Friday, December 17, 2010

Long Live Vinyl

In an age of technology, evolution is expected in all aspects of life, including the music industry. All around the world, intellects strive to design the new, the more compact, the faster, the cleaner, the cheaper. Day to day, the public throws away the old and swipes those credit cards for the cutting-edge. Years of this type of public spending have affected the way an individual listens and collects music. Ultimately, the form of media each person chooses is based upon their life-style. For fast-paced living that includes constant travel, digital media is the most favorable. But for avid vinyl patrons, a little extra effort and a little more relaxation is appreciated. Listening to wax is a means of musical meditation in which the mood is of the utmost importance. There are specific times that are best to drop that needle. At home. With a joint. With some wine. With some whiskey. With someone you love. With close friends. With the door closed. With the windows open. With a candle. With the lights turned low. Each individual has their own way of listening. And for the community of record collectors that love this way of living, vinyl will always survive.

Despite the digital craze, shops like Burger Records in Fullerton, Factory Records in Costa Mesa, Vinyl Solution in Huntington Beach, and Origami in Silverlake still litter the Orange County and surrounding, offering a full selection of new, used and reprinted record albums of all genres. In Costa Mesa, right next to Little Knight, is the newly reclaimed Factory Records, known by most as Sound Trolley before Dave of Noise Noise Noise took over a few months ago. Peek through the old white wooden door windows, and notice a rack filled with free magazines, show fliers, CD demos, and art hiding in a nook on the left. Despite the close quarters, Factory makes use of every corner, only adding the best vinyl to the already exquisite collection. Each album features a white written tag stuck onto the protective plastic cover. On these stickers are in-depth, and usually hilariously sarcastic, scribbles of explanation about the history, significance, and condition of that specific record. All around, back-stock peaks out from the inside of wooden crates that litter the lower portion of the racks and unused areas of the shop. There are a few 8-tracks, cassettes and CD’s, but this room at Factory will be forever dominated by vinyl.

In this age, thousands of songs can be stored and downloaded through iTunes, CD Baby, and the quick and convenient bit-torrent sites. Going digital has also allowed the masses to make their own musical concoctions in living rooms, garages, and local lockouts for a reasonable price. From the studio, local bands then cut and mix their product with user-friendly music editing software like Garage Band and Sound Studio. But while the trend seems to be all about electronics, most musicians are still unable to give up and throw away their beloved vinyl collection boasting Bowie, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Iggy, and Sabbath. Recently, this fairly expensive manner of music production has outlasted decades of change, and has continued to survive in the hands of an artistic community that values the sound produced when the needle gently drags over the creases of revolving pressed vinyl. Not only are these individuals collecting the music of the forefathers of modern rock, punk, and hip-hop for the next generations, but they now are reverting back to releasing vinyl themselves. Musicians like Local Natives, The Growlers, and Gestapo Khazi are making their own place in vinyl history by releasing wax of their own, developed from digital tracks.

For the men in charge of Burger Records in Fullerton, a heightened vinyl obsession has inspired them to create an authentic record store and publishing label in Orange County. With a few local bands under their belt, Burger has succeeding in pressing vinyl and making cassette tapes on their label that’s also named Burger Records. To get to the shop, just cruise past the industrial buildings that line State College Blvd., past the remains of an old orange grove, and on the left is Burger. Inside the glow of neon green walls, they offer recovered originals, underground current releases, and a few reprints. The interior design is retro, with a collection of music oddities of strange origins littered everywhere. To give back to their customers, Burger constantly hosts movie and live music nights, motivating the locals to come kick back with fellow music lovers.

With the success of CDs in the early ‘90s, record players hit a major lull in production. From there came the decision among record-holders; hold onto the vast collection, let it fade away, or sell it off to shops for dimes. CD’s took over, with digital soon following, and each new format operated on more efficient equipment, causing record players to fade away. As CD’s and iPods filled the shelves, vinyl finally took a backseat to the cleaner and more convenient digital technology.

In a modest strip mall off of Beach Blvd hides the record store gem, Vinyl Solution. Step through the door and find yourself stuck in a world of punk and rock memorabilia that covers every inch of the establishment, including the ceiling. The expensive stuff rests on wall racks to the left, protected by a glass case that serves as a barricade and location to place the selection of alphabetized 45’s. Buttons, shirts, and posters of bands like The Misfits, The Cramps, and Ramones fill the little bit of space that the records don’t reach. Upon entering, prepare for some shop-talk about the intricate levels of record history, involving such precise knowledge as release dates, specific concert data, and album artwork. Not only is it easy acquire a favorite Beatles album there, but you’ll learn a little about it before you leave.

Record stores are the backbone of the music industry, and the key to its success. When major corporate retail locations like Best Buy now offer vinyl, all boasting shiny gold 180 gram vinyl stickers on shrink-wrapped plastic, it is apparent that the music industry has taken a wrong turn. Without the vinyl junkie who strives to perfect the oral history of music, peddle albums to music appreciators, and promote local and popular music everywhere, record companies and musicians will ultimately fail. Bands must now rely on selling merchandise first-hand in order to make the smallest of profits, but most fans are unable to go to purchase that merch because that band cannot afford to tour through town. On top of that, concert tickets that used to be sold at record retail locations are now claimed by Ticketmaster and LiveNation, which monopolized the market on online ticket sales.

Head to Silverlake, past the lake in Echo Park, and up to Sunset. On the left, tucked near the venue The Echo, is Origami Vinyl. Simple, chic wooden bins extend, implanted on each side of one long corridor, hiding walls that shine with a grey winter glow. All the way in the back, a classic metal spiral staircase winds up to an empty loft area for bands to play in-store performances. Each month a new collection by a local artist is placed on the walls above the record racks. Despite the detached music scene in Orange County, this portion of Los Angeles has figured out a way to create a local neighborhood of artists, musicians, and venues. Origami sits right in the middle of it all. That makes it easy for the shop to connect with local venues like Spaceland, for which they promote and sell concert tickets. Musicians and a handful of record companies are also local, allowing Origami to work directly with artists to purchase wholesale vinyl, instead of corporate distribution companies. The middle-man is then cut out, leaving most of the profit to the artists.

Sometimes an enigma, despite the odds, secures its spot in history. In a world of digital, vinyl seems to survive even with the battle between tape, CDs, and digital audio files. Perhaps it is because some of the most passionate artists and music appreciators live in the world of vinyl. The true collectors that are scattered throughout record stores across the nation will always be obsessed with enjoying the music they surround themselves with. Each band, song, album, and artist will stay with that collector forever, even if their vinyl collection doesn’t. For them, music is tied to personal memories; moments made in the past in which one specific song is the catalyst for reminiscence. A type of spirituality is engrained in the rich sound waves of vintage vinyl. And as it still carries merit in this modern time despite the desire for digital, performers of the future will no doubt continue to pay tribute to vinyl by pressing their own LP’s to live on forever as a collector’s items.

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