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Romancing the Record: The Vinyl De-Evolution and Subcultural Evolution

George Plasketes
History is an Angel.. .But there is a storm blowing from Paradise and the storm keeps blowing the angel backwards into the future. And this storm, this storm is called progress. Laurie Anderson, The Dream Before Copyright 1989 Difficult Music BMI

T o die-hard aficionados of long-playing records, [the compact disc] is nothing less than a Faustian struggle between humanism and technocracy for musics soul. . .A contest that pits the past against the future. -Michael Walsh (66)

Technology and economics are among the primary forces which determine or contribute to cultural transitions and movements. Innovations routinely shape and define our cultural experience and consumption patterns. Whether referred to as a revolution, or simply progress, advancements are characterized by a cause and effect processa simultaneous evolution of one form and de-evolution of another. In the current age of cable television, VCRs, and the multi-screen cineplexes, outdoor drive-ins are left standing as weed covered landmarks, and oncethriving art movie houses are filled with empty seats, both victims of the obsolescence principle. The passage of cultural icons such as these, and their accompanying artifacts and products, can often result in the emergence-or submergence-of a subculture, made up of those who, for various reasons, resist technology or progress and determinedly cling to the artifact, collecting or preserving a part of it because of the meaning and experience contained within. One of the significant cultural transitions during the 1980s involved the popular music industry and the record buying audience. The technology and economics o the Compact Disc (CD) redefined a long f established cultural product-the vinyl record-and simultaneously laid the foundation for a new subculture of vinyl collectors.

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The Vinylogical Time Clock
Make room for my 45s / Along beside your 78s Nothing survives Jackson Browne, DaddysTune Copyright 1976 Swallow Turn Music ASCAP

The year 1988 marked a turning point in the music industry. For the first time since its arrival in the market in 1983, compact disc sales surpassed vinyl revenues. Record sales declined 33%, leveling off at 15% of the market, while CDs increased 31%. On April 2, for the first time, all 200 records on the charts were available on CD. Vinyls decline has been a gradual process, a slow death. Between 1978 and 1988, the number of vinyl units (LPs and EPs) shipped by manufacturers dropped nearly 80%, from 341 million to 72 million, according to the Recording Industry Association of America ( R I M ) . Conversely, the number o CDs shipped went from zero in 1978 to 149.7 f million in 1988. Cassette shipments rose to 450 million in the same period. By the first six months of 1989, vinyl had dropped to 6% of recorded music sales, a fall of 50% over the same period during 1988. CD sales went up 37.5%,while cassette sales were flat, rising only 1.5%. The vinylogical clock was ticking, winding louder, clearer, and closer to the compact disc alarm. While the numbers pointed to the inevitable, other signs and sounds of the CD takeover were becoming uncomfortably common to record collectors, creeping deeper into their consciousness and threatening the existence of their cherished black artifact. To them, CD meant certain death. During the 1980s, record inventories at many major chains, especially at malls, diminished. In stores, CDs outnumbered records by as much as 6 to 1; cassettes outnumbered vinyl by 12 to 1. An increasing number of new releases, including popular artists such as Phil Collins, Rod Stewart, and Milli Vanilli, were available only on CD and cassette. Any remaining vinyl stock was usually exiled to the back o stores or handled f by special order. Some stores (Record Bar chain) and labels (Elektra) even changed their names from Record to Tracks, Music, or Entertainment in order to drop the waxy implications. With record companies limiting editions o albums and deleting f their vinyl catalogs, many pressing plants were forced to close down. In addition, audio component manufacturers such as Dual and Ortofon trimmed their lines of turntables, cartridges and styluses. The extra cuts on CDs as incentive to change formats frustrated many hard-core record collectors, who were torn between their loyalty to vinyl and the CD bonus track. They also heard radio stations promote the new format by increasingly identifying songs with the tag-on compact disc, and more subtly noticed that vinyl was relegated to being listed third in the fine print on music ads-available on Compact Discs, cassettes and records wherever music is sold.

