Vinyl Gets Another Spin

Showing it has more lives than a cockroach, vinyl has been reborn, resulting in some beautiful music. But sometimes production values in records and turntables are lacking.

Vinyl Gets Another Spin

Check out our slideshow on the rise, fall and rise again of vinyl records.

In a dark room at A&R Records & Tape west of downtown Dallas, Stanley Getz II cuts an electronic group's music into acetate — a reference point for what their final vinyl product will sound like. He stands behind a mastering board pushing buttons and turning dials as he performs one of his favorite parts of the vinyl-making process, the one where he gets to help artists realize their vision.

We've been awash in a vinyl revival for five years now. Vinyl is sexy. It's tactile, malleable and sensitive to the touch. Its grooves give it a warm sound. If you treat it with love and care, it can last forever. It has a mystique all its own — carrying a certain cachet that some bands want to attach themselves to and that an increasing number of buyers crave.

Stanley Getz II of A&R Records and Tapes holds a piece of vinyl hot off of one of the presses at his Dallas-area plant. He's been a part of the music industry for his whole life. His father recorded and pressed albums for polka bands.
Mark Graham
Stanley Getz II of A&R Records and Tapes holds a piece of vinyl hot off of one of the presses at his Dallas-area plant. He's been a part of the music industry for his whole life. His father recorded and pressed albums for polka bands.
These vinyl pellets come in a wide array of colors and are melted down and pressed to become records.
Mark Graham
These vinyl pellets come in a wide array of colors and are melted down and pressed to become records.

"It just comes screaming out of the speakers, fat and wiry, and if it's recorded great, it sounds great on vinyl. It's almost like a spiritual thing," says Getz (no relation to jazz great Stan Getz),who operates the only record-pressing plant in Texas.

In the past two years Houston has seen the opening of two vinyl-only record stores, Heights Vinyl off White Oak and Vinyl Junkie off Canal in East Downtown. Both have done well, catering to classic-rock and indie-rock crowds.

When a couple breaks up or decides to divorce, they don't agonize over who gets the iTunes account, but arguments about who gets what Rolling Stones record can turn into vicious fights.

But vinyl can be ruined with one rough scratch. It has to be stored correctly. Its owner has to learn how to clean it correctly so he's not overwhelmed with pop and hiss. Vinyl can't sit for hours in a hot car, and can't be played during a road trip. And amid all this go-go-go — and remember, CD sales still far outpace vinyl's — not all the records being made today are quality products. And even if tremendous craft and skill were used in making a record, play it on a crappy turntable and all that doesn't matter.

And still the future of vinyl is somewhat questionable. Fewer people know how to run pressing plants, and some of the major components are not being made anymore.

The sound debate has gone on for years and at this point is tedious. CD supporters say it isn't fair to compare the initial CD technology to records with their 100-year head start, and they suggest vinyl lovers ought to recheck their hearing. And then there's the whole ease-of-use argument.

But major record companies, not wanting to miss an opportunity, are getting back into vinyl — which hurts the mom-and-pop operations who kept it alive once tapes and CDs were all the rage.

Getz and the A&R family just put the finishing touches on creating 20,000 copies of the Flaming Lips' The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends, the psych-rock band's double LP offering for this year's Record Store Day event on Saturday, April 21, featuring a cavalcade of musical odd fellows and typical weirdo fare for which the Oklahoma band is known.

In the mastering room, Getz is surrounded by a few thousand copies of Fwends, which will hit stores on April 21 and be sought after for weeks, months and years, selling on the secondary market on eBay for stupid amounts of money. He's had strict orders for nothing to leave the plant.

Lips lead singer Wayne Coyne was just in the house the week before, helping the A&R staff package all those thousands of records. He autographed every few inserts, and did some special secret scrawling for the last one to come off the line.

Record Store Day, a biannual celebration of all things vinyl, began in 2007. Five years later it's turned into a sort of (expensive) holiday for record collectors. Special limited pressings, deluxe editions and other baubles have made lines wrapping around mostly independently owned record stores the norm, with some folks waiting in line for hours just in the hope of getting something rare. (A few years back, Record Store Day organizers also instituted a "mini" day in November to coincide with Black Friday, the annual gluttonous exhibition of retailer might.)

It's harder to get rid of a record than a few files on your computer, which can be accomplished just a click and a drag away from leaving your life forever. Despite all sorts of innovations, records just seem to hang on.
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Creating a piece of vinyl is a deceptively simple, yet mechanically intricate, process. It involves plenty of human supervision and a touch of artistic skill. Getz's operation comprises a handful of LP and 45 presses, all humming five days a week, or even more depending on the job.

To start with, vinyl pellets come in all sorts of colors in huge bags, like fertilizer or flour. Besides the standard black there's every color imaginable, plus multicolored reground pellets from cast-off jobs. Unless the vinyl was burned or contaminated, Getz insists there is no issue with using reground material and that any claim that it creates an inferior listening experience is a myth.

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19 comments
Steve
Steve

Nice piece, esp. good at explaining the technology - nothing to this day sounds as good as old vinyl - i recently slapped on my original press of the first Stooges, then the remaster CD from 2005 - the difference is very clear; vinyl trumps even recent digitalJust for the record, the Mamas/Papas never recorded for Motown or at the Motown studios -

Rob
Rob

Ah, vinyl and religion: two great delusions.

I have 1200 LPs and nearly 1000 cd's. Anyone who argues that a nicely mastered CD is inferior to even a nicely mastered LP is a complete idiot and probably tone deaf. I used to work in record stores, too, in the 1970's and 1980's. You have to make so many sonic compromises with vinyl that it is the musical equivalent of punching yourself in the face because doing so has somehow been deemed hipster (and most hipsters are the most musically bigoted, tone deaf assholes I've ever known) cool. The political equivalent is voting against your own interests.

