Why Vinyl’s Comeback Might Be The Death Of Music

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With the death of a mom and pop record store, there was nowhere to hang out anymore. For those of us who spent hours trolling through milk crates and boxes for albums, a record store closing down was like boarding up the local Y. We’d search under the cabinets for records that might not have been priced yet, or search the 99 cent bins hoping the record store owner didn’t know that the obscure record he was throwing in with the used Men at Work ‘Cargo’ was actually an early THROBBING GRISTLE pressing. Crates, Bins, 7”s lost in the 12” section. A full day would be spent, riding my skateboard to nearby stores, or hopping on the Long Island railroad for the far away shops, and trying to sift through it all…

Back in the days before CD’s, well before the internet, vinyl hunting was not so much an art form as it was a way of life. Whether it was the joy of finding that rarity you never thought you’d find, or dropping some coin on a band you’d never heard of in hopes that the horrible cover art equated to decent music. Often it did, and you’d play the record for your friends as if you’d just discovered the Higgs Boson.

Then CD’s came along to spoil the party. Oh sure, the fidelity was better, and we could carry the little plastic cases around a lot easier but, before long, record stores slowly gave way to CD megastores like Tower and Virgin. Some super resilient mom & pops survived through it, and some even still exist today, but it all seemed to change once the gentle thud of fanning through LPs became the ‘click-clack’ of searching through the neat rows of plastic jewel cases.

Vinyl fans adapted, though, and most bought CD’s to play in their cars, and some even kept their albums as well, as sort of relics of a bygone era. Fans of more challenging music still have records that remain unreleased on CD, so it made sense to hold on to their ‘sonically inferior’ record albums.

Oh sure, I loved my vinyl, and still do. The larger artwork was more striking, and records had lyric sheets that I can actually read without a magnifying glass, so vinyl was a big plus in my book. But, I had to admit, quietly at first, that the convenience of being able to bring a CD into my car and slap it on the stereo was pretty handy-dandy for that music-hungry man on the go, like myself.

After all, it was a pain to have to record vinyl onto cassette tape and label it by hand. “Can I use a 90M, or do I need a 100M?”… Not to mention the countless hours I saved by not having to label a J-card with a 75 Minutemen songs. Yes, in the end, CDs had their own appeal for those who were looking for tangible product and not just a digital download.

But now, the big news is VINYL IS BACK, music nerds rejoice! It seems that vinyl collection I held onto might actually be worth something after all…maybe pay my kids’ way through college, even. There are even internet record clubs springing up like in old days of Columbia Record House “buy 10 records for a penny”. Colored vinyl and picture discs, all being repressed and ready for that new $1200 turntable. The adolescent fantasy that I might actually impress, rather than repel, folks with my huge record collection is alive and well. I should be thrilled….right? Wrong!

I recently had some spare time in a strange city, and I figured I’d kill a few hours in one of the rare shops that have survived the wrath of music lover’s fickle tastes. My luck was that there were actually no less than TWO record stores in town! I’ll admit; my heart palpitated as I thought of the joys of reliving my youth and of my day nose deep in records. But, record collecting is not like the old days, kids

There I was surrounded by releases that were “Newly Remastered” onto vinyl, or worse, NEW albums which were recorded and mastered using digital equipment and then pressed onto the analog medium of vinyl. Stop the Presses!!

When the first CD’s came out in the mid-1980’s, each would include the caveat that the new digital medium would reveal limitations of the source tape. We knew we might get some hiss or warts, but the music was still there, and we were hearing the record more or less duplicated into 0’s and 1’s. As studios and recording techniques got more and more advanced, and labels started running off new pressings of old records, a trend started to take root, and one which obviously is still alive and well; remixing and remastering. Apparently we didn’t know what we were missing by hearing our old records in their original state, now they were going to be BETTER!

Filter it; EQ it, push up that guitar in the mix, give it more ‘punch’. You know that cool little guitar and organ part at the end of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” the part you only discovered when you were stoned and wearing headphones? Well, now it was cranked up for even the most nubile Stones fans to hear. Solos wailing; vocals that drowned out rhythm guitars. Knob turning for the sake of knob turning… God forbid the band members of a particular band were in a feud with each other and got a hold of their ½ Inch Masters. I still regret the day I gave away all my Polydor CD’s by the JAM. ‘Why would I need doubles after getting the Direction Reaction Creation boxset?’, I thought. I’ve got all the records and singles now in this here box! What a mistake that was. I know that Bruce Foxton was in the Jam when they made their records, but I’ll be damned if I can hear any bass playing on these CD’s!

