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Vinyl in the Digital Age: Straight From the Horse’s Mouth, Talking to Bands

Vinyl records should have been something dead and buried when the digital age took its big thick grasp, as the number one music store in the country became a digital one. But the truth is, vinyl might be a driving force, helping keep the aching music industry alive — especially in the underground metal and punk community, which is what Eric Mueller from Pirate Press told Noisecreep in an interview back in July.

We took this conversation on vinyl in the digital age to numerous bands, who a good number of these bands have merch tables that are a sea of assorted vinyl, and the sale of those vinyl albums are what help keep them on the road-since apologizing for downloading a record doesn’t put gas in a van. We asked these bands what’s so timeless, so cherished, about vinyl, as well as what their favorite LPs are.

Larry Herweg (Pelican, Tusk)

Why do you feel vinyl sales are continuing to grow while CD sales diminish?

CDs are a dying format just like the cassette was a few years ago. Digital downloading and iTunes have taken the place of CDs. Vinyl just seems like it’s here to stay. A lot of people thought vinyl wasn’t being made anymore just because you couldn’t get it at shops like Best Buy. I believe there might of been a dip in vinyl sales at one point when CD sales were at the highest, years ago. But most labels kept making vinyl in smaller runs for the die-hards and collectors. I also think with the help of Ebay, vinyl demand came back strong. On Ebay people are paying good money for these limited LPs, so I think people have realized vinyl retains it value more than CDs and is a better investment.

Are having vinyl copies on tour a must?

For sure, especially since people aren’t buying CDs the way they used to. We meet a lot of fans that buy our vinyl and tell us they’ve been waiting to buy the LP since they downloaded the album for free. A lot of fans still want to directly support the band, so they hold out to buy it directly from us on tour. We like a lot of bands, will also bring out limited LP versions and tour pressings to make them more attractive to fans.

What are your personal favorite LPs?

I like thick, dense vinyl. I have copies of Burning Witch‘s ‘Rift Canyon Dreams’ and Khanate‘s ‘S/T’ LP on 220 gram vinyl and they’re top notch. They’re heavy, don’t bend and sound better. I also like labels like Hydra Head and Southern Lord, who are willing to spend more money on making very unique, deluxe LP packaging. I also like when vinyl is mastered to 45 rpms. Vinyl that plays at 45 over 33 gives you a better sound quality. We purposely had our new EP 12-inch mastered at 45 rpms for that reason.

Aaron Turner (Isis, House of Low Culture, Hydra Head Records)

Despite the digital revolution to music vinyl is growing in sales and demand, do you see it as continuing to grow?

I have the feeling there is a ceiling for the sales of vinyl, but I have very little idea what that is or when we’ll reach it. I think there will be a market for vinyl for the foreseeable future, but it will likely continue to ebb and flow with the introduction of other formats/means of music distribution. It certainly seems to be the physical format with the most staying power and I hope that continues to be the case.

What are your favorite LPs?

It would be hard to narrow it down to a handful of albums. Those that stand out though are generally the ones that are strong in all regards — the music, the art, the design, the personal connotation they may carry for me and, to a lesser extent, their rarity. Some of those I prize most are the ones that I’ve been fortunate enough to release via my label, which I have a direct connection to for a variety of reasons. Beyond that I’d say albums by following are amongst the most prized in my collection: the Swans, Godflesh, the Melvins, Deathspell Omega, Nurse With Wound, Boris, etc.

Adam Wentworth (Bloodhorse)

Why do you feel vinyl sales are continuing to grow while CD sales diminish?

Vinyl is generally far more limited than CDs and therefore, more collectable. It also sounds better and looks nicer. There is still something special about vinyl compared to CDs, and I think for some people there is still a slight sense of ‘mystery’ about it. It’s a format that has, and will never be, achievable at home. Anyone with a computer and a Staples nearby can make CDs in their bedroom. It’s so common and widely understood that it’s nothing special anymore. Obviously most releases still go through proper pressing plants, but if your budget was tight and you had the time, you could feasibly make your own ‘pressing’ at home. If you want vinyl you have to go through a vinyl plant.

The digital format is widely perceived as a replacement for CDs, whereas vinyl releases that come with free digital downloads promote more physical sales. A lot of listeners are going to get the digital version no matter what, so if you can get a ‘home’ version to pair with you ‘on-the-go’ version that’s a great deal. If you buy a CD, often the first thing you do is rip it for your iPod and never touch that CD again. CDs are becoming wholly disposable. LPs are more substantial. They’re like books; People are more likely to put them out on a shelf and hang onto them.

What are your personal favorite LPs?

Overall though I’d say ‘Led Zeppelin III’ is my favorite LP. It sounds huge, and the packaging looks like it could’ve been designed last year. I don’t know if they made them without it, but mine has the turning wheel in the cover. I also love that that record doesn’t blatantly look how it sounds, there is a really great contrast between the audio and visuals on that record without leading you astray. It’s a perfect balance.

