This man cannot live by vinyl alone

By all accounts, Record Store Day last month was a success.

According to a story last week in Billboard magazine, sales at independent record stores for the week ending April 27 jumped 194 percent over the previous week, the largest weekly gain in the history of RSD, created to give a boost to indie stores at a time when more and more consumers are downloading and streaming music.

More than a half million vinyl albums sold that week, more than any non-Christmas week since Nielsen began tracking such purchases in 1991. About 80 percent of those sales were at independent retailers.

RSD was a success for me as well. I was able to get the two albums I really wanted — “Live from Welcome to 1979” by Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit and “Electric Lady Sessions” by the Drive-By Truckers — and I couldn’t resist snagging a copy of “Cracked Actor,” a three-LP live recording from 1974 by David Bowie.

They sound great on my Technics turntable, the same one I’ve been using since 1981.

I like the tangible quality of vinyl — that black slab, the 12-by-12 inch album cover art and, even better, the gatefold cover and the design potential it offers.

I like the nostalgia of it. The first music I owned was on 45 rpm singles and 12-inch vinyl albums. While I’ve owned 8-tracks, still have more cassettes and CDs than I can count and have a vast digital library, vinyl has been the one constant music source in my life.

I like that it requires you to listen more actively. It’s not like hitting shuffle on an iPod or laptop and having uninterrupted music for hours. Even the longest LP means flipping the record every 24 minutes or so. Because of that, it’s less likely to become background noise.

But no matter how much I love vinyl, I’d be lying if I said it’s the primary way I consume music. Most of my listening is done on my iPod or laptop. The portability and convenience can’t be beat. When I drove to Washington, D.C., to move my daughter home following her internship, I didn’t have to pack a case full of CDs and wish somewhere around Breezewood, “Man, I wish I’d brought (fill in the blank) with me.” I had an iPod with more than 18,000 songs on it to keep me company.

I’m guessing I’m not alone. Most of the folks who bought one of those half million albums last month are consuming their music digitally as well.

That’s why, if the music industry wants to keep those of us who still buy physical media happy, they need to include digital download codes inside those album covers.

Drive-By Truckers’ RSD release came with a download code; Isbell’s didn’t. That doesn’t bother me so much since those songs aren’t being sold digitally on iTunes or Amazon. If an artist wants to release a collection of music that only can be consumed in one format, I’m OK with that.

But Federal Frenzy in downtown Youngstown was the same day as Record Store Day, and I bought the two LPs Welshly Arms was selling at the event. They were $25 each or both for $40. Neither included a download code, and the songs contained on both are available for purchase digitally.

No one spends more money on their music than the vinyl buyer — $20 per album has become the norm. Album downloads usually are $9.99; CDs often are on sale for the same price.

I’ve passed on buying vinyl releases because they didn’t come with a download code. I’ve bought vinyl from Amazon instead of a local retailer like Record Connection because Amazon offers an “auto-rip” digital copy with most of its physical music purchases.

Those great Record Store Day numbers are an anomaly. Fewer people are buying music. And musicians and record labels make far more money from consumers who buy actual product instead of streaming songs on a commercial-supported service like Spotify or Pandora.

The music business can’t afford to discourage sales from the consumers who continue to support artists by buying music.

A side of digital makes the cost of that vinyl entree easier to justify.

Andy Gray is the entertainment writer for the Tribune Chronicle. Write to him at agray@tribtoday.com

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