So I guess, after all, I should be glad that vinyl is making a comeback, right…WRONG! Because now, the same remixing and remastering that became rampant with CD’s is happening again…only with VINYL! I’d like to shout out to the musicians and labels out there who feel they know music lovers’ tastes…if there is any way to make sure that vinyl goes the way of the dodo, once again, it’s by making vinyl sound as crappy as remixed CD’s do.

What’s the point of recording in a multi-zillion dollar digital studio only to deliberately reduce fidelity in order to produce an analog long-playing record?. Simply because, my friends…VINYL IS BACK!! I’d like to present a novel idea for these new labels repressing up records. I want to hear the same mix of ‘Raw Power’ as that 14 year old kid who first put it on in 1973.  I want that same rush of adrenaline. I want to feel that same emotion. To me; that is art!! I’m a simple man, with simple needs. I like my ‘Romeo & Juliet’ to be set in fair Verona, not a trailer park, and I like my music raw. Call me old fashion, but not everything that’s new is improved.

You see, I don’t care how high Iggy or the Stooges OR David Bowie were during the waxing session for RAW POWER. I think the fact that the Stooges only utilized 3 tracks of the 24 tracks to which they had access (making the record virtually unmixable) it what makes it beautiful. Sure, the piano on the album’s title track is cool, and all, but do we need to remix it so loud as to drown out the rest of the song?

I read that Henry Rollins collects test pressings of his favorite albums, to try to get the most pristine recording of the original mix as one can get. But, since you’re no Henry Rollins (in so many ways), why don’t you settle on a record that doesn’t have all the life remixed out of it. If that is your thing, go back to your CD collection. They’re cheap now, and you can destroy the fidelity by whittling them down to MP3 format if you like that sort of thing, or better yet, just pay 99 cents and grab the download… Music fans; formats will come, and formats will go, and formats will come again. Heck, I’m still holding onto my MiniDisc player for that one rainy day (I’m telling you, it’s gonna be huge!), but please don’t fool yourself into thinking CD’s are the devil’s work. I say, embrace your CD’s, don’t hide them from your hipster pals. I assure you that the new record you just bought that was recorded, remixed and remastered in a digital studio, and then ‘dumbed-down’ to vinyl is way more embarrassing. That’s why I’m fighting for the old Compact Disc to make its comeback. At least I can leave them in a pile without causing ringwear…

  • 7hz

    I agree about bad mastering / remastering. There are a few technical points though:

    – All vinyl is ‘mastered’, cutting onto vinyl is ‘mastering’, so recutting it you are ‘remastering’.
    – It is all in how the mastering is carried out
    – Lots (probably the vast majority) of vinyl was cut from digital tape (such as DAT) from the mid 80s onwards.
    – Lots of vinyl is cut by running the music through a digital delay so the lathe knows how loud the music is going to be coming up (look up Neuman lathes)
    – Not many people cut records from analog tape these days
    – Due to the above points, digital itself is not the problem. Laziness (cutting vinyl from a mastered CD), lack of experience, and bad decision making during the mastering process are the problems.
    – You can still buy second hand vinyl originals, look up Discogs
    – There are still lots of record shops about, check in VinylHub

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  • Eddie Yarler

    I hope compact discs never go away. I didn’t even know there was some stigma against owning them by vinyl collectors. I only one vinyl which I’ll never play since I just bought it to get it signed after a show, as I now have it framed. That’s really the only use I’ll have for vinyl records. Compact discs are fairly cheap, and they can be burned into a computer like the author said. Even as an i-tunes owner I still buy them for all my favorite bands, and new ones I feel safe about. As is the case with dvds, there is more to having a physical copy of an album as opposed to digital air.

    For anyone who cares, the most recent compact discs I’ve bought are the first two Paw and Tantric albums. Good stuff.

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  • halcyon

    What specific bands have you discovered? Could you give me a few tips? Thanks!

    • Corndog

      Ever listened to The Sword?

      • halcyon

        No. I will check them out, thank you!

        • Corndog

          Try an album called ‘Warp Riders’ and let me know what you think. It has an old school almost 70’s feel to it.

          First track is an amazing instrumental and i loved them from first hearing that one song:)

    • Trovoid

      There is a Youtube channel called “Stoned Meadow of Doom” that posts new albums almost daily. Some bands can be repetitive but there are some hidden gems.

      • halcyon

        Thanks a lot!