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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Some Thoughts On Music Media

Back in 1987 when I was a young skinny dark-haired graduate student, I took a job in the local Sam Goody Store in Nashville. Compact Discs were starting to take over the market and vinyl records were seemingly doomed. CDs provided a huge resurgence for record labels who by the end of the 80's were in quite a sales slump. Not only did the new technology offer what was then perceived as perfect sound, but it saved tons of shelf space and weight when moving to a new apartment too!

The market was booming because not only did everyone want the newest releases in the new format, but thousands of listeners spent millions of dollars replacing their old vinyl collections with CDS. I can't tell you how many stories I hear today of people who sold their records and have lived to regret it.

The huge debate amongst music aficionados centered around a handful of topics: 1. Do CDs really sound better than vinyl records? 2. Will all of the important titles from the LP era be issued on CD? and 3. Do CDS really last forever?

Thirty years later, some of those questions are still debated. As to sound quality, I will always contend that except for the pops and tics that come from a worn record, LPS have and always will sound better. But that's not proven and many blind tests have failed to definitively answer the question. I will say, however, that there is still nothing more amazing than pulling a new record out of its sleeve, checking out the amazing cover art and playing that baby for the first time. For a guy my age, vinyl will always be king.

As for the reissue question, for the most part that answer was yes, and it was the reissue business that kept the major labels afloa through most of the 90s. There were things here and there that never made it to the silver disc, but for the most part, the catalogue was saturated with every imaginable title, including thousands of recordings that had been out of print for years.

Question three is proving a mixed bag. Many CDS, particularly ones issued early on in Japan, and many a home burned disc did not last forever. Their information deteriorated and you are no longer able to play them. Add to the fact that CD players have a rather notoriously short lifespan, particularly higher end models, and you have some problems at hand.

That brings us to today. Although the digital revolution has not managed to kill the vinyl record, in fact vinyl has enjoyed a big resurgence in recent years, it has brought about the death of the record industry as we knew and loved it, and with it, the compact disc is breathing it last or so it seems.

In his excellent book Appetite for Self-destruction, Steve Knopper documents the spectacular fall of the American record industry, brought about by sheer hubris and stupidity. I myself predicted back in 1987 that one day in the not too distant future, all the music in the world would be available in a big data base accessible to one and all through an inexpensive monthly subscription.

It would take the advent of high speed internet to make my prophesy come true, but it did. And the record labels sat back and watched it happen, completely unprepared to deal with the consequences of file sharing and the easy and free distribution of music.

Some say that the demise of the industry is a bad thing. I contend that it was an inevitable good because there is now more music available than ever before and countless artists who would have never been picked up by a major label now have a voice in the greater music world. Huzzah!


Now that we have had a little history lesson, (call it a reminiscence if you will) here are some of this writer's observations about some, and I emphasize here, selected, digital music streaming services.

It all started with Napster, and we all know what a copyright nightmare that turned out to be. Napster lost its lawsuit and was eventually swallowed up by Rhapsody, a product of Real Networks. (Remember when you had to download a Real player to see movies or hear music on line in the dial up days?)

Rhapsody offers a ginormous track library for a modest price and is available for most any kind of delivery device you can imagine. My biggest beef with them is the careless way that they handle classical music. Yeah, I know, we aren't the biggest market share, but if it's worth doing, it's worth doing right and Rhapsody frankly SUCKS when it comes to the proper labeling and categorizing of  Bach, Beethoven and the boys. After many years of devotion to Rhapsody, I finally got fed up with them and switched to SPOTIFY.

Spotify's layout and format took me a little getting used to, but now that I have figured it out, I love it so far. They have an enormous library of albums, they DO properly label classical music (although I find that their classical selection is rather bogged down in giant compilation sets that most serious music listeners skip over on sight) and they have lots of great extra features, including detailed biographies of most of their artists. All for 9.99 a month.

If you are a serious classical listener, there is only one place to go, and that is to the Naxos Music Library.

Klaus Heymann's little label that could has now just about conquered the world of classical music. With 87,000 plus cds available to stream and a catalogue that grows by the week, it's hard to beat this service. Include complete program notes, services for schools and teachers and a price point of $20-30 a month depending upon bit rate, you just can't go wrong. Naxos also offers Jazz, world, audio books and lots of other categories for your listening pleasure.

Another personal favorite is Grooveshark, which offers a very friendly interface and a big catalogue of music for free. They do offer a premium service as well, but the print ads on the site are not intrusive and the only real advantage to paying is to have access to their mobile apps.

Pandora is worth mentioning as well, but call me selfish, I like being able to select my own music. If I am in discovery mode, then Spotify, Rhapsody and Groove shark all have "Radio" functions that allow me to explore music that other people are listening to.

I have yet to explore Google music, but with 74 lifetimes worth of music at my fingertips, I had to stop somewhere.

We live in a wonderland of media, and frankly, I think we could argue that there is too much on hand. Where to we start? But hey, we also have just as many books to read and movies to watch. So hunker down in your den and bust open the Chardonnay! You've got lots of listening to do.

Happy music making everyone!

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Returning to My Favorite Hobby

My mother will tell you that I learned to read off record labels. Ours being a very musical family, there were always dozens if not hundreds of records in our home, and my parents and grandmother taught me at a very early age to love records. More importantly they taught me how to properly care for them and to respect that they were extremely valuable. I think that I was about the only five year old in history that was allowed to operate the family phonograph unsupervised. I would always seek out the record player in any new home I visited, and I took it quite personally when my mother's friends wouldn't allow me to operate the machine!

