vinyl] sound superiority, but I don’t know if the average ear could hear it. . . . I don’t think the majority of mass consumers are going to say, ‘Oh, I’m going to stop buying digital because the sound quality of vinyl is so much better.'”

*     *     *

Whatever one’s thoughts on why kids buy vinyl, it’s hard to dismiss the tactile benefits of getting away from one’s computer, stepping outside, and socializing with knowledgeable humans on the creation and presentation of rock & roll. The human experience is lost in the digital ether and blinking lights of the hard drive. It’s this human factor that Rand Foster sees as reason for hope in the future of his business.

“There will always be a marketplace for the physical music experience,” he says. “Whether that will continue to be an accelerating aspect of the marketplace is the one big, hairy question in the room.”

Though he’s technically in competition with several nearby stores, Port of Sound’s Weir remains optimistic about the state of vinyl records. “I see more stores opening up as a good thing,” he says. “People coming from farther away are more apt to drive to an area where they can hit five stores as opposed to going out of their way to hit one.”

Even though Weir sees future dips in sales as inevitable, he remains unfazed. “It’s kind of in vogue now,” he says. “But even when that tapers off, there’s always going to be enough people interested in LPs to keep a store with low overhead open.”


This article appeared in print as “Revinylized: Vinyl is going for a spin again, and Orange County is seeing a boom in area record stores”

New record shop gets vinyl fanatics in a spin

New record shop gets vinyl fanatics in a spin

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Kettering Sellars Allsorts vinyl records: Ross Hodgson, and Daz Sellars. 19/05/11


As the internet puts music shops across the country out of business a vintage store has turned back the clock and opened a vinyl record shop upstairs.


Everything from Blondie to Bruce Willis can be found among more than 5,000 records on the first floor of Sellars Secondhand Allsorts in Lower Street, Kettering.

And the huge range collected over six months is proving a big hit with customers.

Daz Sellar, 41, who opened the vintage and retro shop two years ago, said: “It has been really good.

“Everyone who has been up here has always walked down with something, whether it’s a single or LP.”

Mr Sellar decided to turn the first floor, formerly a store for overflow stock, into a music shop complete with classic hi-fis and instruments after his small range of records downstairs proved a big draw.

It has taken more than six months of scouring classified ads, visiting sales and taking records brought in by customers before Mr Sellar felt the collection was ready.

Mr Sellar has employed vintage music aficionado and former customer Ross Hodgson to run the music shop.

Mr Hodgson, 31, said: “Because I was good at haggling on that side of the counter he thought I might be good on this side.

“People have offered to work for free because Kettering has been short of anything like this for a while.”

Kettering’s last independent music shop, Sonic Boom, in Montagu Street, closed down in 2009.

The new shop has already sold an LP from band Caravan for £350 and it has some increasingly rare first pressings of Beatles records, but the shop has vowed to keep its prices lower than the internet to remain competitive.

Mr Sellar said: “Other shops close because they don’t deliver something different.

“I have kept it small and made it comfortable.”

He also plans to start selling refreshments to browsers soon.