Starquest
Starquest

I have to agree. CDs do not impede how the music was intended to sound. But I still prefer vinyl because it's more fun.

Also, and this may sound bizarre, but as a result of the loudness wars I have a new appreciation for the first generation of CDs. They really sound much better than all the critics say. Audio engineers knew less about analog-to-digital conversion back in the 80s, but that also means they knew less about how to ruin a recording by destroying its dynamics. Which is pretty much what they do now with the ninth remastered deluxe limited version of everything. Certainly there are many remastered discs that sound great, but a lot of them are just overblown.

Finally, some of the very first CDs are somewhat collectible now.

MASSMURDERMEDIA
MASSMURDERMEDIA

i have a friend who "thinks" he likes music... when i say "thinks", he's the type of person that bought the CD's for the hit singles, loaded hundreds of them into his fancy-ass multi-disc player, and pre-programmed it to play the hits... he does this with MP3's now... he wasn't patient enough to give the "filler" on some decent CD's a second listen and doesn't get the appeal of experiencing a good album in it's entirety...

furthermore, he couldn't get why i would want to take the trouble of dropping platters and needles, so i gave him, as a muscle car enthusiast, an analogy he could understand... which would be more fun to drive, his standard transmission mustang or an automatic transmission?... my decks are my muscle cars...

WestSideBob
WestSideBob

Can't understand why no dap for the Black Dog shoppe here in H-town. Also, right around the corner on Alabama is Sound Exchange. I've bought many an LP from each and make regular stops as the stock changes frequently.

I've got to agree with the comments on big label re-releases. Give me the old time first or second pressings every time.

Craigley
Craigley

Black Dog reminds me of a store that sells records vs. a record store. I just don't feel the connection between the folks working there and the music.

Craig Hlavaty
Craig Hlavaty

The owner of Sound Exchange is quoted in the piece though?

Steve
Steve

Its bizarre having something have a resurgence that you have never stopped playing. I have had vinyl records since I was 5 and when everyone was getting into cassettes and later cds, I still kept buying vinyl. Sure, over the years I bought some stuff on cd, things I couldn't otherwise get-or recording my band pre-digital era on cassettes) but even now I still have well over 1,200 LPs (down from a DJ era high of 6,700) that have never been issued on CD or any other digital format. Still have 2 working record players with 2 replacement needles each and I keep the records clean. On a quiet day here, they sound virtually the same as cds. Newer issued records just sound colder because a lot of the mastering and recording is done from digital to digital using synthesized instruments so they are both taking in less sound frequency and outputting on systems not made/specialized for analog sound reproduction to begin with. Most of these newer plastic 'traveling' players are not great anyway. an older deck has real steel beneath the wheel and way better deals even if you have to fix em up yourself.

Think I'll go play a Flipper 45'.

Geezy
Geezy

I remember when I was a kid, my parents used to come home and we'd sit together while they put on the newest record, dancing, singing all the while expanding my palate from country, tejano, soul etc. This is what always made vinyl so attractive to me, it made the music being played an interaction, a presence in the room. I have no beef against cd's or ipods, shit I have them myself- but they take the interaction out of music. The vinyl jackets gave the records a face, although some were mundane there was some very heavy cover art produced both inside and out which I always have found fascinating.

I've been buying vinyl since I was a kid, I must be about 6-7K deep collection wise. Two tech 12's with pioneer mixer grace an upstairs room in my house with a fully converted closet to house my stash. It's an amazing treat to be able to take my 5 year old up there and have her put on something simple like those old Winnie The Pooh, Charlie Brown or Betsey McCall records from back in the day. Takes me back to when I was kid, and where my affection for vinyl started.

Fantastic article here Craig. Good to see vinyl still being bought and listened to too, and the interaction being put back into listening again.

Brittanie Shey
Brittanie Shey

Exactly! Listening to vinyl isn't a passive exercise. There's the ritual of picking out the record, displaying the cover, and flipping the record when one side is done. There is no "set it and forget it."

James
James

And why is that such a positive thing? I kind of like being able to put on some music and walk away and do other things, or sink into my chair and listen to the entire album in one sitting, not having to be disturbed midway through to get up and turn it over, but rather to close my eyes and experience the album from start to finish. I don't know, that always seemed like a weird ancillary reason to like vinyl.

Brittanie Shey
Brittanie Shey

Don't discount ritual. It's a big part of the appreciation for many things in life.

Craigley
Craigley

Depends. There are some cool concept albums out there where you HAVE to flip the side. Changes the mood and the trip. And albums should be a journey, where the songs connect; otherwise, play a 12".

I think the invention of the CD negatively impacted the concept of arranging songs together in a logical order. Seems not much tough it put into it other than making sure the best song is at Track 5 or 7 on the CD.

Craigley
Craigley

Oh vinyl, I never left ye. And my Sony TT hooked up to my Bose SoundDock sounds great.

Brittanie Shey
Brittanie Shey

Now you need a vacuum tube amp. We call ours "our fireplace."

Rick
Rick

Why not have both vinyl and digital?

Some folks would take the plastic disc digital is "better" and more convenient to the next extreme - that you are speaking ancient and should be streaming that digital source material from solid state memory "hard drives". In that sense it is said, the jitter, clocking sync problem, and error correction anomalies of plastic discs is a sonic problem.

Many recordings are only available on used vinyl, they were never transferred to digital disc. In that sense there is a wealth of music open to folks willing to use them and hunt them down.

Tubes? there used to be a saying by the tube-analog folks vs. solid state-digital:

Digital finishes what the transistor started - killing the sonic purity of all tube analog playback...

 

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