“Wow, you don’t see that very often.”
I hear that frequently when someone catches me with my Discman. But since people are still releasing CDs — and I try to keep up with new releases — I’m in no rush to throw out my portable device.
Of course, when I had a bag of freshly bought albums under my arm, the comment used to be, “Do they still make records?” They still do.
And now things have come full circle: Vinyl is back, according to the masses. CDs are out. Streaming is the other way to go. But that’s a story for another day.
Sat., April 21 is Record Store Day, an event created 11 years ago to salute independent record stores and generate interest in them with a slew of new vinyl releases made available that day. (Never mind the fact that for some of us, every day is Record Store Day, really.) The seeds of this story were actually planted late last year, when guitarist Nels Cline went off on a tangent during a conversation with me about the problems he’s faced when releasing music on vinyl. So to mark the event, City Paper included Cline’s thoughts and we also picked the brains of some folks involved in the making and selling of records. – Mike Shanley
Vinyl – Good for the ears, good for the plant
Nels Cline (improvisational guitarist in various projects, also a member of Wilco)
Having grown up with records, loving them and working in a record store for 10 years and having a ton of vinyl here, I love it. But I also feel like this sort of vinyl resurgence as it were, is not all that convincing to me. All the [pressing] plants are backed up, and what’s their incentive to have great quality control? Not really that much because any records that are defective, you used to be able to [return them]. They would just melt them down and recycle them which we’re not doing now. So given the fact that vinyl is a planet-killing substance — it’s extremely toxic and awful for the planet — I’m looking sideways at this vinyl resurgence. On the Lovers record [Cline’s 2016 album on Blue Note], we calculated the carbon imprint and carbon offset credits, and not just vinyl but all the new formats. And nobody who wrote about Lovers wrote about the carbon offset credit. There wasn’t one thing!
Getting the records to eager listeners
Jeff Gallagher (Juke Records, Bloomfield)
My plan, when I bought the store, was that vinyl would be in the center part of the store and the CDs would ring [the surrounding walls]. It didn’t take very long before I realized that that we were bringing in CDs that wouldn’t ever sell. My only regret is that I didn’t get out of the CD business an hour after I bought the store.
The quality [of vinyl] has been pretty good. That’s something that’s very risky for the store because it’s rare when I can return a record, because we take back defective records and I eat those [financially] for the most part. I think as more new presses come on line in the states, that the quality will get better still.
Fred Bohn, Jr. (The Attic, Millvale)
The record business — people keep saying it’s a bubble. It’s past the point of it being a bubble, and not just in the United States. It’s worldwide. Of course it’s not all records, there’s still easy listening [records that aren’t in demand]. It’s young people that are buying the records. A lot of the people that grew up with records are the people that are still buying CDs. And a lot of the people that are buying records didn’t grow up buying records, or they didn’t know what records were they were growing up. So it’s a younger and younger audience that are getting into it. That’s another reason why I don’t believe it’s a bubble, because of the age category of people that are buying it.
John Villegas (Cruel Noise Records, Polish Hill)
I think I’m the only place in Pittsburgh that actively buys and sells cassettes. I sell tons of them, because I think people know they can come here and find cassettes they actually want and not dig through trash hoping for some little treasure. Active bands like to put them out because it has a much quicker turnaround, and that ties into RSD. Huge labels buy blocks of time at record pressing factories and sometimes won’t even use them. They just want it in case they need to repress the first Boston record, which nobody needs to repress because you can find them anywhere for a dollar. But they want to sell it to you for $25 because they know their industry is doomed and they’re trying to do whatever they can to save it … If people can benefit from Record Store Day, that’s great for them, but it’s definitely a cash grab for a dying industry that I don’t support.