We took the night off from swim practice to take the kids to a cultural night at the museum last month. Okay, maybe it was mainly to see Deerhoof play in the entrance of the SFMOMA (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) but there were many bonus surprises.
My friend Andrew brought me a nice turntable recently saying he had an extra. He's the sharing kind, and the ultimate Christmas hero. This has been a substantial windfall since we have hundreds of record albums in the house which haven't heard in a couple of decades. Some of these, I could wait a couple of decades before hearing again but they make good dj practice for my 4-year-old.
I don't think I'll ever buy a cd again! The simple truth is... in my living room, where I most enjoy music, vinyl sounds much better than digital. Don't get me wrong... I love my iTunes but since I don't have a cheap plastic fetish, I don't want to deal with compact discs ever again. I'll either buy the vinyl or the iTunes.
I'll be writing about some wax selections shortly but my friend Danny Barnes presents a very good case for vinyl... here it is in its entirety:
The Case for VinylLet me start this off by saying that I make a substantial part of my income from the sales, production, and royalties pursuant to compact discs. So bear that in mind, in perusing my ruminations of the format standoff. The people I owe money to are hoping that folks buy lots and lots of my compact discs. Me too, the dog needs biscuits. This is a format discussion, not a music discussion. They sometimes put bad music on LPs and there's frequently good music on cds. I'm not making an all or nothing argument here, just pointing out some ideas that popped into my head. Compact discs are the currency of the day in this, the bidness we have chosen. Read on.
The other day, I was sitting in the pickup and thinking about the state of the bidness....we used to say music business, but now we just say the business, "music" having been dropped from said discussion. Anyway, the current topic of the week on CNN, NPR, New York Times, USA Today and all that was file sharing, and how that was killing the future of music.
It is an interesting topic of discussion.
How well would McDonald's stock be doing, if there happened to be free hamburger stands on every corner in America, nay, every yard? It's possible, and even likely for the vast majority of consumers, to consume mass quantities of all stripes of music and never pay a cent for it. The hot topic of the week was this. What will this mean for artists, labels, cd stores, etc? How can the industry stop the pirating of their copyrights?
Suddenly it hit me! Actually, the industry caused this very scenario. In propagating this new format, the compact disc, which can be perfectly duplicated, they effectively painted themselves into this corner of desperation. Of course when cd burners were $20,000 a piece this really wasn't an issue, but it was only a matter of time before sales of blank cd media outsold pre-recorded discs. Cd burners are WAY under 100 bucks. Free, if you have one at work, or a pal that already bought one. Most computers come with one installed that will also copy DVDs.
Cds are the floppy discs of this age. Remember when computer programs came on a floppy, long, long, ago, and we thought that was cool? After a time, floppy discs eventually became known for the limited crap that they actually were, only a medium for conveying something, and nothing in and of themselves. What the consumers want is the music, and not the format. They've proven by the billions that they would rather just download the dang songs they want, rather than cough up twenty bucks for a cd in a bullshit plastic case that has liner notes in it you can't read without a magnifying glass, and has three songs on there that they actually want to listen to. They can make the format on their end. Burn a cd, make an mp3 or even record onto a cassette if needed. And by downloading, you don't have to get in the car and drive to the store and deal with unknowledgeable sales staff, nutso drivers, and the like. Environmentalists and anti-socials take note!
One way the industry could fix their leaky boat, is to go back to making vinyl. Here's why.
A. It's much more difficult to burn a copy of an LP, and you end up with an inferior product. The problem with cds is that you can make a perfect copy and not even attend to it. In order to make a cd of an LP, you would have to sit there and write in the track numbers by hand, and you'd also have to have a more involved set up. Good converters would be needed. The point being, you would still have an inferior product. Like a polaroid of an oil painting. Close, but not exact.
B. In the days of 45s and LPs, my take is that more good weird stuff got through the cracks. Iggy and the Stooges and Captain Beefheart were on major labels. My brother bought a 45 of Ansel Collins' Double Barrel in Vernon Texas in the early 70's. I remember, as a kid, the local record store had these little booths, and you could go in and listen to the music, before you bought. It was like a cool little deal to do, go down to the store, and get your stack and go in the booth with a sody water, and groove.
It was a lot more involved to produce vinyl, so you kind of had to have your proverbial shit together a little more. Nowadays, an individual can make a cd of himself burping with his computer, and visually there will be very little difference between his effort and a major label's. For the cost of a blank cdr.
To do the same thing on vinyl, you're going to need about four thousand bucks.
So that had a way of weeding out a lot of the crap we have to deal with now. There's more cds that get made in a week than anyone could listen to in a lifetime. Every musician that knows three chords has a studio and is cranking out cds. There's just too much unlistenable stuff.
My point here is that with 45s and LPs, the consumer could afford to take a little chance on stuff, instead of being forced to pop down the big twenty on something that's 80% filler and has the esthetic allure of batteries in a blister pack. Today, many of these cds have to go Gold to even break even. It's so tough to market this crap in numbers that they need. They have to buy networks, shoot all this video, do all this market research, it costs a fortune. Sadly the result is.....crappy music in a lame format with terrible artwork.
I mean, they have to overcome the fact that consumers can get the product for free, so you have to convince them to pay twenty bucks for something they could get for free. It takes mucho advertising to pull this off. Plus they have to compete with every record or cd that's ever been made. They still sell tons of Stones, Beatles, Zeppelin, etc. They still play that stuff on the radio all the time. Classic country etc. In 1985, you just had to compete with what was out there at that time, imagine how many more titles have been released in 18 years. Especially now with everyone and their dog making cds.
This is an expensive proposition.
