Monastic Musings Part Two: Meet The New Boss, Same As The Old Boss, or “They Found A Way To Make Vinyl Even Worse”

Possibly the most blood-chilling hype sticker I’ve ever seen… the only good news here was that they didn’t use MP3 format, which eliminates all frequencies above 15KHz [1/4th the range of human hearing]

As The Post-Punk Monk, I remain most excited about the rare tracks by my favorite artists which languish on 35-40 year old records; never having made the leap to the CD format. Around 1990, I smelled the way the wind was blowing and got back into buying vinyl again, but not the current vinyl still fairly thick on the ground. That I ignored; preferring to buy current material on CD and the delightful CD single. What I wanted most were the 7″ and 12″ singles that were filled with rare mixes for different national markets and B-sides. I wanted LPs that were so obscure, there was no chance that I’d ever see them on a real CD. I knew CD burning technology was coming and I was ready for it. My first computer was able to digitize sound at the CD sampling rate of 44.1/16. This became my most intense focus of music collecting.

What’s left of the music industry would be ecstatic if all they had to sell me was a shoddy 180 g vinyl pressing cobbled together in a sweatshop on 60 year old presses kept running with spit and bailing wire in the former Soviet Union. They never were too thrilled to sell me a pristine digital master of music I wanted after it became apparent that primates were uploading their precious files to the Web for free dissemination. I didn’t play that game but we all got burned by those who did.

So it’s now very easy to buy albums at $20-30 on bulky, noisy, vinyl, which disintegrates with each play. Almost anywhere. At least if I wanted a clean digital copy of something, I could always buy that [pricey] vinyl LP and it would come with a download code to at least play it on my computer or iPod [an experience which I HATE, by the way]. I’ve already moaned [again and again, actually] about the way that much more profitable new vinyl has crowded out the records I have spent 40 years tracking down as stores are eliminating it in order to increase their profit margins with modern, costly vinyl. I hope that they aren’t just dumping all of those 12″ singles and obscure import albums, but history tells me that this is probably the case.

Last January I was in a 2nd & Charles in Greenville, South Carolina, looking it over. I saw something that would have turned my hair white… had it already not already been halfway there. It was a new 200g (take that 180 g wimps!!!) pressing of Rush’s “Signals” album. The parallels between the marketing of disposable razors [2 blades, 3 blades… no! 5 BLADES!!!) and record albums were were never more explicit. Worse, it actually had a hype sticker on it proclaiming “digital download card 320 kbs VINYL-RIPPED AAC MP4s” like it was doing me a favor!!!!!

So now I would be paying well over $30 for such a release and after all was said and done, the digital file they would deign to give me was recorded from one of the LP copies pressed up and not the glorious digital master tape that was once the lot of the download code redeemer!! Believe it or not, we were once able to buy highly durable polycarbonate discs with 44.1/16 khz files mastered from the actual master tape of an album. This curious practice lasted from as early as 1982 until fairly recently, apparently. Then the hype sticker stuck its brutal shiv deep into my heart.

“Download offer expires December 31st, 2016.”

So in 2018, this costly object was doing me absolutely zero favors. Even this awkward compromise has its days numbered.

Next: …Wait…It Get’s Worse


About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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21 Responses to Monastic Musings Part Two: Meet The New Boss, Same As The Old Boss, or “They Found A Way To Make Vinyl Even Worse”

  1. Tim says:

    Loving this series of posts.


  2. Tim says:

    In my opinion the state of modern music is something that is ripe for a lot of conversations, not just the physical delivery of the content and where the sales are compared to last year or last decade.
    There have been mammoth shifts in who subsidizes the content that is created and distributes it, if we scroll back to the post punk days there were tons of companies and labels putting out music (and, more broadly, books, newspapers, movies & magazines) and there was a robust buffet of styles, sounds and voices to choose from. Now we’re down to what….three corporate monoliths that essentially have a monopoly on all of this. It was not that hard at that time to find something that offered a voice that was distinctly and unapologetically outside of the mainstream, I’m going to go with the Dead Kennedys here just because they broke through enough that I think it’s reasonable enough even before the PMRC hearings to think that if you had a solid interest in music you at least knew who they were. Tell me who the DKs are now, or the Black Flags, or the Minutemen, or the new Replacements?
    And the way the content is consumed is markedly different. I have a 7 year old son with a tablet and all the rage these days is those kids and their tablets, they spend too much time on them. When I was a kid my entertainment was bifurcated again and again. If I wanted to read a book I picked up a book and read it. If I wanted music a record went on the turntable. If I wanted to write a letter I sat down with pen and paper and wrote it out. If I wanted a movie I went to a cinema. If I wanted to zone out I watched cartoons on tv. Games? No Atari anymore. ALL of that comes through his tablet, it’s no wonder they spend “too much time” on these things, we’ve distilled them to a one-stop shop for all of it. Hell you can make your video phone calls on the same things! And corporate America makes sure that you get your share of advertisements with this thing. This is a seismic shift in how we consume our entertainment, especially for things like watching tv or movies that may have been done in the past in a more communal manner.
    The ongoing series is yours to pen, I look forward to each installment.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Tim – You have provided a fascinating view of the tablet that never occurred to me because I do so few of those activities that you son does on ours. But what you write was an eye-opener! If I had spawned I don’t think that I would let mine touch one! As you point out one’s attention was diverted to a wide variety of user interfaces. Only magazines, newspapers, and television carried advertising, whereas the tablet is all about consolidating an individual’s focus around a single device which tracks their attentions and serves them a custom tailored barrage of advertising!