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Historically, music format changes are nothing new. And every advance in recording has been accompanied by the cries of those whom technology has left behind. No doubt there were those who bemoaned the loss of their Edison cylinders when shellac became available. In 1949, one year after Peter Goldmarks Long Play (LP) 33 1/3 record was introduced, a British critic complained:
I ask readers if they want to feel that their collections of records are obsolete, if they really want LO spend money on buying discs that will save them the trouble of getting u p to change them, and if they really want to wait years for a repertory as good as what is available to them. (Walsh 66)

The critic was defending 78s against the encroachments o the new 33s f in much the same terms that LP defenders cast their arguments today. The current situation with LPs, cassettes, and CDs competing in the music market parallels that of the late 1940s when the 33 joined the 45 and 78 as the available formats. After the confusion among consumers settled, the 33 accommodated musicals, symphonies, operas, and soundtracks; the 45 proved ideal for hit singles and jukeboxes; and the 78 was crowded out o the market and into a box in the attic, where f its thick black surface would collect dust as an artifact of days gone by. There were other marks on the music format time line as well. In the 1960s, stereophonic sound replaced monaural records, with a slight price increase. The &track tape was popular through the 1970s before becoming a snarled roadside relic. And by the late 1980s, the obsolescence principle was well at work: 7-inch vinyl 45s had all but disappeared, giving way to cassingles; CDs and cassettes squeezed LPs out; and the newest format, Digital Audio Tape (DAT), was ready to enter the market. Although cassettes are the primary music format, the CD has pinched the LP more quickly. It took 18 years and the Walkman for cassettes to break through, said Lou Dennis, vice-president of sales for Warner Brothers. The fast acceptance rate of the CD should not be that surprising. As a culture, we have grown to be much morecomfortable with technology as computers, cable, satellites, VCRs, and FAX machines are a part of our daily routines. Not only have we come to expect innovations, we are aware that changes take place at a more accelerated pace. Advancements are less threatening or overwhelming, and consumers are more willing to adopt them into their lifestyles and experience more quickly than they were five or ten years ago. The technological superiority of the CD has been hyped since the laser format was introduced in the market in 1983. The unprecedented audio clarity, disc durability, and storage capacity made the CD a more attractive format than vinyl. And in keeping with the design of most

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new technologies, CDs featured certain conveniences that transcended the other available modes. CD players could be programmed to play random tracks off multiple discs, while the less automated turntable demanded some listener involvement and decisions, if only to flip the record or select a particular song. The only disadvantages o the CD f are the high costs, which are characteristics of most new technologies, and the inability to record on discs, a constraint which may only be a temporary condition. The new technological advantages of the CD often overshadowed one of the most significant factors contributing to the LPs demisemobility. T o a generation raised on boom boxes and the Sony Walkman, music mobility is a necessity. And, vinyl does not travel. While the tendency is to attribute vinyls decline almost exclusively to compact discs, cassettes have quietly been a contributing factor. You want to know what really killed the LP? asks Jarid Neff, Southern marketing manager for Warner/Reprise. I think the cassette started the demise, the whole mobile music thing-the boom box, the car cassette player. The CD just basically delivered the knockout punch (Thomas C-4). The vinyl phaseout has been handled with great indecision and confusion by the music industry. One executive characterized it as near panic, as there has been no consensus as to how to manage the transition. I assume the death knell has been sounded and theres not much we can do about it, says Joe Smith, president of Capitol EMI. But the industry has approached the problem with all the organization, planning, and communication of a Three Stooges movie (Ressner 15). Arguably, the industrys response during the conversion has been no different than any other time as its standard mode of operation is profit motivated. However, many feel in this case greed is a more appropriate characterization, as charges of collusion between labels, retailers, and manufacturers have surfaced. The result has been considerable finger pointing at everyones hasty marketing moves. Manufacturers blame retailers for not stocking LPs; dealers criticize manufacturers for phasing out vinyl too rapidly. When all else fails, everyone involved declares the consumer has made the final decision; were responding to what they want. Both sides are making it happen, but no one wants to take the credit or blame, says Billboards Los Angeles bureau chief, Dave Di Martino. Record company executives say they do not want to speed the LPs demise when a significant market for the configuration still exists, but most labels have adopted sales programs that encourage retailers not to buy heavily into vinyl albums. We certainly dont want people buying what they cant sell, said Warner Brothers Lou Dennis. As a disincentive to ordering LPs, record companies have increased returns penalties by charging retailers more when they return unsold LPs than when they

