Saturday, November 17, 2007

"Life sounds better on vinyl"

from - by Jason Koebler (University of Maryland's Newspaper)

For many, vinyl records are relics of an era they can't remember - bad hair, computers that took up whole rooms and the Cold War. But for a growing niche of college students, vinyl is alive and well - and not just for the oldies.

"It looks like more bands will be taking a chance on vinyl again," said Matthew Flood, 29, owner of the Connecticut-based Asbestos Records. "Even the major [labels] are starting to notice."

And these aren't your parent's records; new vinyl has a decidedly modern feel to it. With the advent of USB turntables, vinyl can be easily transferred to computers, and colored vinyl is becoming more prevalent. Manufacturers are even able to make "picture discs," records with the album's artwork printed directly onto the record.

While Flood said the glory days for the vinyl record are over, there is a growing collector's market.

"Vinyl has always been a very integral part of the punk community even long after it died in terms of mainstream music," he said. "There's also the chance to own something really rare and special. Very few [new] records have press runs over a couple hundred."

Locally, students can purchase vinyl at CD/Game Exchange, a music store on Lehigh Road that has a small collection of used vinyl. Manager Jason Budman said he has about "20 regulars" who buy vinyl monthly, a number he notes has been growing as of late.

"I've found a lot more people are getting interested in vinyl," Budman said. "Lots more DJs, people who either like to mix music together or who like to collect."

One of Budman's regulars is junior mechanical engineering major Josh Cantor, who owns a mix of new releases and older rock albums. Cantor said that while he usually listens to MP3s on his computer, he listens to vinyl on special occasions.

"It's sort of a mood thing," Cantor added. "If I want to listen to a certain album, if I'm inspired, I'll throw the vinyl on."

Due to its analog format, vinyl is widely regarded as having better sound quality than either CDs or MP3s.

"It's never been sampled or reduced," Cantor said of vinyl. "It has a warm, sort of natural feel to it."

Ryan Tolley, a senior geography major and DJ, agreed.

"[Vinyl has] a bit of an airy sort of tone, there's more fullness to it," he said. "I like the technicality of it - put the needle on, it goes for a while."

For Tolley, vinyl is sometimes the only way to find certain rare remixes and B-sides that aren't released on CD. He originally got into collecting and DJing through a friend, and found that DJing with real vinyl is far superior to using a laptop, Tolley said.

But not all music is fit for vinyl, according to senior math major Jesse Sugar-Moore. Sugar-Moore started his collection while working at the warehouse of Record and Tape Traders, a Maryland chain.

"Really old country stuff is definitely vinyl sort of stuff, but if I listen to Radiohead or something, it would definitely have to be CD," Sugar-Moore said. "But if I see good music on vinyl, I feel like I'm obligated to buy it. I buy it impulsively."

Students often build their collections through purchases from thrift stores and yard sales because vinyl can often be found for low prices. Tolley said he once bought 1,000 45-RPM singles for $10 at a thrift store in Washington.

Allison Roso, a sophomore government and politics major, spent hours scouring through record stores near her sister's college in Pittsburgh.

"I think the idea of vinyl is cool," she said. "I think it may be because I never had them as a kid."

But don't expect CD/Game Exchange to become a vinyl Mecca. Budman said he is planning to expand the store's vinyl collection, but carrying new releases is costly.

"You can't get a price cut on [vinyl] because you're not going to buy 20 copies of a brand new vinyl pressing of a new band because it wouldn't be worth it," Budman said. "It's not too feasible to do all the new releases on vinyl."

From a record label standpoint, Flood said he experiences many of the same problems. And while vinyl continues to get more and more popular, it may never knock the CD or MP3 format down the totem pole, Flood added.

"The big problems with vinyl, as far as mass production and appeal, is they're expensive to make these days, and they are big, heavy, and you actively have to flip them every 20 minutes," Flood said. "Nostalgia for a past you didn't experience can only go so far. If anything is going to kill the CD, it'll be straight downloads."

No comments: