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Posts Tagged ‘records’

I love my vinyl records and can easily understand the renewed demand for them. They’re so popular, there isn’t enough vinyl or pressing equipment to create all the new ones wanted right now. I sympathize, but what should I do with my anti-plastic concerns? Buying vintage is always a good solution for getting products that don’t hurt the environment, but new bands can hardly use vintage vinyl.

Ben Sisario wrote recently at the New York Times about the challenges.

“Within the Indianapolis office of Joyful Noise Recordings, a specialty label that caters to vinyl-loving fans of underground rock, is a corner that employees call the ‘lathe cave.’ There sits a Presto 6N record lathe — a 1940s-vintage machine the size of a microwave that makes records by cutting a groove into a blank vinyl platter. Unlike most standard records, which are pressed by the hundreds or thousands, each lathe-cut disc must be created individually.

‘It’s incredibly laborious,’ said Karl Hofstetter, the label’s founder. ‘If a song is three minutes long, it takes three minutes to make every one.’

“This ancient technology — scuffed and dinged, the lathe looks like something from a World War II submarine — is a key part of Joyful Noise’s strategy to survive the very surge of vinyl popularity the label has helped fuel. Left for dead with the advent of CDs in the 1980s, vinyl records are now the music industry’s most popular and highest-grossing physical format, with fans choosing it for collectibility, sound quality or simply the tactile experience of music in an age of digital ephemerality. After growing steadily for more than a decade, LP sales exploded during the pandemic.

“In the first six months of this year, 17 million vinyl records were sold in the United States, generating $467 million in retail revenue, nearly double the amount from the same period in 2020, according to the Recording Industry Association of America. …

“Yet there are worrying signs that the vinyl bonanza has exceeded the industrial capacity needed to sustain it. Production logjams and a reliance on balky, decades-old pressing machines have led to what executives say are unprecedented delays. A couple of years ago, a new record could be turned around in a few months; now it can take up to a year, wreaking havoc on artists’ release plans.

“Kevin Morby, a singer-songwriter from Kansas City, Kan., said that his latest LP, ‘A Night at the Little Los Angeles,’ barely arrived in time to sell on his fall tour. And he is one of the lucky ones. Artists from the Beach Boys to Tyler, the Creator have seen their vinyl held up recently. …

“For Joyful Noise, the vinyl crunch has also presented a puzzling problem. Up to 500 V.I.P. customers pay the label $200 a year for special editions of every LP it makes. But the production holdups mean the label cannot predict which titles will be ready during 2022. …

“The label’s solution is to make lathe-cut singles for each of the eight albums it intends to release next year, as placeholder bonuses while its customers wait. Doing so will cost Joyful Noise money and time — Hofstetter groaned as we calculated that eight records with five minutes of music per side, cut 500 times each, would take 666 hours of lathe work — but the label sees it as a necessary investment. …

“The pandemic shut down many plants for a time, and problems in the global supply chain have slowed the movement of everything from cardboard and polyvinyl chloride — the ‘vinyl’ that records (and plumbing pipes) are made from — to finished albums. In early 2020, a fire destroyed one of only two plants in the world that made lacquer discs, an essential part of the record-making process.

“But the bigger issue may be simple supply and demand. Consumption of vinyl LPs has grown much faster than the industry’s ability to make records. …

“ ‘What worries me more than anything is that the major labels will dominate and take over all of the capacity, which I don’t think is a good idea,’ said Rick Hashimoto of Record Technology Inc., a midsize plant in Camarillo, Calif., that works with many indie labels. Others say the big labels are just a convenient target. The real problem, they believe, isn’t celebrities jumping on the vinyl bandwagon but that the industrial network simply has not expanded quickly enough to meet growing demand.

“ ‘Am I mad that Olivia Rodrigo sold 76,000 vinyl copies of her album?’ said Ben Blackwell of Third Man, the record label and vinyl empire that counts Jack White of the White Stripes as one of its founders. ‘Not at all! This is what I would have dreamed of when we started Third Man — that the biggest frontline artists are all pushing vinyl, and that young kids are into it. If someone is mad that that prevents some other title from being pressed,’ Blackwell continued, ‘it feels a little bit elitist and gatekeep-y.’ “

More at the Times, here.

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123119-record-cabinet

Do you listen to your old LPs? It took us a while to get a decent record player after the old one wore out, but now we can listen anytime — if we remember we have a vinyl collection. That’s not a given: it’s more automatic to turn on the radio.

And you have to get back in the habit of noticing when one side has finished playing and it’s time to flip the record. We did play the Mormon Tabernacle Choir when the children were in the house at Christmas. But then we forgot to turn off the machine.

I have been reading that some music connoisseurs prefer the sound of vinyl to CDs and the ubiquitous MP3s, and now it seems that other consumers are catching on.

In September Elias Leight reported at Rolling Stone that the revenue generated by record sales was on track to surpass the revenue generated by CDs.

“Sales of vinyl records have enjoyed constant growth in recent years. At the same time, CD sales are in a nosedive. Last year, the Recording Industry Association of America’s (RIAA) mid-year report suggested that CD sales were declining three times as fast as vinyl sales were growing. In February, the RIAA reported that vinyl sales accounted for more than a third of the revenue coming from physical releases.

“This trend continues in RIAA’s 2019 mid-year report. … Vinyl revenue grew by 12.8% in the second half of 2018 and 12.9% in the first six months of 2019, while the revenue from CDs barely budged. If these trends hold, records will soon be generating more money than compact discs.

