19
Apr
16

On Record Store Day

Excerpted from my latest Milner on Music newsletter!

5.“Independent labels and record shops are falling out of love with Record Store Day” (The Economist, Apr. 15, 2016)

In the pages of Steve Albini’s favourite magazine, there’s an interesting article about Record Store Day the havoc it’s brought to the marketplace. It wasn’t long ago people were writing about the resurgence of vinyl and how it was a boon to small acts and indie labels, but as The Economist’s blog points out, there are significant obstacles now: stock that can’t be returned if it doesn’t sell; major labels hogging printing presses and pushing product that’s easily found the rest of the year; skyrocketing prices for consumers.

The whole post’s worth your time and it’s an interesting take. It also reminds me of the CD boom in the late 90s, when prices kept rising higher and higher and reissue upon reissue was on the market and it was hard to tell what to buy. Do you want the 20th anniversary reissue of Derek and the Dominoes Layla? Or the remastered edition? Or perhaps the original CD repressing? The deluxe box set? Or splurge on the Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab pressing? Etc, etc, etc.

When the market collapsed, it brought prices down – I paid $10 for Kendrick Lamar’s untitled unmastered, a record I bet would’ve gone for twice that a decade ago – but in it’s place, vinyl prices has jumped; ten years ago I bought King Crimson’s Discipline at a store for like $5; as of this writing, it starts at $40 on Amazon. Wish I’d kept it, but it vanished in a move years ago. Probably ended up at a Goodwill or something.

Although reissues of old records are one thing, but here’s a dirty secret I’m going to let you in on. Almost everything, even the stuff Albini records at his studio, is done digitally these days. Grimes, for example, made Visions on her laptop. Purists and fetishists claim vinyl sounds better than digital files or CDs, music recorded these days comes from the same source; as Greil Marcus recently wrote, a digital file will sound like a digital file if it’s played on a Pono or on an Edison Cylinder. Whatever brightness and warmth you perceive comes from analogue sources at the studio and in mixing and mastering. These processes just aren’t used any more. Reissues may sound better, but that 2015 recording won’t.

So: as prices soar, as the market keeps getting clogged with vinyl copies of records nobody asked for and the sound is not really any better than a CD or a lossless file, I don’t think it’s hard to think we’re close to hitting peak vinyl. It’d be a real blow to record shops and major labels, sure, but there’s still plenty of stock to be bought inCassette Store Day: format both cheaper to buy, easier to produce and infinitely more playable in your car.

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