Mike IX Williams (Outlaw Order, Eyehategod, Arson Anthem)

Why do you feel vinyl sales are continuing to grow while CD sales diminish?

Well in the past, I think people got caught up in the digital age and its conveniences, some forgetting the sheer coolness of vinyl and now I believe those folks are now just realizing their misconceptions about the great plastic. That, and the fact that the younger generation that didn’t experience buying an early Kiss LP with all the inserts intact or a Slayer picture disc or a rare Poison Idea seven-inch can somewhat re-live those sick moments. In today’s market it seems like a free download with a purchase of an album is the way to go. That way fans can hook up the ol’ iPod and still own the charm and attraction of a full-color, 12-inch gatefold cover, lyric sheet, colored vinyl etc. … the works.

What are your personal favorite LPs?

You know you can never lose with any of the old, original version, Black Sabbath albums. The hissing and popping of the vinyl always adds so much more atmosphere and ambience to the listening experience, bringing you back to the ’70s in your mind. On that note old Judas Priest, Pink Floyd or Iron Maiden has the same appeal. I’m a big fan of early punk rock and NWOBHM seven-inches like Motörhead, State of Alert, F—-ups, the Fix, Girlschool, Void, Raven, Venom, Die Kreuzen, Jerry’s Kids, Black Flag, Warfare and on and on. These little compact pieces of art were documents and trophies of a new exciting scene and sound better on wax than they could ever sound in CD format. As far as album cover artwork; you know as well as me, that’s an entire book to itself, thousands upon thousands of insanely terrific records in my grubby, filthy hands to stare and glare at.

King Buzzo (Melvins)

What makes vinyl so timeless that even against the digital revolution vinyl still grows in sales and in new fans building collections?

Vinyl ‘still grows in sales.’ It does? I think if you look at the numbers that vinyl sales have actually gone WAY down from what they were 20 or 30 years ago. Well, 30 years ago there was only vinyl so it has certainly went down from there … Well, vinyl and cassettes. Our first album was only on vinyl when it was originally released, that’s how long ago it was. Ha!

I have no idea what it is that people see in vinyl. I guess there is something to be said for a larger place for artwork. We do vinyl because we still can sell some of it and we also get to do cool packaging. I don’t really care what format people want to listen to music with. I collect all sorts of things so I understand what it is that motivates collectors, but I don’t collect vinyl.

Sean Ingram (Coalesce, Blue Collar Press and Distro)

Do you think vinyl record sales are ever going to diminish again?

No way. Never. The iPod should have killed vinyl years ago. No one is ever going to get sick of the big art, rich sound and the collectability of vinyl. As long as bands and labels treat it as a piece of art, it’ll have a long rich history in my opinion. I feel LP and download coupon are the future for punk.

What are some of your favorite record packagings?

I know it’s my own band, and taboo, but I love the Functioning on Impatience standard issue and 10th anniversary. I’m a sucker for vellum, and I’m a sucker for die cuts. I love the Mars Volta gatefold releases on 180 gram. Really, I love substantial packages that are gatefold, with interesting papers. The last few Pelicans have been amazing. The last Melvins was nuts how it was put together. I love my ‘Illinois’ gatefold by Sufjan Stevens. Just lots of art and gatefold. That screen-printed, one-sided House of Low Culture was really dope, too.

Atsuo (Boris)

Why do you feel vinyl sales are continuing to grow while CD sales diminish?

Perhaps CD format has got something uncertain now as compared with vinyl or digital distribution. Of course it is hard to keep and take care of vinyl collection or just listen to it than CD, though people may prefer vinyl including those tiresome actions as experience. Whenever we enjoy music, having in hand or touching are also important factor as listening, so I think it is so natural for everyone to re-discover and pick up vinyl, which is enabling us to gain richer and greater experience.

Now I am typing my answer for the interview in front of computer, using computer or internet are very useful but not everything. Essentially a sense organ of human being is very capable of confronting ‘a nature’ which is being considered as ‘chaos’ but unfortunately now most of information from information-oriented society is totally worse in numbers or in quality. In this situation I guess people gets or feels thirsty for true experience and same goes for music and vinyl format.

Are having vinyl copies on tour a must?

Yeah it is, I wish our fans would be able to bring something great and heavy to their home with good memories at the show.

What are your personal favorite LPs?

Crime and the City Solution, ‘Room of Lights.’ I have been listening to it over again and again, big part of my whole life.

Steve Moore (Zombi)

In a time when the physical product for music is not doing well, vinyl is continuing to grow and gain new collectors. What do you think the draw and appeal is?

I love the sound. And the ritual of it. It’s kind of a lifestyle. Putting on a record is more of a commitment than playing CDs or MP3s — it’s gotta be premeditated. For those who want to sit and actively listen to an album it’s the best.

What are your favorite LPs?

I couldn’t give you something as definitive as my ‘favorite LPs,’ but Thomas Dolby ‘Golden Age of Wireless’ and Missing Persons ‘Spring Session M’ are at the top of my list right now. Oh, and Mandrill ‘Just Outside of Town’ and Vangelis ‘Antartica’.

