Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Vinyl record hunting equipped with smartphone intelligence

There is an annoying trend in second hand record stores. Check out the picture below – I see it quite frequently now: Someone browses the vinyl, makes a pile of records and sets it aside. Then one checks out the records’ prices on Discogs. 
This behaviour has been common for books for a while now, too. There are websites that buy used books for a fixed price, for example Momox in Germany. Usually they pay close to nothing, esp. for paperback books, because these days few people buy used books. But some books are more valuable, and books have the advantage of having a unique ISBN and a scannable bar code on the back. These online buyers have phone apps so you can scan the bar code and the app displays the buying price immediately.
My friends from TRUST Zine have just told me that there now is a record-equivalent to that, an app called MilkCrate which is available for iPhone only at this point. Y
ou just input the record info and it will give back the Discogs price. Unfortunately we live in a world where most used record buyers are not buying to listen and own, but to monetize by selling what they find in the stores. To me, this is another factor that takes the fun out of used record shopping.
So it is another factor that has ruined the experience of used record stores gradually in times of the internet:
  • A lot of used records are not ending up in stores, but go straight to Ebay or on Discogs in the first place.
  • Record stores have instore online access and price records according to Discogs asking prices. Mostly the record owner will choose the highest price, effectively making the record too expensive and hard to sell. This drives up prices and makes cheap finds more unlikely. It also means that the owner will sit on the records for a long time and as a potential buyer you keep seeing the same records for a long time.
  • In times of smartphones the record buyers in the store also have access to the same online databases to check out prices.
This means the knowledge about music and vinyl records moves from the individual into the cloud. Good deals get constantly harder to find and if they happen, someone with a smartphone is likely to discover it faster than you. To flip it on ebay. It does not take much to find the good deal if you can use cloud intelligence. 
This is a serious blow to the fun of record hunting and crate digging I think. 

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Monday, March 30, 2015


I saw two interesting discussions in the world of Rock in March. For some reason I care about such unimportant stuff that happened over 25 years ago. One was a lengthy interview with producer and mixing engineer Steve Thompson. The whole interview is amazing because of the variety of projects and musical styles the man has worked on over the years. But the main focus on the internet was his story about how Lars Ulrich did not only ruin the drum sound on Metallica’s first-single-then-double LP “And Justice forAll”, but also the bass sound. It is a great example of what can happen when egos clash in a studio during mixing. I have been in similar discussions and situations – but none of my productions went on to reach multiplatinum, unfortunately. Find the complete interview on ultimateguitar.com.   

The more hilarious story was the one where Cronos of VENOM replied to Henry Rollins‘ remarks about a concert they played together in New Jersey in 1986. The gig is mentioned in the book that later became a Grammy-award-winning audio book “Get in the Van” by Henry Rollins which is based on his tour diary of BLACK FLAG’s 1986 tour. So at that gig the mighty BLACK FLAG met VENOM, the inventors of the term "Black Metal", though they hardly invent the musical genre.
Rollins is totally slagging off VENOM in the book for their live performance and states in no uncertain terms how much they sucked, reminding him of SPINAL TAP: "VENOM suck. They are so full of shit. What a bad joke. They don't sweat and they probably don't even fuck."
So now, 21 years after the book came out, Cronos replies with accusations that BLACK FLAG sucked and can't play (hm), that Rollins got the date of the concert wrong in the book (I think Cronos is correct), and that Rollins misspelled Cronos name (Cronos is right, his name is not “Kronos”). Cronos wants to set the record straight by saying "Let me tell you the truth about that concert. Henry Rollins's mom phoned us up and told us that they were the next big thing in New York and that they had such a huge following, blah blah blah blah blah. Little did we know that they were a fucking sad little band that had no following."
This is the first time I read anything about BLACK FLAG relying on a mother of a band member to organize their tour or concerts. Why would they, in their final phase, after being in existence for over seven years, rely on Henry Rollins' mother to set up a concert and go there with them. You can read the whole story here on Blabbermouth.  
This video has excellent stage banter by Cronos: 
Cronos, who got kicked out of VENOM in the 80s temporarily, also goes on to lament "This is why Henry Rollins writes books and is no longer in a band. Because he's not a fucking musician; he's a fool." Of course on the Blabbermouth website a lengthy discussion starts, mainly with posts by folks who either don't know VENOM or BLACK FLAG. Or both.
The discussion soon swings towards including Ross the Boss and Danzig, and who is stronger of them "Rollins has the muscles, but if Cronos hits him with a head butt it's all over for Hank." Even my man Brian Walsby joins the discussion wow!

