Low-tech

LONG LIVE THE RECORD

Continuing sales prove that reports of the IP's death were greatly exaggerated

DANYLO HAWALESHKA June 16 2003
Low-tech

LONG LIVE THE RECORD

Continuing sales prove that reports of the IP's death were greatly exaggerated

DANYLO HAWALESHKA June 16 2003

LONG LIVE THE RECORD

Continuing sales prove that reports of the IP's death were greatly exaggerated

Low-tech

DANYLO HAWALESHKA

BOB SWITZER, owner of Taz Records in Halifax, calls them keeners—customers roughly 12 to 20 years old looking for vinyl alternatives to the pop-mush CDs played on radio. “It’s not at all abnormal,” says Switzer, “to have a 16-year-old come in and say, 'I’m looking for some T-Bone Walker,’ or, 'I’m looking for some great rockabilly.’ ” People are flocking to vinyl for music that was never reissued on digital compact discs, says Switzer. They covet the LP’s tonal warmth and range, so conspicuously absent on CD. And it doesn’t hurt that the LP enjoys a certain cachet associated with being cool again. Analog vinyl recordings have stubbornly hung on, and in certain circles thrived, two decades after the music industry tried to kill the long-playing record.

“There’s no way of describing current pop radio,” says Switzer, “except for absolutely, totally disgusting.” It’s hard to argue with him when Britney Spears sounds like a Joni Mitchell compared to one of the hottest pop acts in Britain, the Cheeky Girls, 20-year-old twins from Romania with mind-

less dance hits that include Cheeky So?ig (Touch My Bum). Instead, Switzer caters to young enthusiasts in search of quality, and a generally older, hard-core audiophile audience who willingly drops $65 on a premium pressing. Switzer, 56, says vinyl gives him an edge in an industry that’s been in the doldrums for a number of years. “Basically,” he says, “we survived because of vinyl.”

The industry in some ways has only itself to blame for a worldwide slump in sales. It introduced digital compact discs in the earlyto mid-1980s, despite some consumers’ concerns over both the price and quality of the new technology. Then, about a decade later, a little thing called the Internet came along and with it, peer-to-peer file sharing. With free music, good or bad, available on any computer, there wasn’t as much of a market for new $18 CD releases, much less reissues of 20-year-old Rolling Stones albums on CD for $28. But even as the high cost of CDs is turning some consumers off, the even higher cost of vinyl is clearly not an issue

to dedicated fans of high fidelity. And make no mistake: vinyl is top dollar. Shant Pelley, 27, who used to be in sales at a major music retailer in Toronto and is now a courier in Halifax, lost almost a third of his 2,000 LPs to a basement flood in his parents’ home. The records will be expensive to replace. “I can’t justify paying $50 for a Clash album on vinyl that, when it came out, probably cost $7.99,” Pelley says.

Obviously, some people can. Six years ago, Kops, a record store in Toronto, sold only CDs. Today, vinyl records account for about 80 per cent of sales, says store manager Paul Azevedo. Kops sells a handful of used originals, and depending on the artist and where the record was made, they range in price from $20 to $30. A number of U.S. companies license old material from the major record labels and reissue limited releases on high-grade vinyl. Kops sells newly pressed copies of the Beatles’ 1968 White Album for $60, and Jimi Hendrix records for $65. “I can’t believe we sell them for that price,” says Azevedo, “but we do.”

And it’s not just reissues and quality used records. When releasing a new album, bands like the Tragically Hip from Kingston, Ont., will try to get their record company to throw in a limited run on vinyl in addition to the CD release. For the bands, it may be about vinyl’s unsurpassed sound quality. But for some music fans, it’s also about image. As Joäo Carvalho, owner and engineer at Joäo Carvalho Mastering in Toronto, says, “if you’re spinning vinyl, you’re old school, you’re cooler that way.”

LPs would not be getting so much attention if not for the hip-hop scene. It’s a staple of urban music culture: dance club DJs not only scratch vinyl, they rely on its deeper, pounding bass to fire up crowds. No one is now suggesting vinyl will ever roar back to enjoy the status it once did. But HMV, a major retailer of CDs and DVDs, offers a rack of LPs at its flagship store in downtown Toronto. Two mid-20s skateboarder types were overheard while buying several vinyl records. “Dude, I thought you already had this,” said one to the other. His friend replied: “On CD, but not on vinyl, dude.” That’s how far it’s come—people who already have the music on CD are now willing to pay for it again on vinyl. (TU