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Clip: Vinyl's revenge

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  • Carl Zimring
    Vinyl s revenge: Connoisseurs still lust after LPs and 45s more than 20 years after CDs triumph Sunday, May 08,
    Message 1 of 1 , May 9, 2005

      Vinyl's revenge: Connoisseurs still lust after LPs and 45s more than 20
      years after CDs' triumph

      Sunday, May 08, 2005

      By Nate Guidry, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

      It doesn't take long to realize Tom Fallon has been doing this for years.

      It's dizzying watching the speed with which his fingers and eyes move from
      one old 45 record to the next.

      After scanning through a couple of hundred or so, he selects one, spins it
      through a few rotations on a portable turntable before placing it back in
      its sleeve.

      "The fun is in the hunt," said Fallon, without looking away from the
      records. "Today, I'm searching strictly for oddball and obscure stuff on

      The Cleveland native and more than 200 other collectors and dealers from as
      far as England and Dallas, Texas, gathered at the Radisson Hotel in Green
      Tree last month for the Pittsburgh Record Convention XX. The convention is
      small compared to others across the country, but collectors and dealers say
      it is special because it caters exclusively to vinyl lovers.

      Here, there were no CDs, no videos -- just near-mint condition LPs, EPs,
      45s and even a few old 78s.

      And all were reasonably priced, including original copies of big Joe
      Turner's "Boss of the Blues" and Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers'

      A few years ago, local collector Dave Goodrich walked in empty-handed, but
      by the end of the day had purchased 400 78s for only $50.

      "This is great," said Suzie Ippolito, who was attending the convention from
      Philadelphia. "I have an old jukebox, so I'm looking for some Connie
      Francis, Lavern Baker and Don Gibson on 45s."

      The convention has grown over the years, said promoter Tony Medwid.

      Three years ago, organizers decided to focus exclusively on vinyls.

      "People can find CDs anywhere," said Medwid. "People who come here are more
      dedicated to vinyl."

      And that's the only reason record dealer David Foreman drove from Dallas to
      attend the convention.

      "With the price of gas as expensive as it is, I'll be lucky to break even,"
      said Foreman. "I used to be able to drive to Pittsburgh for about $150, but
      those days are gone. I continue to come because I want to support the
      convention and I really like coming here because it's hard-core vinyl. I
      don't want to go to a record show and have to compete with CDs and all that
      other stuff."

      Vinyl uptick

      A modest number of audiophiles skimming the bins for old vinyls may not be
      reason enough for everyone to run out and purchase a turntable, but there's
      a significant number of people inside and outside the industry who feel
      sales of vinyl recordings have increased.

      According to Neilsen Soundscan, about 1.2 million vinyl records were sold
      in 2004 -- not overwhelming considering total CD sales approached 767
      million last year. But that number is skewed because most vinyl records are
      sold by small independent stores and labels, and their sales are not
      reflected in Soundscan data.

      And those uncounted sales, while still a drop in the bucket in the grand
      scheme of things, are significant, vinyl aficionados say. Together with the
      Soundscan numbers, they represent an uptick for serious collectors and
      audiophile purists.

      "The industry has been trying to kill vinyls for years, but vinyls are
      still alive," said Gregg Kostelich, president of Pittsburgh-based Get Hip
      Records. "Vinyl sales are 75 percent of my business, but it's been at that
      percentage for some time. So I don't know if I would call that a real

      Others say the modest spike in sales can be attributed to three things:
      younger audiences discovering the music, an increase in the number of
      recording companies releasing new performances and reissues on vinyl, and
      the deterioration in sound quality of CDs.

      It's something of an irony that the terrible reproduction process of vinyl
      recordings in the late 1970s helped jump-start CD technology.

      "There are a lot of examples of that resurgence playing out, but it's
      certainly not a mass market thing," said Tim Neely from his home in Iola,
      Wis. Neely is book editor and research director for Goldmine magazine,
      which focuses on music collecting.

      "You can't walk into Walmart or Best Buy and buy an album, but most cities
      have at least one store that specializes in vinyl records."

      For years, it appeared as though the only records available were the
      12-inch hip-hop singles. They were being bought primarily by the mobile
      disc jockeys.

      "Now you have college-age kids discovering music on vinyl," Neely added.
      "You have more people in their 20s buying vinyl than at any time since the

      "For many people, it's a hip thing. Others are starting to discover how
      lousy new CDs sound these days. If you compare a CD to one produced 10
      years ago, you will notice the sound quality has become louder and louder,
      and there's no good reason why. Engineers are goosing the sound so much
      that they forget people have volume controls on their stereos."

      Neely also spoke of the lack of warmth generated from a shiny 5-inch
      digital disc.

      "There's something sterile about CDs," he said. "People don't sing wrong
      notes anymore."

      Neely points to "Beer For My Horses," a duet between Willie Nelson and Toby
      Keith, as an example.

      "Nelson's voice sounds like it came from outer space."

      Collectors' gold

      Vinyl's survival during the 1990s can be attributed to rap artists and
      musicians like Bruce Springsteen, Ben Folds and others who insisted their
      music be released on vinyl, whether or not it was purchased in big numbers.

      It was around this time that a number of jazz record companies started
      mining their vaults, reissuing some of their classic titles. Mobile
      Fidelity Sound Lab and Record Technology Inc. started pressing out reissues
      of classic Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Art Pepper and, in pop music, the
      Beach Boys.

      "We've managed to survive the onslaught of CDs," said RTI owner Don
      MacInnis in a phone call from Camarillo, Calif. "It's a strange market and
      a speciality market."

      MacInnis said his company currently presses about 1.8 million 12-inch
      records annually.

      "Our market is geared toward the audiophile market," MacInnis said. "We are
      doing a lot of the classic albums from the 1950s -- people like
      [Thelonious] Monk as well as some classical albums."

      Sundazed in Coxsachie, N.Y., also is doing interesting things. Exclusively
      a reissue label, Sundazed is releasing music from the Byrds, Otis Redding
      and some of Bob Dylan's classic 1960s titles like "The Freewheelin' Bob
      Dylan" and "Bringin' It All Back Home." There also are plans to release
      singles of Johnny Cash from the Sun Label.

      All of the music is pressed on 180-gram vinyl from the original analog mono
      masters. And the prices compare favorably to the originals.

      "Vinyls have been great for us," said Tim Livingston, Sundazed director of
      sales and publicity. "It's about 35 to 40 percent of our business. We are a
      reissue label, and we reissue the records in the original mono mixes. Each
      record is an exact replica of the original. It's also a way to offer
      someone an album that would otherwise be difficult to find and expensive."

      At last month's convention, Blane Britt flipped through the bins searching
      for some R&B and funk albums. He enjoys mixing beats and creating hip-hop

      "I wasn't going to come because I always spend more money than I want to,"
      said Britt. "This time I came with a budget."
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