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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Henry Rollins interview on the art and business of DIY media

I am currently reading a lot about the trend towards content marketing and media marketing and find many similarities to DIY publishing or even DIY punk record labels. The whole approach I grew up with, the paradigm of being unhappy with mainstream media that forces people to start their own thing and "become to media". 
So I am following the websites Copyblogger Media and the Rainmaker Platform www.newrainmaker.com, which is more technical. They recently featured an interview with Henry Rollins which is very interesting. It suffers a little from sounding too much like a phone interview, and yes, Henry likes to have longer monologues, but he has got interesting things to say.
Besides historic things you might already know if you have been into punk for a while, he talks about his work ethics and his upbringing in Washington D.C. with friends who do things DIY style, like Ian MacKaye. I especially liked his stories about doing things independently, but then switching to major labels or big book publishers for certain projects. Funny enough, some of his weirdest projects have been on majors, like WARTIME. The label must have lost a lot of money on them. Check them out here: http://www.discogs.com/artist/521490-Wartime
The interview also has the story behind the famous "Parent" sticker on back cover of the classic "Damaged" LP. The members of BLACK FLAG surely spent a lot of time in that warehouse glueing on all those stickers. But it is in line with the concept of taking some projects to big corporations to get exposure. And, in that case, failing.
Speaking of projects, it’s time to check out one of my favorite Rollins projects again, HENRIETTA COLLINS AND THE WIFEBEATING CHILDHATERS - Cut It Off! The Whole Thing! 

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Monday, March 09, 2015

Small techno vinyl labels share same fate as punk vinyl labels

Check out this very interesting piece that appeared in Groove Magazine in February. Sorry, it's all in German. But if you have been to Germany and drove in a car, for example while touring, you know what Stau or Vinylstau is. 

This article deals with "Techno in the times of a vinyl comeback" and analyses the current state of affairs, especially major labels reissuing back titles on vinyl like crazy. The article's angle is from a small techno label’s point of view. I think the analysis is really spot-on, and the discussion below is interesting, too. I agree with most points being made.
I remember that in the 90s, the few remaining vinyl pressing plants survived to a large extent because of techno – or dance vinyl maxis in general. They had a considerable volume of 12” and pretty decent vinyl runs. In this environment, small punk vinyl labels like HeartFirst could get their releases done efficiently – at good quality and fair prices within a reasonable time. So it was mainly dance music and indie labels that kept the pressing plants in operation in the 90s. Besides cross-financing by CD production I guess.
Also mastering studios were keeping busy cutting dance vinyl, or even dubplates. Generally, it makes little difference if you produce a small run of vinyl, of 100 or 5000 – you need to cut a lacquer as the first step of the production process. I remember going to my mastering studio in the 90s (Studio-Nord-Bremen) and the last client before me had been the rather famous DJ Sven Väth.
We have come a long way since these days, and most dance DJs have switched from vinyl to digital. The much commented Laptop DJ, in private circles even the dreaded Youtube DJ. But some techno labels today still want to release vinyl because they stick to their roots.
The Groove magazine article points out:
  • Today only the most dedicated techno underground labels are still doing vinyl
  • They are competing with the majors for pressing plant capacities for their reissues
  • The print runs for techno vinyl are way down – the same as for most punk vinyl labels
  • The sound quality of record pressing has gone down, or is, at best, much less predictable than before
  • The delivery times, even for small press runs, is extremely long – three months is no exception, sometimes more if it is around Record Store Day or Christmas
So I guess the harsh market realities for small labels today are the same, independent of musical genre. And all this in the times of the much commented "vinyl comeback".

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Sunday, March 08, 2015

Turning 13 pieces of scrap metal into record presses (again)

Cries of joy by vinyl enthusiasts were heard around the internet when articles appeared about 13 abandoned vinyl presses that had resurfaced in Chicago recently. They were acquired by Quality Record Pressings (QRP) n Kansas and shipped there. As you know if you’ve read this blog before, every report about a pressing plant needs a statement about their sizes. Because size really does matter in this business I guess. So the article goes on to state that Quality Record Pressings thus “has just doubled its capacity to become one of the USA’s largest vinyl pressing plants.” Oh well.
Check out the video above about the operation so far. You can find a more down to earth article than the Fact Mag one about the find here on Analog Planet. I really gotta give it to Quality Record Pressings – They got their PR skills alright. They are not in business for long but they have the most videos about vinyl pressing of any company out there on Youtube. The news about the 13 presses spread really fast. In the videos the owner of the plant comes across really nice and dedicated. I just wish the video above spent less time showing cruising forklifts, but more on technical details on how they want to refurbish these pieces of metal trash. At least during the last 60 seconds you can get an impression how the new owners are a little unsure about how many presses they can bring back to life. It will not be all of them because the condition varies a lot and they are different models, too.
So these machines don’t look too great to me and they might need a lot of restoration work to make (some of) them function again. Only then the pressing capacity could indeed double. Also, as the article and the video says, the presses were “last used in the ’90s to produce bootleg 78s for export to India.” Not exactly the top-quality products in a demanding market.
Check out this video about Quality Record Pressings which explains vinyl pressing in general and their operations. Their workflows look very lo-tech to me, but that is not a bad thing in my book. The final result matters. And just like everyone else, they are mainly doing rereleases of old classics, i.e. Cat Stevens, Jimi Hendrix, Doors, Johnny Cash, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. But that's better than 78s of bootlegs of Beatles and Beach Boys that the presses churned out during their Chicago days in the 90s. Also note that in this video during the tour of the place you can see a PLASTMATICS LP and poster as well as a DEATH IN JUNE cover on the wall. So I guess they also do some punk vinyl at Quality Record Pressings.  

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