Monday, October 15, 2007

Field Notes

8/5/07 - 8/15/07

The first bit of field research I have undertaken has involved actually exploring where to get vinyl records in this day and age. The task itself is somewhat skewed in that the vinyl format seems to be something out-of-date, banished to vintage stores and thrift shops, but this format is no antique. Whether or not vinyl makes its presence known in our malls/superstores, the format is still very much alive. That's the first thing to understand--that this isn't purely antiquing or a revival. Nor is vinyl that big of a deal. It's not going to break any new ground or change the way we consume new music, mostly, because it already has. Yet it still lives on.

Although I'm new in Providence, I'd like to think I've scoped out most of the places in town to buy vinyl records... so far I've visited two very different spots with a keen eye out for what the places were selling and who was buying.

The first store I visited was a record store on Wickenden Street called "Round Again Records." No youth to be found here--in fact nobody at all to be found here at first. The store was small and a little stuffy, with bins of vinyl everywhere, and only a small corner with CDs, mostly traded in with a spotty selection of new discs. The vinyl was the specialty at this store. Mostly all of it was old vinyl, original pressings, used, and mostly featuring older and less-modern artists. The prices ranged from $3-$10 for the typical disc to $100-$150 for rare and original Beatles records. There was an older man behind the counter, maybe in his early 50s judging by the spreading bald spot, who was happily dancing and singing in front of a blaring stereo blasting an old soul record spinning scratchily on a turntable. Right as I was finishing up my look-around, a young college-aged guy poked his head in as if to see what kind of records this place actually sold, but quickly and politely exited after flipping through a few old moldy bins. This store isn't a place for vibrant and forward thinking hipsters, this is a vintage shop, for the real vinyl nerds. Good selection, however, and I found several good deals on a few discs.

The second place I visited on my quest for good vinyl and good vinyl people, I went to the most commercial place on my list: Newbury Comics at the Providence Place mall. Newbury dominates the mall music/video scene, with a large selection of most kinds of music, music magazines, movies, action figures, band t-shirts, funny hats, and trading card games. Most all of there music selection is on Compact Disc, but in the middle of the stores, there are two bins full of records. New records, in fact, their crisp cellophane wrappings still gleaming in the fluorescent mall lighting. One bin was full of mostly hip-hop and pop singles on 12" disc--the kind of stuff a DJ who's still into analog would be wanting to spin. We're talking everything from 36Mafia to JayZ to the new Britney Spears single to Justin Timberlake, peppered with some meager trance and house offerings, along with a few new re-releases of old jazz, funk, and soul records. The other bin was home to the rock records. Most of the selection included recent indie-rock releases with a few classic albums ("Abbey Road," "The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators"etc.) reissued on vinyl just for good measure. All of the bands you'd read about in magazines and hear about on's music of the day blog but never see on MTV had their record in that bin, or so it seemed. Full lengths by Bright Eyes, Rilo Kiley, the Flaming Lips, Iron & Wine, Wilco, accompanied by a row of 45s from the likes of Deerhoof , the Shins, and a whole bunch from vinyl-lovers The White Stripes. This bin seemed to be getting the most action of the two, and many of these records included some sort of coupon or code to download mp3s of the album tracks off the internet so that in buying the vinyl, the consumer gets a hard and digital copy of the tracks. Smart move. The crowd was a mix of mallgoers and hipsters, but the vinyl bin only ever received glances from the young, hip, and typically male shoppers. The records were new, so the prices were somewhat expensive in comparison to the same music on compact disc. No vinyl disc was chear than $14 dollars, with the most expensive being double disc, heavy 180g vinyl pressings for a deluxe package that usually ran upwards of $24. Typically that same $24 album could be bought on CD for say $15 and easily exported onto a computer/itunes and then an ipod for convenience.

What do these hipsters want with this vinyl?
It's terribly inconvenient and not very useful compared to CDs?
Can they really discern any difference in sound?
Do these kids even know how to cue up a record? Do they even own turntables?
Is there a difference between an audiophile or vinyl "nerd" compared to a fashionable and hip vinyl connoisseur?

Some other notable sources for vinyl spanned across the world wide web. One good place to find new, hip, indie-bands on vinyl is straight from the record label. A few good labels that do a good job of p most all of their releases on Vinyl include the L.A. low-fi/garage alive-total energy and it's online Bomp store, as well as the hipster indie crossed with rare deep Mississippi hill-country blues cuts, Fat Possum.

Another excellent place to find vinyl is ebay. Many of ebay's vendor stores have some of the best selections in new vinyl. Take, for example, ebay vendor "aural exploits'" online store
. I've found that mostly through snooping around on ebay and diligently checking particular auctions or search words, one will find that pretty much everything gets released on vinyl. The only problem with ebay and these online stores is that it becomes difficult to determine what kinds of people actually shop at these stores.

More will come soon!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

A few more nifty sources

Here's a full blown ethnography on youth and the way they consume music in the postmodern or digital age. That article can be found here . It has valuable and current information on the relationship between the vinyl record industry and their appeal in the digital age.

Hayes, David, "'Take Those Old Records off the Shelf': Youth and Music Consumption in the Postmodern Age." Popular Music and Society Vol. 29, No. 1, (2006): 51-68

Also, there's a book called Vinyl Junkies by Brett Milano which I am planning on referencing for this research project. The book focuses on the drive behind people who intensely collect vinyl records from the past up through the present and undoubtedly sheds light on the exclusive nature of vinyl culture.

Milano, Brett. Vinyl Junkies: Adventures in Record Collecting. St. Martin's Griffin (2003)

Treasure Trove of Information....

The Death of Vinyl: This somewhat recent news clip gives an insightful look into how some record stores are filling a niche market in vinyl so that they can stay competitive in the age of the digital download.

High Fidelity: The first couple minutes of this clip from the 2000 film "High Fidelity" gives some valuable information on how popular culture interpreted the subculture involving vinyl records and youth.

Devendra Banhart and Colin Meloy on Vinyl: The Insound record label supports this website called save the album on which prominent popular "indie" artists are interviewed about their favorite records and why the like vinyl. These are the types of artists who are now making the effort to have their music released onto vinyl. Here are Devendra Banhart and Colin Meloy of the Decemberists.

Here is a newspaper article which discusses the upwards trend in vinyl sales and youth interest in the format by Ben Mock:

Ben Mook "Vinyl records enjoying a resurgence in popularity". Daily Record, The (Baltimore). Jan 20, 2006. 04 Oct. 2007.