Thursday, August 21, 2008

A positive spin: Records are hitting the turntables at a higher frequency

Caleb Murdock said listening to music on vinyl is more than just flipping a switch.

It's an experience.

"There's the aesthetic about it," he said. "It means more than just pressing a button" like you would on an MP3 or CD player.

It's a process that Murdock has come to relish.

"You take the record out of the sleeve and put it on the spindle," he said. "You place down the needle and set it on the song you want. When the record finishes, you turn it over to the other side. It's a little more effort but the effort goes a long way."

Murdock's inherited his fascination with records from his father. His father had a big music collection, and Murdock often borrowed his records.

He started seriously purchasing records five years ago.

As many people jump on the MP3 player bandwagon in the digital age and look for the most up-to-date technology, some are taking a step back.

Murdock used to have to scrounge to find records. Now they are more accessible across the Palouse and available at places like Atom Heart Music in Pullman, as well as BookPeople and Paradise Ridge CDs and Tapes in Moscow. Even chain stores like Hastings and Hot Topic are starting to carry records, Murdock said.

Vic Hudack of Atom Heart Music has been carrying records in the store since October 2004. He has been able to stock more records since the business moved into a larger location on NE Olsen Street one year ago.

"I've definitely noticed an increase in interest in vinyl," he said.

Tony Brown, owner of United Groove Merchants, a record store in Spokane, brings down records for Hudack to sell every week or two.

"Some stuff he brings down is gone the same day," Hudack said.

Although classic rock is the best-selling genre, Hudack says he also sells a lot of Indie rock.

Brown said he has noticed more younger people taking an interest in vinyl.

"Vinyl has a different feel in more ways than one," he said. "It sets people apart, it makes them different and stand out, and that appeals to the younger set."

He said he attributes the increasing indie rock sales at Atom Heart to the younger set picking up records.

"More students have found out about us and they are making their way down there," he said.

He said people turning to records seems to partially be a backlash against the digital age.

"The only thing that's stuck around and lasted is vinyl," he said. "Records really are an investment; if there is a limited number released they quadruple in price in a matter of weeks once they are out of print. There's a big demand; people are hungry."

Hudack said he grew up buying records before the MTV age, so at the time the only visual element of a band people saw was the record cover.

"The visual idea of a band was whatever the album showed them," he said. "There's a certain nostalgic quality with records."

He said the audio quality of records is considerably better than CDs and especially MP3s.

Murdock agreed.

"Records sound better every time," he said. "CDs have dropped in quality even more; they never sound as good to the ear" as vinyl.

BookPeople has carried records for the past 25 years and owner Bob Greene said some people bring in their record collections to sell.

"With new and improved record technology it's a lot easier to play a record," he said.

Some new record players are able to convert records to an MP3 format or burn CDs.

With certain genres, records capture an element no other medium can, Greene said.

"With jazz, CDs don't always catch the high notes; folk doesn't sound as warm," he said.

Greene said he's noticed an increase in people looking through the record section.

"There was a time you couldn't give them away," he said.

Pricing on records can be complicated and buyers can end up paying too much if they don't know what they are doing.

Craig Parks of Pullman has collected records continuously since the mid-1970s and recalled a time when he found a Jackson 5 record in a used record store. Unbeknownst to the store owner, the album was signed by Michael Jackson.

Parks got a deal on the record, and said when it comes to records you just have to know what to look for.

"It's important to learn how much things are worth; people get burned if they aren't aware of that," he said.

Beatles albums are often marked at "phenomenally high prices" but the Beatles sold tens of millions of albums so they aren't that hard to find, he said.

Wherever he travels he tries to look for records in the area.

The best finds are when he least expects it.

"It's a huge thrill to go through a bin of LPs and see what's in there," he said.

He owns about 3,000 records and although he is interested in them as collector's items it's the sound that keeps him in the groove.

"It sounds warmer, and although there's the occasional click and pop that's part of the charm," he said.

Greene said people are becoming dissatisfied with the quality of CDs,

"They are discovering that the original CDs are not indestructible," he said. "They are fading, damaged and hard to replace."

For Murdock, MP3s are more about individual songs than whole albums.

It's harder to find something specific, but the journey of looking for a record is an adventure.

"What can I find today? What can I uncover?" Murdock said.

This process has opened him up to genres and bands he'd never heard of before.

With CDs, people often are looking for something specific, but with records they can find something totally random and fall in love with it.

"It's so much more time-consuming than buying CDs," he said. "There's not as much organization but it's one of those things where you get more enjoyment out of it."


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