Friday, February 08, 2008

Ultra Nerd Festival

Sorry for republishing your great article Serena!
Great Job in capturing the vinyl junkie feeling--
Today's Eugene Newspaper has the following article about this week's Record Convention:

Digital backlash drives vinyl revival
By Serena Markstrom
The Register-Guard
By Serena Markstrom The Register-Guard

Published: February 8, 2008 06:16AM
Some audiophiles and independent music industry watchers predict the resurgence of new releases on vinyl will send the compact disc format the way of the eight-track tape.

Vinyl lovers are thrilled by the recent trend of more bands putting out records, accompanied at purchase by free MP3 download codes. But the phenomenon still represents only a fraction of overall music sales when compared to CDs and paid digital releases.

One thing dealers and shoppers at the 20th annual Eugene Record Convention can’t quite predict is how much of the merchandise for sale during the massive Sunday event will be these new LPs and vinyl singles, as opposed to vintage records. Vinyl seems to be the cool thing to do if you’re a trendy band such as the Arcade Fire, Radiohead or the Decemberists.

“I’ll be looking for albums I already have but don’t have on vinyl,” composer and music collector McKenzie Stubbert said of his strategy for Sunday’s show.

Although Stubbert’s music consumption habits probably are not typical, they represent a slowly increasing trend toward vinyl as the format of choice for buyers who want a tangible copy of their favorite music.

Stubbert has amassed countless digital-format songs, all stored on his computer. But when he moved to a new place and wanted only one media player in his living room, the CD player was out and record player was in.

Musicians, collectors and DJs probably still are the main buyers for vinyl in the resale market. But there’s a subset of more typical music fans, or “superfans,” who will buy vinyl even if they don’t have a turntable — if the artist sports the proper indie sheen.

In a Wired magazine commentary piece in October 2007, writer Eliot Van Buskirk predicted vinyl’s increased sales would further damage CD sales. He said big labels are not getting on board with the vinyl upswing, but then, they are traditionally slow-moving.

Van Buskirk also quoted insiders as saying the Recording Industry Association of America underestimates vinyl sales because it doesn’t count indie shops, indie labels or music sold at concerts.

True as that might be, some believe that people buy new vinyl for reasons that don’t necessarily affect sales of other formats.

Rob Jones, owner of the Portland label Jealous Butcher Records, got into vinyl a few years ago when he reissued the Decemberists’ “Her Majesty.” The band’s label, Kill Rock Stars, didn’t want to deal with putting it out in record form.

“It’s expensive; there is just no way around that,” he said, adding that it doesn’t always make economic sense to put something out on vinyl as a vanity project of the artist.

“The indie labels that are putting out vinyl, they are savvy. They are not going to do something just because it is trendy.”

Vinyl “didn’t ever really go away. People just starting paying attention to something else,” said Jones, who grew up in Eugene but moved to Portland about 10 years ago.

“The thing about vinyl is there aren’t more people manufacturing it. The same people for the last 20 years are still the ones doing it.”

Jones said more releases are definitely coming out of those same places, but it’s in small batches. Jones estimated he pressed and sold 3,500 to 4,000 copies of “Her Majesty,” while the CD form has moved more than 100,000 units.

In April, Kill Rock Stars and Jealous Butcher will release Decemberists’ singer-songwriter Colin Meloy’s new solo project, “Colin Meloy Sings Live!” It will be sold simultaneously on CD and a limited run, two-disc record.

Jones said a CD costs between 50 cents and $1 to produce, while vinyl costs more than $2. And the double-gatefold LP Meloy created costs $7 per unit just to produce.

“The audience for them is so much more limited,” he said. “All I’m doing is adding to the market share.”

That means he’s marketing to people who tend to buy the vinyl in addition to whatever other format they already would have purchased were the vinyl not available.

“I’m really into reissuing things that already have a base audience,” he said. “I don’t want to put out something that’s not going to sell, because that’s no fun for anyone.

“Vinyl is cool,” said Jones. “Not just because I make it, but it’s big and heavy and tangible.”

Jones joked that the increased number of releases in the indie music could be attributed to a “return to family values.” He might not be far off, at least about a return to old-school values in a changing world.

Might CDs soon be obsolete?

Eugene Record Convention organizer Bill Finneran said CDs might turn out to be a flash in the historical pan, made obsolete by how easy it is to skip the physical disc altogether and go straight to digital. But that trend hasn’t really threatened vinyl.

“You’ve got to remember that since the early part of the 20th century, records have been made, so there are so many out there still,” Finneran said. “It’s real hard to knock something out that’s been out there that long.”

Locally, young people have been into collecting vinyl for years.

“When people start getting into music, they start figuring out this doesn’t sound very good and they start looking for something,” he said. “A good analog recording will always sound better than a digital one.”

Finneran has noticed an increase in the variety of new music being released or reissued on vinyl. He said he thinks that’s driven by the basic human need to have something to hold and explore, in addition to listening to it.

“People are collectors at heart,” he said. “For years, there was a lull when there was hardly anything coming out in vinyl.”

Finneran said the market for making new product, if limited, is there. He noted that has a vinyl-only store with 150,000 titles.

Finneran said Len Horo­witz, who is one of the world’s experts on vinyl recordings, will be at the convention to answer questions about getting a record made or any related topic.

Local retro-surf/instrumental band Heavenly Oceans released its latest work, “The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack,” as a vinyl package that included a free CD. But that decision was driven more by artistic and personal, rather than financial, factors. Band member and graphic designer Tony Figoli spent almost 40 hours designing its cover.

It’s still a niche market

Other examples of records coming out from independent or small labels are myriad, but the production totals remain small compared to CDs.

Suicide Squeeze Records, for example, has been releasing 2,000 vinyl copies from seven artists each year. But the product seems to be marketed as a collector’s item, not something the company thinks will catch fire and replace other formats.

The first in the 2008 series comes out later this month. Past releases have featured Elliott Smith and Of Montreal.

Reverend Marc Time, host of KWVA-FM’s “The Sunday Morning Hangover,” said he’s been collecting records for decades. He has enjoyed the upswing in new vinyl releases, but sees a downside as his esoteric hobby becomes more mainstream.

Today, the Reverend said the thrill of the vinyl hunt often is subverted by those who are looking for records only to turn a profit.

“It used to be a secret,” he said. “Now everyone’s in on it, and it’s not as much fun anymore.”

Still, he said, the vinyl-loving underground is alive and kicking.

“Believe me, it’s an ultra-nerd festival,” he said of the convention. “You know the type: They kind of dress bad and smell bad, but they are really into the music.”

The Reverend spends a lot of time at the Museum of Unfine Art, where a number of those types are habitues.

“It seems like the only people interested in (new) vinyl were the DJs,” he said of the time before a noticeable resurgence. “I’ve noticed a lot of people are coming in (to the museum) and asking for stuff on vinyl.

“I don’t know why that is. I do know Shawn (DiFiore, the shop’s owner) is selling a lot of turntables.

“Maybe it’s a rebellion against this whole clinical MP3 thing.”

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