In a spin with vinyl

Date:12 June 2013 Author: Anthony Doman Tags:, ,

[UPDATE: Vinyl Top 3 since Musica restarted selling the black discs are Daft Punk, Amy Winehouse and Lumineers. Their comments follow below.]

By deciding to stock vinyls again, Musica is sending a positive signal to those of us – go on, call us diehards, simple-minded, Luddites, we can take it – who believe that the record industry euthanased the LP before its time. It’s also helping spread the gospel of black discs to a whole new generation.

That’s all good.

At the same time, I’m thoroughly browned off. Because of the decision by the country’s biggest music chain to re-introduce vinyls to its roster three weeks ago, only at selected outlets, I foresee hordes of eager new vinylophiles scouring the second-hand bins to feed their habit. Even worse, they will start to cast covetous eyes at the limited supply of classic retro decks prized by an equally limited lunatic fringe – OK, enthusiast fringe – driving prices up and leaving less for us, dammit. If you think this sounds selfish, and not a little paranoid, you’re absolutely right – and so what? Call me irrational in the computer age for preferring to listen to music reproduced by a needle tracing a wavy groove on a black disc. But at least the NSA isn’t able to listen in and judge me subversive for playing my collection of North Korean folk tunes. Well, not as far as I know, anyway. And assuming I had a collection of North Korean folk tunes in the first place.

Musica says it recognises that retro is making a comeback among young adults. “Even though CDs and MP3s deliver crystal clear sound, it is said that nothing compares to the sound of vinyl,” the company says. “We are therefore thrilled to announce that LP’s are Vinyly Available at 6 of our stores.  Vinyl is a key enhancement of our current music offering , catering to both serious collectors and discerning audiophiles.” The company also sells  turntables at selected stores.

The top 3 titles thus far are, in order, Daft Punk, Amy Winehouse and Lumineers. Daft Punk’s disco-inspired, “Random Access Memories” sold a whopping 339 000 albums in first week sales, according to Nielsen Soundscan, which measures music sales. Of those, 6 % – 19 000 – were on vinyl.

Says Randall Abrahams, Managing Director of Universal Music South Africa and sub-Saharan Africa (quite likely better known as Idols‘ most acerbic judge): “It does seem as though most things come full circle – the 33/45 rpm 12-inch long-playing disc among them. LP sales on a global scale have been in steady ascent over the course of the last few years. And if one imagines that it’s simply a nostalgia trip for those who grew up in a music universe littered with black plastic, the success of releases by Daft Punk, Vampire Weekend and The National quickly puts paid to that theory.”

Although it is difficult to account for the total number of new LPs sold (some don’t carry bar codes), industry statistics clearly show that the format is gaining in numbers albeit still as a tiny proportion of overall music sales, Abrahams says. “An American online retailer also boasts sales of 8 000 new turntables a year. Ongoing growth in vinyl sales is restricted by the means of production – the last presses were made in 1982 and plants have to find second-hand units for reburbishment.”

For those who got rid of their turntables and vinyl at the dawn of the CD age (“for a mere pittance in many cases”), the vinyl revolution may be less than inspiring, Abrahams says. “But, for the majority of music lovers who are enamoured of “cover art” (Daft Punk’s “steal” of the Thriller typeface), the love affair with the format that dictated the industry for the second half the 20th century is indeed music to one’s ears.”

Vinyl’s stout resistance to the industry’s best efforts to kill it off, and to doomsayers’ confident but premature predictions of its demise, is a source of endless pleasure to this retrophile. Popular Mechanics recently reported on the situation (“Vinyl makes a big comeback”, May 2013) and this week a New York Times report confirmed that “every major label and many smaller ones are releasing vinyl, and most major new releases have a vinyl version, leading to a spate of new pressing plants”. As digital downloads flourish, and CDs (“Pure, perfect sound – forever“) spin their way towards extinction, the black disc stands resolute. It’s even become fashionable. Whoda thunk it?