      • Tim says:

        After I penned that I thought of even more tablet uses, probably because my kid doesn’t use them (yet). I was a late adopter to them and i have some DRM issues with what is being sold as the market morphs going forward (then again, jailbreaking Kindle books appears to be pretty easy) and aside from some sensory issues with books I prefer to read them on a tablet (just need some smellovision for that beautiful printed book smell). The storage on these things is wildly insufficient (even if you throw in a memory card) if you’re going to load a lot of music, video and books/magazines on one of these.

        One way that I am wildly resistant to market changes is that I DO NOT WANT TO STREAM anything. Same with my books, I want to be able to download all of them and I want them in a format that I can move from device to device. Here’s one… change your Amazon password and your library on your tablet disappears Time to redownload anything you already did.


        • postpunkmonk says:

          Tim – I had a iPad from very early on and for casual browsing, I love it. FaceTime with friends and family also rocks. I will write on it and I enjoy having the Notes in the cloud to synch across our two iPod touches and two iPads. But I don’t listen to music on it. I don’t read books on it. I don’t watch TV on it. Games simply don’t happen! I had to have them [iPod touch, iPad] early on for web testing back when I was doing a lot of development and it paid to see how sites played across as many mobile browser environments as possible.


  3. Jordan says:

    This could/will be an interesting thread if Monk continues forward with it.

    That sticker from the Rush album is really something! 200g ( never seen that) and 320 AAC.
    So I will listen to my new vinyl (taken from who knows where, could be another piece of vinyl, CD, master tapes, etc) on some mediocre turntable over some mediocre speakers and I will hear the difference between all the other formats. If I want to listen digitally, then I have a poor sounding MP4 for free. Marketing machine at work.

    As Monk stated (which most people do not understand) vinyl is a destructive medium. It eats itself. You have a diamond carving up an oil product. Yes, it can sound great if played back on top end equipment. But the same can be said for lossless digital or CD.

    I am old enough that I have been through all the formats. Eight track to Reel to Reel to Cassette to LPs to Minidisc to CD to Digital. I purchased thousands of LPs and EPs from 1979-1988 and even then, most of the pressings were so-so.CD was the format I was waiting for and initially, it was also only so-so audio wise. Over time, it became much better. Then lossless digital came around and that was even better. I never cared what the format was, just the content at the highest quality. I see digital distribution through say Bandcamp or Boomkat or Bleep in the same manner as Factory or 4AD in the 80s. Boy Harsher, Monk will know, is a perfect example. It gives a chance for anybody to put out music through independent channels at a fair price.

    I cannot understand the vinyl revival except as a marketing tool to resell the same music over and over and over. MQA is the same in digital.


    • Tim says:

      The trend when cd’s debuted was heavy catalog sales, I remember reading at the time that the majors relied on at least one George Michael “Faith” to happen each year to pay the bills and the rest of the revenue stream was catalog titles.
      CD’s at the time cost little more than albums however the next big thing was priced double what an album was, and what were they selling tons of? Catalog titles.
      Now we have 180 gram vinyl……mostly catalog titles…..and they’re selling for 3-4 times a digital album purchase.

