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Veering Back To Vinyl

In The 21st Century

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Vinyl record sales have been going up for the past several years. Photo by Steve Snodgrass and used under the terms of a Creative Commons License.
As Vinyl Experiences A Rebirth Of Sales And Interest, Impact Is Also Being Felt In Phoenix As A New Record Label Dedicated To The Medium Takes Flight


By Wayne Schutsky
Modern Times Magazine

Nov. 9, 2012 — Vinyl is dead. Long Live Vinyl.

The music industry has gone through many changes over the past several decades, the most of important of which has been the way the product is delivered to fans. Vinyl records are an emblematic representation of the golden age of the industry — gold records are still painted vinyl records even today — but had virtually gone the way of the dodo by the turn of the 21st century.

But a few years ago, that trend began to change. Through a surge driven by DJs  and those seeking the warmer and deeper sounds available through analog (i.e. vinyl). According to Nielsen Soundscan statistics, vinyl album sales rose to 3.9 million units in 2011, up from 2.8 million in 2010. Their mid-year report shows that vinyl sales this year are expected to end up about 14 percent from 2011.

Nielsen further showed that album sales are still the bailiwick of local, independent record stores and favored by fans of rock and roll.

In light of the re-birth of vinyl and in an effort to promote the Phoenix metro-area music scene, a new, local, record label launched last month and will focus solely on local acts and only distribute vinyl albums.

President Gator Records — the brainchild of Stateside Presents promoter Jeremiah Gratza — had a launch party last month at The Crescent Ballroom. The party, which was actually more of a concert, featured several local acts, including Bogan Via, ROAR, Gospel Claws and Miniature Tigers.

The price of admission included one of the label's two inaugural albums — on vinyl. The first features Bogan Via and the second features Gospel Claws and ROAR.

"As of now, this label is exclusively local and focuses on supporting local music," said Gratza.

The label's mission is two-fold: promoting quality local music and advocating vinyl as a medium. In that way, President Gator is aligning the past with the present by releasing up and coming bands in a classic format.

While the use of vinyl may seem cache, President Gator is not simply using it to cash in on contemporary culture's obsession with all things vintage. Rather, Gratza truly believes that vinyl enhances the listener's experience, he said.

"There is a difference in just wanting music and wanting to actually sit down and listen to music," said Gratza. "For people who really want to enjoy music, vinyl will never die."

And the bands agree. There is something unique about vinyl that has given it the staying power it needs to push on into the 21st century.

"I feel that vinyl records will always have a place in modern music. In an age where there are algorithms, based on key, tempo, instrumentation, probably even room temperature, trying to pick the perfect song for you and eagerly awaiting to see if you 'thumbs up' or 'thumbs down' it so it can choose the next perfect song, it's nice to fight back by buying a record of a band you just watched play that you'd never heard before," said Gospel Claws bassist John Mulhern. "Streaming definitely has it's place as a great tool for discovering music but to really experience a recorded version of an album or song there is no better way then vinyl."

President Gator is an enigma. It is a new record label launched in a musical community that is not known nationally for its vibrancy or innovation. Outside of a few huge groups, like Jimmy Eat World, Arizona has a limited presence on the national stage.

"Some people dismiss Arizona and say it has no music scene, and I want to show the world that we have bands besides Jimmy Eat World, Dear in the Headlights and Miniature Tigers," Gratza said. "In my opinion, these three bands (Bogan Via, ROAR, Monster Claws) are the crème of the crop in Arizona right now and this is how I put my money where my mouth is."

In addition to its local focus, President Gator is a record label in its truest form. As in, no MP3s or CDs. Many labels release vinyl albums in addition to more conventional fare, but President Gator lives and dies by the wax. In the age of instant gratification and playlists, this label is sticking to its guns.

Despite the supposed obstacles to using the antique format, Gratza believes in its viability because of the way it lets fans really connect with bands and the music.
Unlike modern music delivery vehicles like CDs and digital files, vinyl is not instantaneous. There are no advanced skipping functions that allow the listener to easily jump around. This creates a more personal connection to the music, according to Gratza. Fans have to specifically choose which bands they want to listen to, which adds to the music's gravitas.

"With vinyl, you have to select the album you are going to listen to and physically set it up," Gratza said. "It doesn't randomly come up on a mix; you have to select it."

The act of listening to vinyl is an intimate experience. Vinyl is less forgiving than more modern formats and the listener has to put in some work. With vinyl, the listener must choose a record, set it up, and then listen.

And listen.

It is this process that appeals to Gratza. Vinyl allows fans to interact with music because of the work involved in listening to a record. Listeners do not simply click play and go on with some other activity. With vinyl, the music is not relegated to background noise; it is the activity. Listening to vinyl is a process, not a distraction.
The actual vinyl itself and the recording process it requires also gives the music a rough, genuine sound that is lost on more polished formats.

"Vinyl is the highest quality way to listen to music, the closest to how it was originally recorded," said Gospel Claws lead singer and guitarist Joel Marquard.

Vinyl also allows bands to be as creative as they want to be when it comes to album artwork. With the array of colors and designs available, musicians can create limited edition and one-of-a-kind physical objects for fans. This kind of interaction helps keep the relationship between fans and bands alive, said Gratza.

Instead of buying a cookie-cutter CD or an amorphous MP3, fans can buy a lasting physical homage to a band's work that represents the group aesthetically on multiple levels.

"Some people want that tangible record," said Gratza. "There is a value attached to it that is not there with an MP3."

When it comes down to it, President Gator's mission centers on music appreciation and the band/fan relationship. For Gratza, that all begins with the promotion of quality local music and ends with the mother of all musical mediums, vinyl.

With this sentiment in mind, President Gator is bringing up-and-coming Arizona acts to the fore. With its vinyl-driven mission in hand, the label is asking music fans, both locally and nationally, to slow down and listen to the best of what Arizona has to offer.

"It's necessary to keep the scene interesting. I think it will do very well and the music community will eat it up,” said Mulhern.

Wayne Schutsky is a freelance writer living in Phoenix. Follow him @TheManofLetters.
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