To make a fewer number of better items would be good for everyone.
C. If you can get past the surface noise, LPs sound better. The process of making cds lops off the top end of everything. It's ultra-sonic, but the transients are still missing psycho-acoustically.
Vinyl sounds more 3D, the bass is better, and if you're into it, the surface noise is this really cool effect that blends everything together.
(Actually, a high bias cassette that's properly recorded, i.e. too much level, sounds better to me than a cd.) The making of the LP is a process that is very flattering to music.
D. The Artwork. I wonder if in twenty years, there'll be coffee table books of great cd art? I doubt it. It's really hard to make cds look good. The dimension to me is all wrong. It's like looking at a picture sideways. LPs have the killer canvas for artwork. You get to touch it also, it's not in that crappy plastic dealy.
E. The Sequencing. From a production standpoint, the sequence of the cd is very very difficult. You get this one start, this one middle, and this one end. And in the effort to give the consumer value, they're usually too long, what with all the bonus tracks.
How many cds have you heard that start off pretty good, but by the middle, you're already nodding off?
It's like if they suddenly decided every play was going to be in one long act. It would significantly change the play. Of course to make the analogy correct they'd have to do it on a 5X5 stage and have bonus dialog. Tedium sets in.
With LPs, we get two starts, two ends, and two middles. This just makes more sense to me. It's a more musical representation of things. The producer gets these two runs at you, side A, side B.
I believe the initial reason cds were made to begin with, was to be able to put long orchestral pieces on there and be able to hear them in their entirety. But for a pop album....it's too long. The consumer has to pay for songs he/she doesn't want. The industry did get the benefit of being able to sell you everything twice. Once, when you bought the LP and again, when you converted your collection over to cd. Now, their bill is due, folks can make perfect copies of everything. Ooops.
F. Esthetics. Hey I'm old, but there's nothing like being able to touch the record. To be able to see the grooves, and tell how loud the bass is. To be able to cue it up. You can hold it, and it feels like something. Looks better and sounds better.
In conclusion, I would like to point out the dance/electronic music genre. A vinyl dependant music. In my view, I think, as far as innovation goes, there is more innovation going on in this form than any other, right now.
And it sounds better and looks better.
Everything they do is on vinyl.
Many people fuss about djs, but I think it's interesting to point out that consumers will pay money to hear somebody PLAY RECORDS.
Many genres are repeating themselves right now, I feel. In trying so hard to do huge numbers, the music part of the production can fall by the wayside.
In the world of mass marketing....like take food for an example......the more you focus group and market and all that, the worse the food gets. The more bad food gets made.
If you don't believe me, try eating beside a major highway, or in an airport.
Not to say that marketing is bad, just that the kind of marketing that models itself after halftime at the superbowl is automatically suspect in regards to quality.
If it was really that good, why would they have to spend 10 million dollars telling you so? Wouldn't you hear by word of mouth? Of course, I'm the kind of person, that if I see an ad for something, I automatically won't buy it. If it's on a billboard, I will vote against it politically and economically. I never talk to a telemarketer, I never watch commercials, I shred every piece of junk mail I get and I never EVER read spam.
In conclusion, I would like to hold up one of my favorite pieces of vinyl for consideration. The Roni Size Brown Paper Bag 12" single.
I bought this record in a store in Chicago, a cool vinyl shop staffed with a guy that knew about music. New for 8 bucks. At that price, I could afford to take a chance. A friend had mentioned that I would like Roni Size.
The sound is awesome. The bass is HUGE. There's some really cool things that happen on vinyl, for the music fan. The cover is plain, but has a very cool texture. The length is perfect. Basically, it's one song, with several re-mixes of the same tune. I think it's one of the best pieces of vinyl I ever heard.
It's very interesting to listen to. There is no filler. And I got turned on to something I didn't know about, and really got off on it.
Side note. In case of thievery, who's going to steal a bunch of LPs from you? The cds are the first things going if your house or car gets robbed. Easy to carry, and every pawn shop will give the guy a couple of bucks each. Let's see the thief carry 800 pounds of records down the street. If he can tote that, best let him go!
As far as cds being more convenient, yes this is true. But what's REALLY convenient are MP3s. Smaller and doesn't skip. For airplane and car listening, I use an MP3 player.
You can load on there what you want, and the batteries last forever, with no moving parts. The sound isn't great, what with the compressed formats, but hey, we're talking convenience. You can EQ it on your end a little and crank it up. It'll jam.
And dig, no media to deal with. No little plastic boxes.
So I would encourage you to go and poke around a vinyl shop. Turntables are cheap. I get a lot of used LPs for three and four bucks. There's a bunch of old jazz stuff that's coming out on vinyl. I just bought the first Roland Kirk on vinyl, for ten bucks. The four symphonies of Charles Ives for eight bucks used.
They sound and look great and it's so much fun to play records.
And folks, the price is right!
In conclusion, I would like to point out what happened in the guitar market in the eighties. During the time of the hair bands, the desired guitar became the whammy bar encrusted, locking nut, active pickup, painted neon pink........monstrosity. Sales of Telecasters, Stratocasters, Les Pauls, and SGs sunk. Everyone had to have one of these new hi-tech guitars. Even country western, jazz artists, and people that should have known better played these goofy looking things. You had to have an allen wrench in your pocket if you broke a string and they sounded terrible unless you had so much distortion cranked in that you could have been playing a baritone recorder, anyway. And you looked like....a raging dumbshit.
You know, the kind of guitars that would look right in a Poison video.
Till one day, everyone figured out.....man these Telecasters and Les Pauls sound soo much better. And the whole world went back to good sounding, player friendly guitars, that looked like something.