Back from the dead

Vinyl records creep back to mainstream

By Rusty Pate

Photo: The Raging Nathans, Losing It (2014)

There’s a growing revolution in the music industry, and it has little to do with instruments or musical notes. Vinyl records have risen from the dead.

The process of recording and selling music dates back to Thomas Edison and the earliest days of electricity. The medium has been in a constant state of flux since, moving from vinyl, cassette and 8-track to CDs and digital downloads.

That last move has shifted the landscape the most. When Apple introduced the iPod in 2001 and the iPhone in 2007, the days of physical media became numbered. Suddenly, thousands of songs could be played, streamed and purchased with a quick swipe and service agreement.

That may give fans of music unprecedented convenience and options, but the story is vastly different for artists, according to Motel Beds drummer Ian Kaplan.

“I think it’s an interesting time to be a musician,” Kaplan says. “I don’t think it’s a time that musicians are really making money anymore. The whole system, nothing is the same as it was, and I think most of the record companies are operating as if they can still do things the same way they did. They’re learning slowly that they can’t.”

To Kaplan’s point, millions are certainly still playing and streaming music, but far fewer are actually purchasing music. Many fans may assume that paying for a streaming service also supports the artists, but that is not necessarily true. PBS reports it takes roughly 1,500 streams to equal one album sale.

While acts like Taylor Swift or Justin Bieber can garner clicks into the millions, the sledding is much tougher for smaller local artists. They often work second jobs, pay for recording and production out of pocket and rely on selling albums during live shows in hopes of breaking even on those releases.

Vinyl sales represent the only real bright spot, in terms of trends.

According to Nielsen, vinyl sales are up 38 percent so far in 2015 and now comprise nearly 9 percent of physical album sales. This is in stark contrast to overall physical album sales, which have fallen by 7 percent. Yet, overall music consumption is up 14 percent.

It may not represent an overnight salvation for the industry as a whole, but any growth is good news for local bands.

Kaplan doesn’t talk much in terms of numbers or sales reports. For the Motel Beds, putting their music out on vinyl harkens back to why they fell in love with music in the first place.

“My personal attachment is mainly a nostalgic one,” Kaplan says. “I’m almost 37, so I grew up listening to records. For me, there’s a lot more involvement in the music. It takes effort. You have to go, get up and put the tone arm down. You have to get up and turn the record over. It presents a forced engagement with the music. With an iPod, not only do you have every single song that you can possibly imagine, it’s really convenient to skip through—it takes away that emotional aspect.”

Like Kaplan, Josh and Brandi Goldman’s relationship with vinyl began with their parent’s collection.

Brandi remembers her mom’s copy of Sticky Fingers by the Rolling Stones. It had a close-up photo of a man in tight jeans and the package (no pun intended) featured a working zipper she constantly played with until it eventually broke.

For Josh, it was his dad’s Black Sabbath and The Who albums that eventually gave way to obscure punk. While nostalgia was certainly part of the allure, holding something real as they listened to the songs added an extra layer to the experience.

“You open it up, and there is this beautifully grooved and etched perfect circle that you know is going to entertain your eardrums for the next hour,” Brandi says.

The husband and wife duo now head up local independent label Rad Girlfriend Records. The imprint originally started as a way to produce albums for Josh’s band. Eventually, they branched to release music by other artists. They started in 2011 and their current catalog boasts more than 50 releases.

It’s not always easy. It’s much more expensive and time-consuming than a CD release. Also, vinyl’s growing popularity means that finding a factory to press it all can be daunting. Then, wait times for smaller releases have grown to absurd lengths.

“It was affecting our business for a while because we had records that were taking six months to come back to us,” Josh says. “We’re losing money because we’re trying to sell records, and we don’t have any records to sell.”

At the end of the day, it really has little to do with money. Sure, just keeping things afloat requires a good business sense, but make no mistake—this is a labor of love.

When Josh talks about the process of pressing the records, he almost sounds like a mechanic talking about a classic hot rod or a photographer       who still works with film.

Sure, there are easier and cheaper methods, but something is lost for that convenience. It is a visceral and emotional connection to not only music, but to the past.

“That medium has always kind of been there for me,” Josh says. “People say it sounds better—and not that I disagree—but for me, it was more like, this is how you listen to music. It’s an actual piece of art.”

Reach DCP freelance writer Rusty Pate at RustyPate@DaytonCityPaper.com.


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Reach DCP freelance writer Rusty Pate at RustyPate@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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