Clip: Vinyl's revenge
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
"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
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
"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
"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
"There's something sterile about CDs," he said. "People don't sing wrong
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."
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
"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
"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."