Friday, July 4, 2008

Put your records on

Many music lovers rediscovering vinyl

Pegasus Records and Tapes owner Eli Flippen holds the vinyl recordings in his store. The long playing records, LPs, are now coming back into vogue around the U.S.

The snap and crackle of vinyl records brings Pine Hill Haints vocalist/guitarist Jaime Barrier back to his childhood when he listened to "That'll be the Day," by Buddy Holly and "Love Potion No. 9," by The Clovers from the "American Graffiti" double LP.

His devotion to the medium runs deep. He recorded his first vinyl record with his band, The Wednesdays, and has released 25 records on his own label.

Barrier is one of many artists and music store owners taking hints from music lovers who, despite the prevalence of digital music, still prefer 12-inch records to iPods.

It all goes back to authentic sound, skips and all.

"Me, personally, I think it's the best sound quality you can get," Barrier said.

"I would say that majority of what I would call the MP3 generation kids, who are true fans of music, are discovering that records sound a whole lot better than MP3s," said Eli Flippen, owner of Pegasus Records and Tapes in Florence.

New buyers perhaps agreed, resulting in the shipment of more than 1 million LPs in 2007, according to statistics from the Recording Industry of America.

Classic rock by Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones and The Beatles top re-released album sales at Pegasus, Flippen said.

Most re-releases retain original artwork, and besides being in good condition, are distinguishable from originals by their barcodes.

Artists such as Jack Johnson and Portishead offers deals where consumers buy a record for $14 that comes with a code to download the MP3 version.

When cassettes came out and then CDs, much of their appeal was the promise of clarity. While that may be true, sound resonance suffered, Flippen said.

"So many people don't realize that when you take a CD and put it on your iPod, that you're compressing it, and when you compress anything, you're degrading the quality of the sound," he said.

MP3 sound easily funnels into ears for a night run around the neighborhood, but for rich, room-filling atmosphere, investing in vinyl is the way to go, Flippen said.

"Anybody who is a true audiophile, anybody who has a real nice high-end sound system is going to tell you the original warmth of analog sound of vinyl is always going to be superior to CD format or MP3."

The appeal of vinyl lies in its tangibility to Charles Ricks, owner of Ace Variety, a music store in Sheffield. It's exciting, Ricks said, to "work the needle" on a favorite album, in his case, by Herbie Hancock or Mahalia Jackson.

Vinyl spins around the turntable of the music industry like other trends, said Janna Malone, associate director of the Entertainment Industry Center at the University of North Alabama.

Its return in the 21st century is a like a song on repeat mode. She compared it to the resurgence of boy bands like the Backstreet Boys and N'Sync in the '90s.

What does new interest in vinyl mean for a music industry that, to many consumers, is singing out of tune with pricey CDs and strict downloading laws?

Cara Duckworth, spokeswoman for the Recording Industry Association of America released the following statement to the Associated Press this month: "The music industry offers a multitude of options to satisfy the many ways fans prefer listening to music, from classic vinyl to innovative digital services. Any way in which consumers can discover and enjoy legal music is ultimately a great thing for fans and the music community alike."

Malone predicts that vinyl will hurt CD sales, but will pose no serious competition. The subject makes for hot discussion in her record industry class; many of her students, who are serious music buffs buy piles of Indie vinyl.

"I think it may take a while for the average consumer to warm up to it," Malone said.

Of course, some consumers, including disc jockeys and collectors, never stopped buying vinyl. Barrier said lots of artists will use records to backup their songs.

Ricks said vinyl will only help the industry.

"It would create an interest in music sales, for one thing," he said. "Every now and then, you need something that will change the mood of ordinary people."


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