Since getting sober on April 15, I have been going back to my roots and rediscovering and reengaging in the things that molded my early life. I am once again an avid reader, I practice the piano regularly and I am getting seriously back into collecting and listening to vinyl records. I thought I would share some of my recent adventures and comment on the state of record stores in general.

First off, I found what every collector dreams of just today, and that is a couple of bins of nice records dropped off at my favorite thrift store. For a whomping five dollars, I got my hands on ten little gems, and if I had had more cash in my pocket I would have bought several more. The nice man at the thrift gave me a special deal since I told him that I was a musician and loved vinyl. Those are the things you love when you pursue this hobby. Consequently, I got my hands on ten really nice records from the fifties and sixties for a song. (Sorry, couldn't resist)

Once upon a time, Dallas was a record nut's paradise. Sadly, the good stores are mostly gone with one exception which I will discuss in a moment. Vinyl has made a big comeback, especially amongst young people and consequently, the prices for used records have taken a precipitous climb. Part of this increase is due to greed on the part of store owners and just plain stupidity. Caveat emptor!!!! Make sure that before you drop fifteen bucks on a used record that you know what you are getting, because most of the records available in Dallas stores at any rate, are just ridiculously overpriced.

So here's a little low-down on what I have observed of late in the BIG D and a review of local outlets for vinyl


Located on lower Greenville avenue in Dallas, this little slice of the vinyl Garden of Eden is by far and away the best record store in the city.

Now here's a word of warning to old timers who are just getting back into the market. New records are not cheap. Your average brand new record will run you twenty bucks, and more if the pressing is on 180 gram vinyl. My first reaction to these prices was rather hostile until I stopped to think that a] a new record back in the day was around ten to twelve bucks b] it's been at least twenty years since I seriously collected new vinyl so take the passage of time, and the fact that records don't sell in the quantities that they did in the 80's, $20+ is really not unreasonable.

Good Records carries the largest selection of new titles in Dallas, and they also have new pressings of many old favorites. Add to that a very knowledgeable and enthusiastic staff and this store is a true winner. They are huge supporters of local musicians and so, even though you may pay a few bucks more than you might on line, I heartily endorse Good Records as my primary source of new additions to my collection.

And, although their selection of used records is pretty limited, they are fairly priced and graded for condition. They also have a full selection of CDS and great hours. Good Records is a good old fashioned mom and pop record store that is in business for the love of music. Go back and watch the campy 90's film Empire Records  and you will get the idea.


Located in the Old Towne shopping center at Lovers Lane and Greenville Avenue, CD SOURCE has long been a staple of the bohemian music scene. Crammed to the gills with thousands of CDS and DVDS, CD SOURCE has recently gotten into the vinyl business.

Although I have always liked the hippy atmosphere and the friendly and off-beat staff, I find that this outlet has more annoyances than endearments.

Their vinyl stock is crammed in to every nook and cranny, basically a disorganized mess, difficult to browse and overrun with more trash than treasure. For every gem you find you will have waded through twenty pieces of crap. Couple that frustration with a pricing structure that basically parrots EBAY and AMAZON and you're in for a less than stellar experience.


Recent visits to Half Priced Books big superstore on Northwest Highway  have run the gamut from frustrating to infuriating.

HPB used to be the best bargain store in town, but now someone has informed their buying staff that it's cool to triple all their prices for vinyl. Couple that with bins that are overrun with knock off repressings of classic jazz titles and an extremely inconsistent title selection and I have concluded that aliens have landed in the back room and sucked the brains out their buyers.

I've pretty much written this store off as a source, although I from time to time find gems at their Preston and LBJ location.


Located on Live Oak Street just off of Haskell Avenue, this store is a wonderful time capsule of music's golden age(s). Packed to the brim with vintage audio equipment, musical instruments and memorabilia, this little cave also has a respectable record section.

I was pretty excited to check it out until I looked at the price tags. The big sign over the bins that read "This is not a thrift store, so don't expect thrift store prices" should have been the giveaway. From the looks of it, the same records have been sitting in those crates since the 70's and the prices are simply ridiculous.

There is a nice little back room full of five dollar records, but a trip through ten or fifteen crates revealed mostly junk.


Lloyd Sitkoff's private record business in Carrollton is a classical music lover's paradise. Lloyd has upwards of 20,000 records and just as many cds, and he deals almost exclusively in classical music. If he doesn't have it it's not to be had. He's a great guy, prices his items very fairly and can get you what you need. You can check out his treasure trove by making an appointment at 972-242-4767.


Forever Young Records in Grapevine, TX could be a collectors wet dream. Thousands of Square feet of damned near every record ever pressed makes this place a nostalgia overdose. Sadly, high prices keep this buyer from being a regular customer there.


Fort Worth boasts a groovy store called Doc's. Although I haven't visited in some months, and they have moved to a new location since I last shopped there, Doc's as I remember it has an excellent and varied selection of vinyl in fine condition and at very fair prices. I am looking forward to a trip over to Cowtown to check this place out again soon.

Anyways, there are some thoughts for anyone looking to add to their collections and spin some black discs. Here's wishing everyone some very happy listening.