Monthly Archives: November 2015
No, that linkbait headline isn’t talking about the current cachet of vinyl records. It’s comparing compact discs to vinyl in the 1990s, when the former started to edge out the latter in retailer shelf space.
I saw it happen gradually throughout my years in high school, and it’s weird seeing history repeat itself on the very thing that ushered in that change.
Week after week, a row of record bins in my favorite music shops would yield to compact discs. By the time I graduated, CDs had nearly taken over entire stores. Classical sections had surrendered months beforehand. In 1992, all stores reconfigured their bins exclusively for compact discs. Remember the longbox? It was a stop-gap measure to allow CDs to be stocked in bins designed for vinyl records.
That was the day vinyl was supposed to die.
Of course, it didn’t die. Vintage vinyl migrated to thrift shops, second-hand stores and special conventions. Independent bands kept the format alive all throughout the compact disc’s reign. I’m not going to analyze why the format rebounded. I’m just going to be thankful it did.
But turnabout is fair play for the compact disc. When I worked at Waterloo Records in the early 2000s, vinyl records occupied one aisle of bins. By the time I moved from Austin to Seattle 10 years later, vinyl records took up the entire second room of the store.
Stores in Seattle show the same symptoms. I’ve seen rows of CDs turn into rows of vinyl at Everyday Music and Sonic Boom. Spin Cycle Records doesn’t even stock CDs.
So what’s happening to all those aluminum discs? Pretty much, the same thing that happened to vinyl.
First, labels stopped pressing discs. New releases still show up on CD, but catalog titles have either gone out of print or are offered as print-on-demand. As a result, inventory in stores becomes second-hand.
Waterloo used to separate used discs from unopened inventory. That changed in the middle of the aughts. On my last visit to the store, Waterloo reflected the reality of music shops everywhere — used discs outnumbered new ones.
Vinyl went through a similar trough in the ’90s. The glut of unwanted LPs meant bargain hunters and adherents to the format could go hunting. They pillaged the thrift shops and second-hand stores of prime catalog titles, setting up the collector’s market that would eventually inflate the price of vinyl.
I’m starting to see signs that CDs have reached that point where prices on used discs are starting to inflate. Inflation has already hit unopened discs.
Camelcamelcamel.com tracks Amazon pricing on products over time. Some of the titles on my list have hit the $0.01 mark, but that time has long past. One example: a Nonesuch recording of Philip Glass’ Music in Twelve Parts at one time reached a low of $3.61 for a used copy. It’s currently selling for about $60. An unopened copy sells for $360.
What does that mean for the future of the format? Will we see compact discs priced more expensively than they were?
CDs are becoming collectibles now, so yes, some titles will be exorbitantly priced. Most will end up in bargain bins.
The role of hardware manufacturers is seldom discussed in the fate of formats. Vinyl didn’t go away because the players didn’t completely disappear from electronic stores. Cassette tape decks and VHS players didn’t fare as well. As long as there are CD players made, there will be CDs to play them.
I don’t imagine CDs having a resurgence the way vinyl has. The last transition went from one physical format to another physical format. The current transition has gone from physical to ephemeral.
If such a renaissance were to occur, perception would need to put focus back on the benefits of the compact disc. Market forces have moved away from the concept of ownership, but that may change when titles start disappearing from people’s streaming libraries.
I can picture it — a listener falls in love with an artist’s music. She adds that artist to her streaming library. The artist has a squabble, and the rights to that music come into question. It disappears from the library. The listener scrambles to find that artist elsewhere, but all traces have been scrubbed from all digital vendors. Now what?
This scenario is why I have doubled down on physical formats. My collection has actually grown, and bargains are pretty abundant right now.
Tags: cd collecting, vinyl collecting
Back in college, I put forth a theory to my friends that the whatever version of a classical or theater work you encounter first will be your canonical version.
This theory arose during a discussion about which version of the Evita soundtrack each of us preferred. One camp chose the concept album recorded before the show was staged in London. I opted for the Premiere American Recording with Patti LuPone in the title role.
So I posed the question: which did you hear first?
Sure enough, my friends heard the London recording before the American recording, and it was the reverse case for me.
It’s not a theory I’ve put to rigorous study, but there’s an intuitive logic to it.
Classical music requires a lot of work to internalize, and when I’m listening to a particular work for the first time, that recording becomes my source. I’ll have listened to it numerous times, absorbing not only the workings of the piece but also the idiosyncrasies of the recording — the sound of the hall, the articulation of the players, the tempo and expressive choices of the conductor.
If I’ve lived with one recording for long enough, another recording of the same piece needs to go through that same process of internalization. And that first listen of a new version is where the discomfort sets in.
The sound of the orchestra lacks a certain resonance. A particularly movement was taken too slow or too fast. A particular section gets muted while another gets overemphasized.
I learned this lesson with Sergei Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 1 and Lieutenant Kije Suite.
Back in 1988, I bought a cassette of André Previn conducting the London Symphony Orchestra. Symphony No. 1 and Kije took up side one. Symphony No. 7 took up side two.
I got rid of the cassette in 2002, and I thought I could replace it with any old budget recording of the same works. So I picked up one by Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra.
It didn’t feel right.
The nuances of Previn and the London Symphony had soaked so far into my subconscious that another interpretation just wouldn’t suffice. I let the Ormandy recording go and didn’t seek another one till I found a vinyl version of the Previn recording in 2013.
That sent me on a hunt for a CD version. I was disappointed to learn it was reissued in the United Kingdom but not in the United States. A number of Google searches later eventually led me to a used copy of its original reissue on CD in the States in 1986.
Hearing that specific recording transported me back to high school, when I would listen to that tape on bus rides back home.