“Despite vinyl’s growth, streaming still dominates the music industry — records accounted for just 4 percent of total revenues in the first half of 2019. In contrast, paid subscriptions to streaming services generated 62 percent of industry revenues.

” ‘We welcome [the growth in vinyl],’ Tom Corson, now the co-chairman and CEO of Warner Records, told Rolling Stone in 2015. ‘[But] it’s a small percentage of our business. It’s not going to make or break our year. We devote the right amount of resources to it, but it’s not something where we have a department for it.’

“Still, the vinyl resurgence has been a boon for some artists, especially classic rock groups. The Beatles sold over 300,000 records in 2018, while Pink Floyd, David Bowie, Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, and Queen all sold over 100,000.”

More at Rolling Stone, here.

Of course, reissues of classic records on vinyl are one thing, but original vinyl is quite another. The website Work+Money says that 28 particular classics are worth a combined total of nearly $2 million today.

According to reporter Eli Ellison, they include “The Beatles, ‘The Beatles’ (aka ‘White Album’) … Elvis Presley, ‘My Happiness’/’That’s When Your Heartache Begins’ … Sex Pistols, ‘God Save the Queen’/’No Feeling’ … Bob Dylan, ‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’ … and The Velvet Underground, ‘The Velvet Underground & Nico.’ ” More about that here.

Wonder what our collection is worth.

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Owen-Jim-Copp

Photo: Playhouse Records
Back in the day, Jim Copp (right) “made recordings [with Ed Brown] that offered children funny fables replete with sound effects, and were literate and charming enough for adults,” says the
New Yorker.

Years ago, the older of my two younger brothers received a record player that looked like a jukebox and flashed colored lights. It was the beginning of his long romance with records. Neighbor kids came over to see this wonder, and we listened not only to music on the records but also to stories. Call it an early podcast platform. David Owen has a bit of history at the New Yorker.

“When my wife was a kid, in the early nineteen-sixties, she and her siblings listened, over and over, to records by Jim Copp. … Copp made nine records between 1958 and 1971. They contain stories, poems, and songs that he wrote, performed, and recorded with the help of his friend Ed Brown. …

“Stories involve a family that takes a cross-country car trip with a cow; a duck that, with excruciating effort, manages to speak just enough English to warn his housemate, a carpenter, that their kitchen is on fire; a dog with the longest name in the world who goes to Yale; … a nearsighted heron; and a feeble-minded old man, Mr. Hippity, who thinks his chicken pull toy is sick. Copp may be the reason that my wife and her siblings and both our children have always had good vocabularies: destitute, vituperative, locality, inauspicious, gauche, megalomaniac, union suit. …

“Not long after my wife received [tapes] from her brother, she noticed a tiny advertisement in The New Yorker for rereleases of Copp’s records, on cassette. She called the telephone number in the ad, and eventually realized that the person taking her order was Copp himself. … In 1993, I [interviewed] Copp in his home. …

“In 1939, friends whom he was visiting in Chicago dared him to enter a talent contest at the old Edgewater Beach Hotel, whose ballroom was popular with movie stars and mobsters. He performed several humorous pieces that he’d written as a student — ‘Arabella and the Water Tank,’ ‘Peaches and Myrtle’ (about two showgirls, one of whom murders the other), ‘The Mystery of the Revolving Tree Trunk’ — and won. …

“Copp got hooked on performing. During the next three years, he appeared, as James Copp III and His Things, in some of Manhattan’s most famous night spots, among them the Blue Angel, Le Ruban Bleu, the Rainbow Room, and Café Society. … In 1941, Liberty released six of his night club pieces, on a set of three 78s.

“He was drafted a year later, and became the adjutant of an intelligence unit that took part in the Normandy invasion. … He returned to the United States in 1946, but decided that New York and its night clubs had changed in ways he didn’t like.

“Copp decided that his best chance of preserving his night-club material was to rework it, slightly, for children. He experimented with a wire recorder — a tape precursor, which recorded magnetically on steel wire. He sold one piece, ‘The Noisy Eater,’ to Capitol Records, which Jerry Lewis recorded, in 1952. … He decided that from then on he would make his own records. He … would record a single character or instrument or effect on one machine, then play that tape in the background as he recorded another on one of the others. For some pieces, he ‘ping-ponged’ as many as ninety layers. He sped up some voices and slowed down others, all without fancy equipment, and he added homemade sound effects.” For the long read, check out the New Yorker, here.

The story brought back memories, especially of my father’s wire recorder. He had a couple of his recordings made into actual records, and when I grew up, I found someone to turn a record featuring my squeaky voice (“The Birth of Willie”) into a cassette tape.

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An early stage in the creation of a Hari & Deepti light box

Do you ever click on the links to the right, in my blog roll? My Dad’s Records, for example, has old blues recordings you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else.

And This Is Colossal is a constant wonder. Today the art and visual-culture site posted illuminated paper light boxes that have to be seen to be believed.

Says Colossal: “Deepti Nair and Harikrishnan Panicker (known collectively as Hari & Deepti) are an artist couple [originally from India] who create paper cut light boxes. Each diorama is made from layers of cut watercolor paper placed inside a shadow box and is lit from behind with flexible LED light strips. The small visual narratives depicted in each work often play off aspects of light including stars, flames, fireflies, and planets. The couple shares about their work …

‘What amazes us about the paper cut light boxes is the dichotomy of the piece in its lit and unlit state, the contrast is so stark that it has this mystical effect on the viewers.’ ”

More.

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