Wednesday, June 4, 2008

VINYL RETURNS IN TEH AGE OF MP3


For his 19th birthday, Simon Hamburg wanted only one present: a turntable for his dorm room at the University of Southern Mississippi. His father bought him a portable $69 model, and Hamburg's older brother chipped in LPs by Simon and Garfunkel and the Who. "Listening to 'Baba O'Riley' on vinyl is always better than listening to 'Baba O'Riley' on anything else," Hamburg says. "You can hear every instrument. It sounds stupid, but it's like you're feeling the music. You're part of it."

As CD sales continue to decline and MP3s are traded without thought, the left-for-dead LP is staging a comeback. In 2007, according to Nielsen SoundScan, nearly 1 million LPs were bought, up from 858,000 in 2006. Based on to-date sales for 2008, that figure could jump to 1.6 million by year's end. (According to the Recording Industry Association of America, CD shipments dropped 17.5 percent during the same 2006-07 period.) Sales of turntables — which tumbled from 1.8 million in 1989 to a paltry 275,000 in 2006, according to the Consumer Electronics Association — rebounded sharply last year, when nearly half a million were sold.

From Bruce Springsteen's Magic and the Raconteurs' Consolers of the Lonely to Cat Power's Jukebox and Portishead's Third, it's now possible to buy vinyl versions of many major new releases at retailers like Best Buy, Amazon and indie record stores. And artists are making their preferences for vinyl known. Before releasing Consolers, the Raconteurs announced that they "recommend hearing it on vinyl." In April, Elvis Costello and the Imposters' Momofuku arrived first on LP, though it included a coupon for a free digital download (the CD version arrived weeks later). "Is it a revolution?" says Luke Lewis, president of Costello's label, Lost Highway. "Fuck, no. But our beliefs have been validated a little bit — not to mention we're making a couple more bucks. It's hard to do that now in the record business, you know."

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