This preference for the first-encountered recording probably explains listeners’ aversions to live recordings and covers. Could Sam Smith really live up to the distinct quiver of Tracy Chapman’s voice on “Fast Car”? And just how does one replicate the gorgeous choir of Simon Le Bons on “New Religion” in a live setting?
My collection now has numerous recordings of pieces, and I’ve learned to appreciate “non-canonical” versions on their own terms. In some rare instances, I may even prefer an alternate version.
But that first time, that first encounter — it’s home, and there’s no place like it.
My dedication to Duran Duran is probably far above average compared to the non-Duranie population at large, but I’m friends with Duranies who make my fandom look half-assed.
So I was surprised Duran Duran’s Demo 1979 even existed when I spotted it at Jive Time Records. Of course, I imagined my Duranie friends would have known about this bootleg for decades.
Demo 1979 predates the involvement of Andy Taylor and Simon Le Bon. Andy Wickett’s off-kilter warble places these four tracks closer to the band’s punk roots. The hook for “Girls on Film” was already in place, but the song that would eventually become “Rio” had a completely different melody and went by the title “See Me Repeat Me”.
John Taylor and Roger Taylor hadn’t yet achieved their trademark rhythmic seamlessness, but at that early stage, you could hear it coming together. Nick Rhodes had far more gear to acquire before his portion of the sound could expand.
Back in 2010, Capitol reissued Duran Duran’s early catalog with a number of demos, including a vocal version of “Tel Aviv”. I thought those demos were a great insight to how the band works.
Demo 1979 goes even further. It opens up the idea of an alternate reality where Le Bon never became the band’s singer. Would they have conquered the world with anything other than Fab Five? I hesitate to imagine.
Tags: duran duran, vinyl find
It’s been 10 years since I embarked on building a bedroom studio, and a side effect of that effort has been the acquisition of hardware and software to facilitate the digitizing of vinyl records.
Do a Google search on the topic, and you’ll see articles mentioning turntables with built-in pre-amps and USB ports. My record player dates back to 1998, and I had to buy a stereo amplifier to got with it.
So my output is a pair of plain old RCA phono jacks on the back of my amplifier labeled REC OUT. What I need, then, is some sort of analog-to-digital converter to capture that output to a file.
In 2005, that meant hooking up an RCA phono cord from my stereo to a USB audio interface, which was connected to my laptop. I fired up Sony Sound Forge, hit record, then played each side of the record. Sound Forge let me mark up the resulting capture into regions, which I could split into individual files.
In 2015, I would rather use a Y-connector to hook up my stereo to a TASCAM DR-05 digital recorder. Then I move the digitized files from the recorder to my desktop computer — via USB, of course — where I use Sony CD Architect to create a master rip. I could then burn a CD of the album, but instead, I split the master up into tracks when I convert to the lossy CODEC of my choice.
The 2015 method is so much faster.
But it ain’t cheap either.
Audacity is often cited as the software of choice for digitizing vinyl because it’s versatile and, more importantly, free. I used Audacity in the early days of my bedroom studio, but it got shut out once I invested in Sound Forge. Would I recommend Sound Forge if all you’re going to do rip vinyl for recreational playing? No.
Sound Forge does, however, come equipped with restoration tools that allow you to filter out pops and clicks and — if you’re ambitious enough — improve the sound quality of your rip. CD Architect, which also comes with Sound Forge, also provides a nice UI to throw together a CD master. The ability to save that master as a single WAV file is incredibly convenient.
A new license for Sound Forge can set you back $400. The digital recorder, by comparison, is cheaper.
My TASCAM DR-05 cost about $100. I bought it to record my rehearsals, but the ability to connect my stereo amplifier to the line in jack is an added bonus. The recorder comes with a 2GB microSD HC-I card, which is fine if you capture at a 16-bit sample rate. I, however, set mine to capture at an excessively high rate (96 kHz/24-bit), and that fills up quickly. So I upgraded my card to 32 GB.
Back when I used my USB audio interface to capture audio, I had to deal with two sets of cords — a USB cord to my computer, a phono cord to the stereo. I also had to fiddle around with levels since the input to my audio interface were unbalanced. The digital recorder does that all for me with fewer cords.
With this hands-on method, I can go from captured audio to lossy files within half an hour. A decade ago, it would have taken me twice as long.
Tags: digital music, vinyl collecting
No sooner did I bemoan the lack of November releases that I found myself adding a whole bunch of November releases to my wish list.
Enya, Dark Sky Island, Nov. 20
Enya usually takes about 3 to 5 years to turn around new albums, so the 7-year gap between 2008’s And Winter Came and Dark Sky Island is her longest stretch. The announcement was pretty sudden, and I certainly wouldn’t have learned about it had I not visited her official site on a total whim.
Björk, Vulnicura Strings, Nov. 27
Vulnicura has a pretty secure spot on the year-end Favorite Edition list, but it’ll be interesting to see whether Vulnicura Strings dislodges its predecessor from that spot.
Inventions, Blanket Waves, Nov. 13
Inventions is certainly turning out to be a prolific project for Matthew Cooper and Mark Smith. This 10-inch vinyl EP is the second release from the pair this year.
Nirvana, Nirvana, Nov. 13
The 2002 self-titled compilation gets reissued on Blu-Ray audio and vinyl.
Dolly Parton / Linda Ronstadt / Emmylou Harris, Complete Trio Collection
Early reports indicated this compilation would be released on Oct. 16, but then it fell off the release schedule with no indication of a new date.
Frank Ocean, Boys Don’t Cry
Frank Ocean hinted at a July release for his second album, and then, he fell off the face of the planet. He canceled some scheduled appearances, and July has long passed.
Tags: bjork, dolly parton, emmylou harris, enya, frank ocean, inventions, linda ronstadt, looking ahead, nirvana