      I worry about the sound quality to a point, I grew up with holding a Panasonic tape deck up to a speaker to record my favorites, watching VHS tapes that tracked poorly, library records that had seen better days, cassette tapes on my Walkman…..mp3’s the quality of what Amazon sells are better sound quality than a lot of what was day to day listening for me (and I suspect a lot of other people) over the years.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Jordan – All the music industry really knows how to do is to sell the same music over and over. It’s been their growth model for at least two generations. The vinyl revival makes my head hurt. We were supposed to be so far beyond this by now! It’s just retrograde conservatism. There’s a quote from Warren Cann that I love from somewhere in the 90s where he shook his head in disbelief at how we listened to soft plastic discs with a groove scratched into them for so long. See the first few paragraphs of this Pere Ubu article about mastering to parse their take on Dame Vinyl.


  4. The current Vinyl things has pretty much passed me by- mainly because the bands I like (many of them neatly listed on the little “cloud” thingy on the right side of this blog) are never going to get much in the way of reissues. And when they do, like the Record Store day reissue a few years ago of Heaven 17’s “Fascist Groove Thang”- I ruefully sit them out as well- no way am I paying $30 for a 12″ (plus $15 postage) that I already have 3 copies of… but the completist in me aches to have something that exists in fewer copies than the original…
    All in all, a scam… looking forward to more in this series.


  5. Great stream and comments. I passed through LAX last month. and was agog the small bookstore in the United Terminal had a few rows of vinyl to flip through. I resisted the temptation as the titles on view there, and later observed, in the display window on the concourse, was an array of very familiar top selling, still marketable stars from many decades, classics old and new, PFloyed to. recent Beyonce. Free sturdy travel boxes with purchase. Like PPMonk, I’m a bit…offended? by this resurgence, yet amused it exists at all.
    It’s kind of a People magazine kind of trend. I think the large format…people want to hold it, display it like book kind of tactile reward dials into this, even if the quality of the wax likely sux.
    Re: Jordon “I am old enough that I have been through all the formats. Eight track to Reel to Reel to Cassette to LPs to Minidisc to CD to Digital. I purchased thousands of LPs and EPs from 1979-1988 and even then, most of the pressings were so-so.CD was the format I was waiting for and initially, it was also only so-so audio wise.”
    Similarly identify with this and agree. I was shopping a car Dolby 8 deck in ’78, then could see cassette quality rising and the death knell of the cranky8s, (((though I loved ’em and recorded many customized ones))) so didn’t spill the cash. Cassette decks were already dominant for cars.
    Re: Jordon, continues, “I never cared what the format was, just the content at the highest quality.” I like when reviewers touch on the quality of the product. So much vinyl was so-so, some pressings startled me such 1987’s Joshua Tree, which came in a deep earthy translucent vinyl, and audiophile quiet. Good vinyl, it teases one into setting the volume too high as we chase the detail. Rare vinyl, some stuff won’t be converted…languages are lost all the time. Which brings to mind a favorite band name: Birdsongs Of The Mesozoic. Chirp chirp.


  6. Duncan Watson says:

    You probably dodged a bullet anyway with this Rush album. The sticker says it is a DMM recording. I bought a DMM recording of Pat Benatar’s In The Heat Of The Night album many years ago and, despite the claim it was superior quality, it just sounded muddy


  7. JT says:

    “which eliminates all frequencies above 15KHz [1/4th the range of human hearing]”

    While I generally support all efforts at high-resolution audio, and while I direly lament MP3 and all other compressed media formats, and even as someone who sat in on a seminar with Bob Ludwig and Leslie Ann Jones on the necessity of hi-rez/uncompressed audio at last year’s Audio Engineering Society convention in NYC, I have to point out that:

    Since our ears hear logarithmically, and since the top end of our hearing erodes as we age, and since differing compression algorithms treat differing audio material in differing ways,
    • everything above 15KHz equals 1/4 of the audible spectrum is not true,
    •not all compression algorithms delete this material,
    •very few people over the age of 40 can hear frequencies this high anyway,
    • there’s very little material in this range present in recordings anyway
    • vinyl, cassettes, and other popular formats roll this area off too.

    But yes, MP3 needs to die.


  8. Tim says:

    EXCELLENT piece today over on the New York Times about music sounding the same. Not vinyl per se but touches on the changes in music as created and consumed that was discussed in this post and subsequent ones.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Tim – Thanks for the link. I love this sort of left-brained analysis of what is ostensibly a right-brained pursuit but the suits know better!


      • Tim says:

        I think that music has been dum-ed down a lot, especially in the last 15 years, so they were preaching to the choir there. I think there’s a variety of reasons for it, ultimately I think that the labels have a loaded pistol in their hand and they are really good at blowing holes in their feet. I think that there is probably tons of talent of quite varied sounds out there but like movies the music labels are playing it what they consider to be safe. And autotuned. And melody-less. And boring. And they all sound the same. And need to git off of my lawn.


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