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On Music: Record convention takes vinyl lovers for a spin

Saturday, June 08, 2002

By Ed Masley, Post-Gazette Pop Music Critic

In his recently published biography, "Shakey," Neil Young is quoted as saying it "hurts" to listen to an album on CD.

Jerry Weber of Jerry's Records in Squirrel Hill displays a Jayne Mansfield picture disc. (Andy Starnes, Post-Gazette)

The Pittsburgh Record Convention runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. tomorrow at the Radisson Hotel, Green Tree. Admission to the 50-table show, with dealers from as far afield as New York City (Bop Shop) and Nevada, is $3. For information: 412-331-5021.

"Did you ever go in a shower and turn it on and have it come out tiny little ice cubes?" he asks. "That's the difference between CDs and the real thing -- water and ice. It's like gettin' hit with somethin' instead of having it flow over ya. It's almost taking music and making a weapon out of it -- [doing] physical damage to people without touching them."

Now he's probably laying it on a little thick there, but the man is not alone in wishing we could go back to the days when records ruled the record store.

Tomorrow, Tony Medwid hosts a vinyl-only version of his Pittsburgh Record Convention at the Radisson Hotel in Green Tree.

And he's doing it, he says, by "popular demand."

Now in his sixth year of promoting these conventions, Medwid says he's found that "a lot of the real hard-core collectors tend to be vinyl collectors. And they're spending big money on some of the stuff."

It's more than just collectors on a quest for original pressings of their favorite doo-wop records keeping vinyl in demand. Despite the industry's best efforts to convince the public that no one wants a record anymore, a portion of that public still wants records -- new releases, even.

At Paul's Compact Discs in Bloomfield, owner Paul Olszewski says, "a day doesn't go by that we don't sell some vinyl." In the past two weeks, he's sold 10 copies each of Tom Waits' twin releases "Blood Money" and "Alice."

And that's at $10 a pop.

But vinyl prices vary wildly. At Paul's, a new release can range from $7 to $20.

Even major labels still make vinyl. In limited runs. For certain artists.

As Olszewski says, with a laugh: "They're not gonna release the new Sheryl Crow on vinyl."

But they will release the new Neil Young. And "Beatles 1." And DJ Shadow.

Classic titles by such legendary artists as Bob Dylan, Sun Ra, Ornette Coleman and Miles Davis are being reissued on vinyl as well.

"People automatically assume," Olszewski says, "that just because they don't see it in their local chain stores, they don't make it anymore. We get that a lot. Somebody will walk in who hasn't been in an independent record store in 10 years, and they'll be like, 'Oh, my God, you still have vinyl??!! They still make that?' People just assume that because they don't see it, it doesn't exist."

In 2001, according to the Recording Industry Association of America, close to 2.3 million LP units were shipped to U.S. markets, an increase of 3.7 percent over the 2.2 million units shipped in 2000. In 2001, the LP format represented a $27.4 million value. In the same year, CD sales represented a $12.9 billion value, but suffered a 2.3 percent decrease in dollar value.

The reasons people still buy vinyl vary. For some, it's the packaging.

"That's one of the reasons I prefer it," Medwid says. "You get the larger format for a lot of the great album covers. And that's something you don't find as often with the CD. I collect some things just for the covers."

Others look to vinyl for the way it sounds.

Gregg Kostelich, who runs the independent label Get Hip from a North Side warehouse, still releases all his latest titles on the vinyl format.

As a music fan, he'd rather listen to vinyl, too.

"To tell you the truth," he says, "when a brand new record comes out, the vinyl has a better tone. It has more warmth. It has a better sound. Even my scratchy Chuck Berry singles sound better than the CD, except for you have to put up with the scratches. If you had a clean record, it would sound better than that processed [garbage] that they have on disc. I would buy the 45, still. I listen to a lot of music they've reissued on CD, and it all sounds like [garbage]. I would definitely rather listen to a couple pops and hisses on a record."

Others just prefer to have their music on a cooler format.

And, of course, the DJ Shadows of the world would be lost without their vinyl.

Whatever it is that drives these people to the record store that still sells records, though, the fact that they still want it speaks well of the format.

"You can't still get things on 8-track," says Olszewski. "People don't go out of their way to buy cassettes. But vinyl is the oldest format that still exists, and it's still going strong."

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