Happy Record Store Day

PrintToday is the 7th annual Record Store Day, celebrated now worldwide. It’s overall a good thing, a little financial boost for a declining market, and I have been an enthusiastic supporter. However, a couple aspects have become a focus that will hurt it in the long run. Let the rant commence.

It goes without saying that for me, at least a couple days a week for much of my life have been record store day. But it’s pointless to address that, as things are what they are. Record Store Day is meant to draw in customers who don’t come so regularly. So the growing list of limited special edition vinyl releases that people line up to buy and mostly flip on eBay hours later may be a necessary evil. I can’t really fault the stores and labels for selling that stuff. Or maybe I can, but that was addressed better by Quietus.

What I’m most concerned about is that they’re really dropping the ball on emphasizing other aspects of record store shopping. Maybe it should be called, “How about pay money for any piece of music in any format at least one day a year you cheapass motherfuckers.” Or maybe I shouldn’t be in charge of the marketing. But somehow people are taking the “record” part way too literally and thinking this is actually “Vinyl Record Day.” Or with the puzzling spike in popularity of cassette tapes, “Outdated Format Day.”

People, please. Vinyl records have not been the primary format since the mid-eighties. I stopped regularly buying vinyl myself in 1985. Cassette tapes became the format of choice for a while, at least among teenagers like me who used Walkmans (or cheap Sears knockoffs of Walkmans) and boom boxes. They were convenient to use and transport and play in cars, and easy to copy or make mix tapes with. They didn’t sound that great, which is why I fully embraced CDs by 1988. Since the beginning of  the official 1982 launch of the CD, there have been opponents. The primary argument against all digital music has been based on an unfortunately stupid misunderstanding. The misunderstanding is based on digital sampled signals being consistently inaccurately represented with rough stair step graphs. They believe this indicates that there are gaps in the information and sound. This is not true. As Xiph.org explains, “the representation is mathematically exact and the signal recovers the exact smooth shape of the original (blue) when converted back to analog.” For once, there was actually truth in advertising with Sony’s “perfect sound forever” marketing slogan.

xiph-jaggy

It blows my mind that so many otherwise intelligent people continue to perpetuate the myth all these years later. I mean, math and science were never my strongest areas, but I can still understand this explanation. Doubters, feel free to watch a lecture-style demonstration on video to see and hear the definitive proof (complete with awesome vintage analog lab equipment like the HP Synthesizer/Function Generator, Tektronix Analog Oscilloscope and HP Spectrum Analyzer). Still other myths such as vinyl having better dynamic range (it doesn’t, it’s actually inferior, at 80 dB to CD/digital’s 150 dB) are addressed here. I also discussed this stuff back in 2007.

More on vinyl’s many shortcomings:

Xiph.org also address misunderstandings about sampling rates, which is the basis for Neil Young’s marketing pitch for his new Pono product, and use of 24 bit/192kHz files. The fact is that not only do the files, which are six times the size of 16 bit/44.1 kHz files (and usually three times as expensive), not improve on audible sound, they can often sound noticeably worse! Engineers at Pono know this, but they’re marketing it anyway, because they have faith in consumers’ gullibility. And given the success of their Kickstarter campaign, their cynicism has been richly rewarded.

Yuck. As usual, greed reinforces misinformation, and music lovers, artists, even the industry are ultimately hurt by it. Having the luxury of living close to an independent record store where you can actually have conversations with the clerk about music, and get turned on to new artists, is a thing of the past for most people. Even when there are such shops with knowledgeable people, they are no longer valued like they used to be. With the potential access to anything on the Internet, and algorithm-based recommendation systems such as Pandora, which I actually helped test back in 2000, it often seems presumptuous for one person to recommend music to another, or even insulting to their knowledge or hipness. Yet more than ever, many are overwhelmed by the overabundance of choices, and end up not buying much of anything. That’s pretty damn sad.

The folks behind Record Store Day probably shouldn’t take a combative position like myself, but they should be more inclusive of what constitutes “records.” I prefer “album” which was the original meaning of a group of 78s collected in an album, and can apply to any release that’s more than a single or EP worth of songs in any format, be it 10″ or 12″ vinyl, reel-to-reel tape, 8-track, cassette, CD, DAT, or any group of digital files from MP3s to FLAC. Don’t have a brick and mortar store nearby? Order an album online. Some like Aquarius Records and Dusty Groove do most of their business online, but still have storefronts. Others don’t. Or just buy an album from a favorite band from their site or on Bandcamp. Whether it feels like donating to a charity of choice, or it’s still genuinely fun for you to own new music, it’s a good thing either way. Happy Buy A Fucking Album Day!

Just a few new releases I recommend:

Admiral Sir Cloudsley Shovell – Check ‘Em Before You Wreck ‘Em (Rise Above)
Smoke Fairies – Smoke Fairies (Full Time Hobby)
Afghan Whigs – Do To The Beast (Sub Pop)
Courtney Barnett – Double EP: A Sea Of Split Peas (Mom & Pop)
Demon Eye – Leave The Light (Soulseller/Megaforce) | Bandcamp
Dopelord – Black Arts, Riff Worship & Weed Cult (Dopelord) | Bandcamp
Kyng – Burn The Serum (Razor & Tie)
Mos Generator – Electric Mountain Majesty (Ripple Music)
The Oath – The Oath (Rise Above)
Protomartyr – Under Cover Of Official Right (Hardly Art)
Satyress – Dark Fortunes (Satyress) | Bandcamp
Woods – With Light And With Love (Woodsist)

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