More Vinyl

I started writing this as a comment on the last post about the death of the turntable, but it got too long. There are lots of great comments on that post already Edison Phonographtoo.

A friend just forwarded this article about the vinyl comeback from Boston.com. It’s worth a read. Apparently vinyl and turntable sales are sky rocketing compared to CD sales.

That kind of invalidates the title of my last post; Turntables No More. On the other hand, that post was specifically directed at DJs, whereas the sales boom in question is being driven by non-DJ consumers of indie-rock, pop, etc. releases with pressings of 10,000 and over.

I do think it’s an incredibly interesting phenomenon that vinyl continues to survive. DJ and punk rock (mainly 7-inch pressings) culture held the record pressing plants afloat through the past couple of decades, while CD sales soared. Now, as soon as all but the last few vinyl dance music distributors have closed up shop while DJs, labels and artists go online, there’s this resurgence which seems to be tied to the death of the CD.

This is great for the vinyl pressing plants but sadly it’s horrible for the environment. Not only does the manufacturing of vinyl leach all sorts of nasty byproducts, but shipping the heavy little buggers all over the world with diesel and jet fuel ain’t so cool either (global warming anyone?).

One of the best aspects of vinyl is that it will last so long that archaeologists from future civilizations will probably discover records and easily figure out that they can stick a needle in the groove and hear what’s up. You can’t say that for ones and zeros.

The article also touches briefly on the argument that vinyl sounds better. While this may be the case for certain individuals on an emotional level, it’s more a placebo effect than anything. Folks like looking at the big artwork, removing the record from the sleeve, and even hearing the crackle and pop when they place the needle on the record. I relate. I like all that too, but it doesn’t mean the record actually sounds better. Every record I’ve ever been involved in has been pressed from a digital file, most often a .wav or a CD, sometimes even an MP3. It’s all about the production and mastering of the tracks, no matter what format you’re working with, that’s how you get things sounding good. The argument that CDs, or even high quality MP3s are missing frequencies that can be found in vinyl is so funny. CDs contain frequencies from 20 Hz to 20 kHz, basically the full spectrum of human hearing. Vinyl records can generally only be cut with frequencies down to about 40 Hz in order to keep the needle from jumping the groove, or creating rumble. In addition, each time a vinyl record is played it loses a small amount of the high frequencies and soon your record doesn’t get much above 10 kHz.

7 thoughts on “More Vinyl

  1. i think the reality behind this “story” is that for non-dj music, the music fans who used to buy cds are now buying (or downloading) digital files, and are more into buying vinyl because its more unique/lasting. while on the other hand, djs are moving more towards cd(rs) and digital downloads and giving up vinyl completely because of cost and ease of use. i’d be curious to see how much vinyl is being pressed these days vs, say, 10 years ago when dj music was really huge. i’d bet that its not more now. just that the type of music pressed has shifted. less hiphop and electronic music, more LP releases of bands.

  2. true its just about the artform. i”d like to have all michael jackson albums on vinyl including artwork, special editions etc. but really who needs a 12″ whitelabel with a shit b-side ???

  3. I’d be a bit cautious about interpreting that Globe article too cheerfully. Check this response via Eliah Wald (who posted it to a pop music studies list I subscribe to):

    As a longtime arts writer for the very paper we are citing, I would add another word of caution. Every source available seems to agree that vinyl is picking up new fans, but a trend piece is not quite the same thing as a trend. I wrote trend pieces for the Globe on the return of cowboy music in the 1990s–accurate, in terms of relative sales, but how many people ever heard it?–and any number of international styles, all of which were selling in unprecedented volume but never came close to reaching a mass market.

    I know that a lot of people on this list probably hate math (or maths), but… As long as all the stories are talking only in terms of percentages rather than units or market share, they are to some extent deliberately exaggerating the trend to make their arguments stronger. It is very easy for a tiny market to show an amazing change in percentage–if I’m the only person buying 78s in my part of LA and another person takes up the hobby, that’s a 100% increase, but there are still only two of us.

    Obviously, the vinyl buying increase is not that small, but when the Globe article gets to actual numbers, it says that a typical vinyl pressing is 10,000 copies, and the incredible number is 35,000 for a Led Zeppelin box that sells for $60. Those are good numbers for a small specialty label, but not a pop trend. And there is a further display of bait and switch in the way the story is written: we start out with an 18-year-old, to make it feel like this is a new youth trend, but the only solid number is for that Zeppelin package, which presumably did not have the bulk of its sales to 18-year-olds.

    Vinyl is great, I still listen to it, but so far we are talking about a cult audience–and I suspect an aging cult audience if the main acts are Elvis Costello and Zeppelin–not a music industry trend.

  4. Thanks, Wayne.

    Good points there by Eliah related to what Cutups is saying.

    In the hey day of dance music you’d probably have at least 100 singles a week coming out, each with a pressing of say 1,000 – 5,000 copies. That’s an average of 250,000 units a week. This doesn’t even take hip-hop and reggae into account, which I imagine would double the number — at least!

    Lets say 10 of these pop releases a week are coming out on vinyl now, with pressings from 10,000 to 35,000. That’s an average of about 225,000 units a week.

    These numbers are basically total guesses since I haven’t worked at a distributor or record store (in years). I’m making assumptions based on running a vinyl label and as a record buyer, but my gut tells me there are fewer vinyl records bing produced now overall. If anyone has better numbers please let us know.

  5. Interesting numbers in the Rolling Stone article! If there are only around a million LPs pressed a year then my 225-thousand a week estimate is way off. While DJ singles are not exactly LPs, most are in the 12-inch format so to the pressing plants it makes absolutely no difference. Therefore I think my theory holds true that there were millions more vinyl records being pressed 10 years ago then there are now, and that was during the peak for CD sales.

    I noticed in the article where they point out the entry-level price of a new turntable is around $70. I’m not sure where Boston.com got the $150 – umpteen-thousand numbers.

    And wow! There they go again perpetuating some BS about how vinyl sounds better than CD and/or other digital formats. Blows my mind how such straight-up wrong info can be published as objective journalism. As I said before, it’s all about the mastering!

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