Tommy Niemeyer (Accused)

Why do you feel vinyl sales are continuing to grow, while CD sales diminish?

Maybe its to be able to have in your hands a nice, big, usually colorful, cardboard, tangible memory to go along with the experience of ‘discovering’ the music itself; it’s a very personal moment when you stumble upon an album’s worth of music that really moves you–better yet, changes your life. We’re all ‘searching’ aren’t we? Especially record collector geeks like myself.

Are having vinyl copies on tour a must?

That’s probably one of the main things that kept our last U.S. and European tours afloat; besides T-shirt sales, so yeah, I’d say the mini swap meet merch booth thing isn’t going away anytime soon as far as the Accused tours go.

What are your personal favorite LPs?

Packaging-wise, it’s hard to deny Southern Lord’s catalog of vinyl masterpieces; the best ‘sounding’ vinyl release I know of is Discharge‘s 12-inch EP, ‘Her Majesty’s Government…’ (1985) — THE LOUDEST RECORD PRESSED — EVER! I don’t know how they did that, but it’s WAAAAAY louder than ANY other record I’ve owned.

Aaron Deal (Salome)

Was there ever a question to not put out a vinyl?

No. Vinyl has always been important to us. CDs are cool but they will never be as cool as vinyl. I always hated cassette tapes and there is certainly nothing magical about MP3s for me.

When I started listening to music as a child, it was on vinyl. One of my earliest, fondest memories is when my mom gave me her well-used copy of the Beatles‘ ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.’ It is the first thing I remember having the sense of ownership of and I still have it. In fact, I can trace my interest in music back to that moment and that record, I would consider this ‘where it all started’ for me.

Vinyl sounds better, and the larger sleeve size lends itself to more intricate artwork. But I think there is another, less tangible advantage to vinyl. CDs and MP3s are obviously really convenient, but require less of a personal investment. I can just hit shuffle on my iPod and not think about it for over a month! But the music just becomes something that’s happening in the background while I’m doing other things. Listening to vinyl is more of a ritual. Flipping through crates or shelves of records deciding what to listen to, putting the needle in the groove and watching the record spin, holding the sleeve and going through the artwork and notes. Actually sitting and listening to the music and then flipping or changing the record when the side is over. You’re more involved in the whole process and I think that makes it way more meaningful and special.

What are your favorite LPs?

Steely Dan ‘Aja’ — One of the best sounding albums ever recorded by humans. Definitely a pinnacle of the art of music engineering and production let alone songwriting and performance. If you haven’t heard this on a good stereo you don’t even know what you’re missing.

Black Sabbath ‘Black Sabbath’ — I remember listening to this record as a kid, sitting in my room in the dark during thunderstorms, looking out the window watching the storm. Very grim, indeed!

Miles Davis ‘Bitches Brew’ — When I was in high school, after our parents went to sleep, my sister and I would sit in the basement smoking weed and listening to this record. Great artwork on this one, too.

Mercyful Fate
‘Melissa’ — One of my favorite albums music-wise, I just love listening to it on vinyl. Everything sounds great. This record was a gift from a friend, adding to its specialness for me.

Sleep ‘Sleep’s Holy Mountain’ — Great artwork, classic stoner rock. I already owned it on CD, bought my vinyl copy from Al when Om played ATP in New York.

Shellac’At Action Park’ — Another one of my favorites music-wise. The vinyl is really heavy and sounds amazing. The packaging is very cool and reflects the audio purist mentality of the record, it comes with a treasure map of sorts that ties in with the songs and the only pictures in the sleeve are of microphones.

Will Fiore (Zoroaster)

Has vinyl always been an integral part of releases for Zoroaster?

Most definitely. With the first record we had it mastered with vinyl in mind even though we didn’t have anyone willing to put it out at the time. From the beginning i always wanted to start out with a couple of seven-inch releases but unfortunately things didn’t work out that way but when we finally did get our first vinyl I was really kind of emotional. It was a real big deal to us you know … you get a CD out there and it’s like not that big a deal you know … but when your holding your own record it really feels more legitimate like you’re officially a band now. I felt just like a kid again getting a new record opening it up and just staring at it. I still haven’t listened to it yet though i don’t know why but I can never bring myself to actually put it on … one day.

Why do you feel vinyl sales are continuing to grow while CD sales diminish?

There’s just something really special about pulling out a record and putting the needle on it and hearing those pops before the music begins it builds up this excitement that CDs just can’t replicate.


John Tardy (Obituary)

Why do you feel vinyl sales are continuing to grow while CD sales diminish?

We spend so much money on artwork it is nice to be able to see it without a microscope! Ha! Vinyl is just cool to have. You can hang it up and it is great to get autographs on!

Is it a must to have vinyl for sale on tour?

Yes! The fans seem to like them. We do not sell a lot of them, but it is always a handful a night!

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