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return unsold units o other formats. This policy discourages stores from f ordering titles considered marginal. The primary force behind such policies is economic. Record companies receive more than one dollar per disc more from CD sales than from albums. By holding back LP inventories, buyers are gently manipulated into buying discs, which allows companies to recover costs more quickly. Everyones minimizing LP inventories more so than necessary, argues Russ Solomon, head of the 53-store Tower Records chain. If this were being done sensibly, vinyl LPs could last a couple more years than theyre going to (Ressner 15). Just how much longer companies will continue vinyl manufacturing has been a much speculated date, with prognosis ranging anywhere between 1990 to 1993. Although an increasing number of new releases are unavailable on LP, some major companies like Polygram and Warner Brothers say they still have a solid commitment to vinyl. Companies continue to press albums, but in smaller editions, with decisions frequently made on a case-by-case basis. The real catalyst will be when a Bob Dylan album comes out and theres no vinyl behind it, because hes still the best vinyl seller in the country, says Jack Eugster, whose Musicland group is the largest American record chain. When a new Dylan comes out without an LP, youll know the LP is really dead (Ressner 16). Sociologist/music industry analyst R. Serge Denisoff senses a collective apprehension in the industry to end vinyl.
When you get a Thriller selling 35 million units, LP sales go crazy. Granted, thats really a rarity, but the numbers seem to show that the bigger the units, the more LP sales are. That alone scares the industry about burying vinyl. Besides, no one wants to be the first. When Columbia or Warners pulls the plug, that will be it; the rest will follow.

Sentiment has also contributed to the industrys hesitation in ending vinyl completely. Our little flat friend the record is what drove the business for a long time, said Bob Sherrod, senior vice-president of Columbia records. Adds David Steffen, senior vice-president of sales and distribution for A&M, Most people I know in the business are emotionally attached to vinyl. I dont want to picture the day of the record industry without records (Hochman E-3).
Generation, Gender, and Genre: Defining the Vinyl Subculture RIAA surveys offer solid evidence of vinyls plummeting sales, hints of extinction, and the formats inevitable demise. Yet there are many record industry executives and LP sentimentalists who prefer to point to other signs and figures which indicate that vinyl remains viable; and that although forces have combined to squeeze records from the

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mainstream to the fringe or underground, the subcultural movement for the exiled format is a strong one. With vinyl accounting for five to eight percent o the record industrys f total sales, that $600 million in gross revenues is substantial. Other figures cast doubt on the widely held belief that the record player is also about to become obsolete. In 1988, although 5 million new CD players were sold, consumers also bought 4.2 million new turntables. There are currently 20 million CD players in homes, compared to 90 million turntables. These figures seem to refute the suggestion by Steve Bennett, vice-president of marketing for the 135-store Record Bar chain, that 90% of those turntables never get turned on. Its a bunch of inactive hardware. There are other facts which may provide some momentary comfort to ease the vinyl junkies anxiety. Rykodisc, which prided itself in being the only all-CD company, began manufacturing vinyl LPs in 1988. Other all-CD companies such as Dunhill Compact Classics and Mobile Fidelity are also now dealing in vinyl. And who are the vinyl junkies who define this subculture of collectors? A general profile o the group usually begins with generational f distinctions, those marked by who grew up listening to music on albums, and have remained devoted through the years. This group commonly includes those individuals who came of age during the 1960s. MCA vice-president Walt Wilson reinforces this view: About the only reason were doing vinyl is for critics and for Canada, where there are lots of hippies and draft dodgers from the Sixties who still buy vinyl (Ressner 16). Gender-wise, surveys indicate that the core-LP buyer is male, over the age of 24, and often older than 35. Those numbers are perhaps one of the primary reasons larger record chains in malls have eliminated vinyl, as that demographic is less likely to frequent the mall than the younger teenage-to-24 age group. In addition to generation and gender, music genre helps characterize the composition of the vinyl subculture. Pop, rock, and classical listeners have almost entirely switched to cassettes and CDs, but R&B, folk, Blues, and other genres are still holding their own on wax. We love vinyl, says Ken Irwin, co-founder of Rounder Records, the independent roots music label based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. LPs still account for 50% of our overall sales and about 80% of our mail order business. Alligator Records, the Chicago based blues and folk label, does one-third of its total business in LPs, according to the companys president, Bruce Iglauer. He adds that vinyl sales have dropped off some, but not nearly as much as the industry says they should (Ressner 16).

