Play it again
Vinyl records are making a comeback
By Michael Heitmann
Staff Writer, The Prague Post
June 18th, 2008 issue
|GZ Vinyl's pressing plant in Loděnice keeps records spinning.|
|Photo courtesy of SIRIUS SMART SOUNDS|
|Customers at Sirius Smart Sounds include DJs and other purists.|
Long written off by critics and the public, the vinyl record, that old music industry standby, is having a renaissance. While fewer pressing plants exist than before, those that remain are ramping up production. One of the busiest is GZ Vinyl, located in Loděnice, west Bohemia. “The situation is improving for the remaining manufacturers. We have a constantly growing share of the pie,” sales director Martin Kahoun said. There are about 10 large manufacturers left in the world now, he added.GZ Vinyl makes about half a million records a month, and most of that production goes to foreign markets like the United States, Great Britain, Australia and Japan. Workers press records 24 hours a day, five days a week — and on weekends, when demand is high.
“We press about 1,000 records for the Czech market,” Kahoun said.
Ever since the compact disc came out in 1982, the vinyl record has had its obituary penned again and again. But it now appears the record may actually outlive the CD, which has come under increasing pressure amid rising MP3 sales and file sharing on the Internet. The record, its fans say, provides a more physical connection between music fans and bands than CDs or the Internet ever can. “The idea that we’ll download everything from the Internet is erroneous,” Kahoun said. “The vision that new music formats will replace old ones is utopian. The market decides what a viable format is. And vinyl records have had a longer life expectancy than some [music industry] experts predicted.” At Sirius Smart Sounds in Prague 1, vinyl is very much alive in the shop’s space-age-styled interior. “I try to keep the tradition of a small record store alive,” owner Tobias Moshövel said. It took Moshövel five months to design and construct a store of his liking in one of Prague’s less-frequented alleys near the National Theater. The store sells about 300 records a month at prices that range from 280 ($18) to 300 Kč. “Imports are getting cheaper due to the strong crown,” Moshövel said. “I pass that on to my customers,” he added.Ask Moshövel about the quality of records pressed by different companies and he immediately takes out a couple of records. “This one weighs 180 grams [6.3 ounces],” he said. That’s on the heavy side and guarantees good sound. Not all records are of such heft: He hoists another record, this one as flexible as a piece of paper, wobbling easily. In general, Moshövel said, singles sound better because their grooves are wider, whereas full-length albums cram a lot of music onto each side.As for differences in sound quality, vinyl pressing has made dramatic improvements in quality in recent years, as the record has gone from a cheap mass-market product to a niche specialty. “Mastering can make a huge difference,” Moshövel said. In audio postproduction a master is the final source from which all record copies are produced. Audio engineers tend to master differently for the analog vinyl and the digital CD, Moshövel said. This explains, at least in part, why vinyl seems to have a softer sound with less digital “edginess.”Most of Moshövel’s buyers are DJs primarily interested in electronic dance music, hip-hop and funk. “DJs prefer the record to the CD, because they can add sound effects. They turn the disc, scratch and brake,” GZ Vinyl’s Kahoun said.In Loděnice, records are usually pressed in small series of 500–1,000. “But recently we pressed 120,000 records of a new album by The White Stripes for the UK market. That’s a huge number in terms of records sold,” sales manager James Balson said.Records have become a marketing tool, and come in different colors in addition to the traditional black vinyl. They can last a long time if they are not abused. “But, if a DJ plays hip-hop and scratches intensely, then the records can be destroyed after 50 runs,” Balfon said.In a world of digital music and excessive environmental noise, an analog vinyl record can be a welcome respite.“It follows a master plan that includes the arrangement of the songs and the album artwork,” Moshövel said, adding that “MP3s are like fast food to me, while vinyl is dinner from a good restaurant.”