No matter how far technology progresses, people will always seek out less sophisticated forms of media; whether out of habit, nostalgia or a belief that it’s superior to newer forms of entertainment. For instance, listening to recorded music has changed incredibly over the last 100 years; from heavy, hand-cranked phonograph records to the easily-accessible electronic files available on your cell phone. But no matter how easily you can find and play your favorite song on your device, there are those who still hunt for vinyl records. The ritual of going to the store, searching piles of musty vinyl discs, then finally bringing it home and setting the needle on the edge in anticipation of that first note is the only way to truly experience an album for some. We are fortunate in this city to have many stores that carry vinyl for those who crave it.
Technically, analog recordings, like vinyl albums, are more high-definition than a digital recording, such as CDs and MP3 files. Digital recordings basically take samples of the sound of music a certain number of times per second; typically 44,100 times in one second for CD-quality sound. Although it takes many thousands of samples, it is still not capturing the entire sound of the music; digital recordings can’t accurately keep up with every minute change the instruments make. A vinyl album is made by carving grooves that mirror the sound waves made by the instruments into the disc. Nothing is lost in the translation and the entire sound is present making for a richer, more accurate sound overall. This is the “warmth” that listeners often refer to when describing the sound of music on vinyl. The technology of digital recording is progressing toward higher sampling rates to get closer to the analog accuracy. The late Apple guru Steve Jobs was supposedly working on a new super-high digital recording technology that could mimic analog sound. His workmate Neil Young claimed in an interview: “Steve Jobs was a pioneer of digital music. His legacy is tremendous – but when he went home, he listened to vinyl.”
Before a new, higher-quality digital format is released and has all the kinks worked out, you can hear the richness that vinyl provides by perusing the available collections at all of the local record stores. Each one offers different collections, and everyone can find something that they like. You’re just going to need a record player to enjoy them.
There are two prominent shops Uptown. The Mushroom, in the midst of Tulane’s campus at 1037 Broadway St., has been in business for more than 40 years. They carry a wide-array of merchandise from clothing, home décor, and tobacco, as well as a large variety of CDs, DVDs, cassettes, and vinyl albums. Much of their wax collection is used, but they also carry all the new vinyl albums that bands release as an alternative to CDs and digital downloads. They are popular with fans who are looking for a more classic way to listen to an album. These kinds of albums often include different cover art than their digital counterparts. Jim Russell Rare Records on 1837 Magazine St. has lots of used vinyl in near-mint condition and some rarities.
The Louisiana Music Factory located in the French Quarter on Decatur Street is well-known for its huge collection of Louisiana-centric music and live in-store shows. Owner Barry Smith explains that his clientele-base is mostly tourists that seek out the store or happen by it on walks down Decatur, but he has been seeing a growing interest in vinyl that may be building up that local clientele. “[Vinyl] is still only about 20 percent of total sales, but it’s definitely increasing in popularity,” he says. “Buyers of vinyl seem to be young people discovering the format for the first time and older people rediscovering a format they grew up with but had moved away from in the past decades.” Smith believes, as do many vinyl-philes, that vinyl does have a different sound than digital recordings. He claims: “I do still listen to vinyl and have a large collection at home. Even though CD sound quality has improved over the years, there is a warmth of sound associated with vinyl that can’t be replicated in the digital format. When playing a wellrecorded LP on a nice home audio system, the sound is truly remarkable. There is also a lot to be said for really nice cover art and liner notes in the large LP format.”
On the east side of the Quarter, Domino Shack Sounds at 2557 Bayou Rd. is near the Fairgrounds and draws in attendees of Jazz Fest. Euclid Records has a large variety of music in every medium, but specializes in used and new vinyl. Their pink store on 3401 Burgundy St. in the heart of the Bywater also hosts performances by bands whose albums are in stock and have even held some readings of original works. You can read about their happenings on euclidnola.com.
Back downtown, Peaches Records filled the void of the shuttered Virgin Records by supplying a large collection of music emphasizing local musicians and offering some vinyls. You may have been past another French Quarter record store called Skully’z Recordz on 907 Bourbon St. The store is small, yet packed with an array of vinyl albums. Skully’z co-manager Joe Huston states: “Most of our local customers shop at Skully’z for new releases and for our selection of vinyl. Our new vinyl selection draws heavily on indie bands and labels with some mainstream titles thrown in. We have a fair amount of punk and metal titles as well. Vinyl enthusiasts’ love of records seems to range between having the visceral product in their hands to peruse, as well as the warmth and presence that vinyl provides that CDs and MP3s do not.” Huston reveals a sad truth about music stores today that only makes his job more important. “The tourist crowds are usually looking for New Orleans music, but many are patronizing the store for vinyl because, in most cases, their local record stores have all closed,” he says.
Once you hear what vinyl can offer, you’ll be hard-pressed not to seek it out too. There’s even a nationwide holiday devoted to getting patrons in music stores: Record Store Day held on the third Saturday of April. And you can check out the local vinyl culture during one of the trading events like WTUL’s Quarterly Record Raid. You can find the dates on recordraid.wordpress.com.
Smith doesn’t believe that this is just a nostalgic trend. “I do not think that vinyl will ever become obsolete,” he says. “Even with the CD revolution that took place over the past 25 years, vinyl never went away. I think part of the renewed interest in vinyl is due to backlash from the digital download era and the lack of fi delity when playing music on an iPod or other MP3 player. Fortunately, there will always be people interested in superior sound quality and holding a physical item in their hands.” Joe Huston agrees, “Whether vinyl is here to stay or not remains as always in the hands of the consumer, but this record store clerk say s it’s back to stay!”