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Sales also remain strong in Soul, due in part to rappers who use records for scratching, and the popularity of the 12-inch dance single. The dance records and ethnic markets are very strong for LPs says Tony Van Veen o Discmakers. For ethnic labels there is not such a f high penetration of CD players in those markets-Reggae, Calypso, Latin, African-so you see considerably fewer people doing CDs (Unterberger, 1: 14). The vinyl subculture is not entirely made up of an older generation of hippies or hard-core collectors. One of the strongest places for the vinyl album is the rock underground, which features music from the college and alternative/progressive radio formats. Although many artists from this axis are on independent labels, the majors are also well represented. According to Mark Kates, director of alternative A&R at Geffen Records, many major labels have had to reassess their position on vinyl before forsaking L P editions of their fringe titles. Their vinyl pressing decisions are usually done on a case-by-casebasis. Geffen Records recently announced that the new record by the British group Fuzzbox would only be released on CD and cassette, but reversed the decision after complaints from Kates department. Its true that vinyl isnt selling in a lot of formats, Kates concedes. It happens to be selling 10% in alternative music, which is why I made a big stink about the Fuzzbox record. Supporting Kates view are Warner Elektra Asylums (Geffens distributor) unit sales figures from 1989, which indicate that alternative music is still selling more than most formats on vinyl. For all WEA products, vinyl totaled 5%, ranging from zero in Classical (which is what brings the average down), to 15.3% in Black; 11.1% in Jazz; 9.8% in Alternative; 7.3% in Pop; 7.3% in Country; and 5.6% in Metal. In the month of August, three WEA records which received airplay on the college/alternative formats-Peter Cases T h e Man W i t h the Blue Postmodern Fragmented Neo-Traditionalist Guitar, Maria McKees selftitled debut, and XTCs double album Oranges and Lemons-netted a combined average of 12%. Peter Case alone sold 22% vinyl during the year, a figure which is in Kates terms ridiculously high. He adds, Theres going to be people out there selling vinyl forever, and I just want to make sure that the big artists in my department continue to be pressed on vinyl-The Creatures, Sonic Youth. I dont see alternative buyers walking away from vinyl that quickly (Unterberger 1: 14). The scarcity o vinyl in the mainstream has forced collectors to walk f a little farther, look a little harder, and at times pay a little more money. During the late 1980s, the underground market revealed a greater availability of records at flea markets, a rise in mail order and import business, and overflowing crowds at the increasing number of Record conventions and shows. According to Todd Ploharski o Rock NRoland, f

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an Atlanta based record collector organization which sponsors conventions at least six times a year, the vinyl trade, though forced underground, is stronger than ever.
The record crowd has always been a devoted, passionate bunch of collectors; as intense as any group Ive ever been associated with, including the comic book freaks. Within the past few years, attendance at our shows has been phenomenal. Whether its CD anxiety, desperation, the usual obsessivebehavior, or more people unloading their record collections; f but people have just come out o the woodwork. There seems to be a very special bond, some sense o purpose, among the record collectors, like a little community. f

Perhaps the most significant shift result from diminishing vinyl can be seen in the movement to smaller stores. Specialty shops and used record stores have become havens, or museums, for the vinyl subculture. In a survey of several major metropolitan LP-only and used record stores, owners indicated that their sales have increased-not decreased-during the past three years.* With the few remaining chains that stock vinyl, its new-release business. Buyers anticipate new records and blitz stores the first week. After that, sales drop off the cliff, explains Record Ron, whose two used record stores are located in New Orleans French Quarter district. Our sales are steady. Were like some record refuge for collectors. Jim Richardson of Atlantas Chapter 3 Records, whose music inventory is 80 percent vinyl, comments, When they totally phase out vinyl, people will be screaming for albums. Right now, we probably average two or three calls a day from larger chains like Turtles or Metronome asking if we have one LP or another. The boom in the used record store business can largely be attributed to the growing number of CD converts selling their entire record collections on their way to buying their first disc player. LP devotees are the beneficiaries as they can pick up some real gems for their own collections. People come back for what they grew up with, says Richardson. You see their faces light u p and they say, God, I cant believe I found this! Half the fun is searching for that rare album, and the love of the music is the other half that makes recording collecting so motivational (Yandel E-5). Much of the used inventory also includes promotional copies of records, many of which are filtered down from radio stations. Although large chains provide the volume sales for the industry, record companies are increasingly recognizing the value of the used and specialty market. WEAs Kates explains:
I have a big problem in a record being serviced to college radio on CD, because a lot of stations still need vinyl. On an alternative artist you can break even on a pressing of 5000 pieces of vinyl when at least 1000 of those are going to be promos. Through the Warner Brother alternative marketing people, weve learned that its better to sell a

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promo than not sell anything at all. The person who buys it will probably buy their next record clean. (Unterberger Part 1, 14)

Many predict the vinyl specialty store and used record business will explode and be a fairly large industry during the 1990s. And there will be a large market for a specialty manufacturer whos going to go to labels and license titles and pay a small royalty, says A & M Records David Steffen (Hochman). Others in the industry also believe that as LPs become more scarce, buyers will have to pay a premium for them. What I see for the LP is manufacturers continuing to make sure they dont get hurt by pressing them, so theyll charge more and more for them, says retailer Howard Applebaum. That means retail LP prices will go up while CD prices come down. Rounder Records Bruce Iglauer agrees. I think therell be big bucks made in selling old albums. Theres going to be a lot of stuff that will never show up on CD and people will want to have it (Ressner). Danny Beard, both co-owner of Wax N Facts, Atlantas most successful used record store, and president of DB Records, the Souths most successful independent label (early B-52s, Swimming Pool Qs), expresses similar concerns: Much of the music that would be routinely issued on vinyl, such as recordings by little known bands on independent labels, and classic reissues o early R & f B and country recordings by the majors probably wont come out on CD. In some cases, the price increase has been self-imposed by vinyl devotees who choose to pay for their passion. One trend store owners have reported is the significant increase in special orders for imports, as many records unavailable in vinyl on domestic labels can be ordered as an import, which usually doubles the price. It shows what people will do just to have a record on vinyl, comments Beard. They insist. Cost doesnt matter. It may be a bit extreme, especially when you consider they could get a CD for the same price, or less. But I find that loyalty to the album very admirable. Cornfiact Discontent and the Passing of a Cultural Icon
Things in CD land aint what they appear to be, folks, but why be surprised? Youve got to suspicious of anything or anyone who succeeds during the Reagan years, be it Madonna, the Boss, Nutra Sweet, or CDs. -Michael Fremer, editor, The Absolute Sound

The vinyl transition is more than business and technology; i t marks the passing of a cultural icon. T o those who grew up with the LP and 45s, i t has been bittersweet how the various forces have redefined a cultural product which defined a generation. Rock and roll was born to the LP and now the format is dying. Thats hard to take, says Pat Schweiterman, a buyer for Tower Records. T o that generation who lived

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through an era when vinyl transformed rock and roll from a singlesoriented medium to the more ambitious and conceptual art form that albums like Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band showed i t could be, vinyl represents a part o history, both cultural and personal. f With that sense of history comes an emotional attachment to the artifact. And emotion alone has made parting with the valued configuration difficult for vinyl junkies. With stubborn ears, and even more stubborn hearts, many appear unwilling to concede to the CD generation, that is, only until they have to. I still havent bought a CD player, said record collector Bruce Barham, who bought his first album in 1964-Meet the Beatles-and has since added more than 12,000 records. I think I can hold out another year. I sort of feel like the CD is being forced on me. And that really bothers me. Accompanying the record reverence is a simultaneous resistance as vinyl devotees have expressed their compact discontent in various ways. In 1987, the California based Rhino Records distributed buttons, sweatshirts, and other items in a Save the LP campaign. The crusade also appeared in print as vinyl advocates have frequently used column space of audio magazines as sounding boards to attack the threatening new technology. In editorial fashion, articles question the CDs perfect sound forever and point out flaws such as laser rot. An example is a commentary by Michael Fremer, senior music editor of The Absolute Sound. The article appeared in Music Connection (22 August 1988), and months later was reprinted in the record collectors publication, Goldmine. Fremer writes:
CDs are to records what videos are to movies: sampled, scanned, and coarse, missing huge chunks o information. If your CD player sounds better than your turntable, you have f a lousy turntable. . .If you want fake, processed, artificial, lifeless, dimensionless sound from all your music, if you want one-note bass where you cant tell a Hoffner from a Precision from a Jazzmaster, a pick from a thumb, go spend $15 for the privilege and buy CDs. If you want what is still the finest way to enjoy music in the home, buy LPs and invest in a good belt-drive turntable.

Other responses to the conversion have a less resentful tone. In a column in Stereo Review, William Livingston offers a preservation point o view. Ive just bought not one, but two turntables. Much as I am f intrigued by the Compact Disc, I want to be sure that my treasured LPs are there to sustain me (6). In perhaps the most reactionary move against the CD takeover, Steve Fallon o Coyote Records, Bob Mould, formerly of Husker Du, and f Nicholas Hill have started the Singles Only Label. Fallon explains:

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A lot of independent record companies cant afford CDs, or CD singles. We just do it so that bands can get some exposure and some kind of foundation going. Not only was i t done for the CD reason, but also because I dont think bands can afford to make albums any more. The sales have gone down so badly because of the overtaking of the independent market by the majors alternative companies. It makes it virtually impossible to recoup what the initial investment was, or come close to that. I dont think these 45s are going to make us any easier to get played; I think its more of a comment. (Unterberger 2:

14)

One of the most unusual cases of CD anxiety was shared by one die-hard who insists on skipping the letters C and D when teaching his two-year old daughter the alphabet. Im hopeful my children will appreciate vinyl; maybe even understand what sounds like a broken record means, said the collector. For the upcoming generation, that phrase, like the album, will fade from the language. Although written tirades, hoarding components destined for obsolescence, and eliminating CD from the alphabet may be viewed as desperate, futile responses in a losing struggle against technology, these acts of resistance are also indications of the collectors emotional attachment to the vinyl LP. Another focus of the vinylists lament is the size of their treasured black artifact. Collectors speak passionately about artsy album covers and graphics, insightful liner notes, and distinctive label packaging. In the format transition, that form of creative expression is reduced to the size of a baseball card on cassettes, and only slightly larger on the 5inch by 5-inch album length shiny compact discs. The main loss in all of this is the artwork and just the feel of the record, says Pat Schweiterman o Tower Records. f You just cant get the same image, or feeling, on a CD package, agrees collector Barham, illustrating his point with an album cover portrait o jazz great John Coltrane. When you buy a record you feel f like youre buying something substantial. Its big. The difference between buying a small pizza and a large pizza. Retailers, of course, prefer the advantages of the small compact disc. They take up less display space in stores and require less freight expense. Yet some in the industry like the albums size. From a marketing standpoint, the LP was incredible. Browsing through bins, its a hell of a lot easier with an album, said M.C. Kostek, co-owner o the 50 f Skidillion Watts label. Kosteks partner, Kate Messer, also prefers LPs. I dont like the sound o CDs and I think the packaging sucks. Im f an LP cover fan and its just horrible seeing that stuff translated down to that size (Unterberger 1: 14). The movement away from vinyl LPs and 45s toward cassettes and compact discs also reflects a broader cultural trend toward miniaturization. This is the first time such shrinkage and scaling down

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has revealed itself in music with such an impact. This progression, no doubt, will continue, as technologys relationship with music evolves. New modes of presentation will be emphasized, while the old will be de-emphasized, perhaps fading to the point of obsolescence. Already the cycle may be set to repeat itself as Digital Audio Tape-CD quality sound on a palm-sized cassette-is ready to challenge the existing formats in the music market. Some of my real world jobs were in educational media, and I saw the trickle down of technology, said Kate Messer. I saw a lot of deliberate holding back of technology basically to milk the market. I just have this really cruddy feeling that thats whats happening with CDs, and theres going to be a more efficient carrier and format in the future. I think this is a transitional format (Unterberger 2: 12). Record Bars Barry Bergmen agrees. Ten or fifteen years from now, there will be something new. Well be selling little silicone chips. Youll be able to encode a whole album on a chip the size of your fingernail and carry a whole record library in your pocket (Haight 24).
For the Record: From C D to Shining CD, the Vinyl Days
A lot of people grew up with vinyl. To take it away you take away a part of their history. Its more than music. . .its an era. Don Radcliffe, President, Justin Entertainment (Thomas 4)
The CD establishes the future. Its like the Monsanto House o the Future Exhibit at f Disneyland. Jeff Ayeroff, co-president, Virgin America (Pond 117)

The vinyl LP, and its phaseout, signals a cultural moment that is marked by the redefining of a product and the formation of a subculture of collectors. The significance of vinyl records extends beyond the sounds in its pooves, or the technological, economic, and cultural forces which have contributed to its demise. Like other artifacts of an age, or icons, vinyl records contain meaning derived from human experience. The revolutions per minute-whether 78, 33 1/3, or 45-embody meanings that are social, cultural, historical, personal, and now with vinyls passing, sentimental. To collectors, vinyl is an experience that embraces emotion, passion, and romance. From decorating rooms with colorful album covers, or playing with the zipper on the Rolling Stones Sticky Fingers L P to the personal pride in thinking how impressive a record library looks stacked on the wall. The vinyl experience is that box of 78s a collector will never get rid of, or being able to relate a story or experience for every record in the collection. Or the quirky post-purchase appeal of having to wait to get home to a turntable before hearing a new record, rather than popping a cassette

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into the car stereo. The feeling of holding an album, removing the 12inch records from its sleeve, holding the edges careful not to fingerprint the vulnerable black surface, then placing it down on the turntable, activating the tonearm until the stylus softly sets down in the grooves. The intermission between changing-sides. And the sound o vinylf a crack, pop, or hiss from a record that has worn from extensive play; or worse, a record that someone borrowed and returned scratched up, never to be lent again. And the sight of vinyl-a 78 turning on the Victorola; a stack of 45s, the next single ready to drop down to play; or the colored label of a 33 encircled by black, spinning around and around and around. The record speaks for itself. And it is because of the meaning and experience, the investment of passion, emotion, and romance, that makes the vinyl record so difficult to part with. Vinyl is biography. Vinyl is culture and subculture. And vinyl is history.

Notes
Quoted in Fred Goodman, Record Industry Prepares to Bury the LP, Rolling Stone 10 March 1988, 24. Among industry executives, Bennett has been one o the f most outspoken advocates against vinyl. For several years he has expressed his indifference toward prolonging LPs. If they dont want to make the LP, thats fine with me, he said. *Store owners surveyed included Wazoo in Ann Arbor, MI; Vintage Vinyl in St. Louis, MO; Record Rons in New Orleans, LA; Eat More Records, Wax N Facts, Chapter 3, and Fantasyland in Atlanta, GA; and Second HandTunes, Reckless Records, The Turntable, Record Swap, and Wax Tracks in Chicago; and Peter Dunns Vinyl Museum in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. 3Although manufacturers have been commonly criticized for cutting corners, skimping and leaving out information on CD packages, there have also been several recordings available in higher priced, limited edition, CD-only packages. As an example, Keith Richards Talk Is Cheap was marketed in a Keith in a Can package. By 1990, skimping was more common in vinyl packaging. Record labels routinely chose to print musicians credits and song lyrics only on CDs and cassettes, not on album sleeves. In some cases, such as Roger McQuinns Back from Rzo (1991) on Arista, the album jacket noted that credits and lyrics were available by writing the company. As if vinyl dying isnt bad enough, theyve got to punish us for sticking with albums, objected one collector. Its not surprising, no doubt its economics. Yet an album and cassette cost the same, so why not include the liner notes on the LP? Let vinyl die with dignity. But the way things are now, I guess we should just be grateful the company put the record out on vinyl.

Works Cited
Fremer, Michael. Whats Wrong With Compact Discs? Goldmine 2 Dec. 1988: 23.

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Goodman, Fred.Record Industry Prepares to Bury the LP. Rolling Stone 10 March 1988: 24.Kathy Haight. Vinyls Final Days. Charlotte ( N C ) Obseruer 24 July 1988: 24. Hochman, Steve.Will Those Vinyl Records Be All Played Out by 1988? Los Angeles Times 8 Oct. 1988: E3. Livingston, William.Speaking My Piece. Stereo Review Oct. 1984: 6. Pond, Steve.The Industry i n the Eighties. Rolling Stone 15 Nov. 1990: 117. Ressner, Jeffrey.Going, Going, Gone? Rolling Stone 20 April 1989: 15. Thomas, Keith L. Many Die-Hard Record Lovers Spinning From Vinyls Demise. Atlanta Constitution 27 Feb. 1990: C4. Unterberger, Richie. Issue By Issue: T h e CD Takeover. Option Nov./Dec. 1989: 14. - Issue By Issue: T h e CD Takeover (part two). Option Jan./Feb. 1990: 14. Walsh, Michael.The Great LP vs. CD War. Time 25 Aug. 1986: 66. Yandel, Gary.*Facing the Music: Retailers Say LPs Wont Be Playing Much Longer. Atlanta journal 25 Oct. 1988: E5.
George Plasketes is an associate professor in the Department of Communication at Auburn University, Auburn, AL 36849. He desperately clings to his CD virginity.