Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Confessions of a Vinyl Junkie

Word on the street is that blogging has become irrelevant thanks to social networking behemoths like Facebook and Twitter. While I don't usually like to agree with bold statements such as this, I would have to agree that these sites have unknowingly contributed to the ever decreasing popularity of the music blog. Over the past couple months alone, I have seen countless bloggers decide to pack it in because there just wasn't enough feedback or interest from the readers.  This can likely be chalked up to our generation's indelible need for instant gratification. Because most people want everything right now in an easily digestible package,  they aren't taking the time to enjoy the simple pleasure of listening to a record in its entirety.

Memories of my first record purchase are fuzzy at best, but I never will forget the euphoric feeling of holding that 12" round cylinder in my hands for the first time. I was mesmerized by the size, shape and feel of the record.  It was probably one of the schmaltzy country records from my Mom and Dad's vinyl collection like Charlie Pride or Eddy Rabbit, but I can't be too sure about the exact artist and title. All I remember is being transfixed by the record as it spun around, filling the room with melodious sound.

Several years would pass before I bought my first record which was probably something like Van Halen Self-Titled, AC/DC Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap or Queen Greatest Hits. I know it is strange that someone who has such an encyclopedic knowledge of music can forget what record was the first one that they ever bought, but my memory has failed me in this respect. I remember that as I entered the record store for the first time, my hands started tingling and I knew that I had entered an exciting new world with unlimited possibilities. I made my way to the rock section for that specific artist that I had heard on the radio or MTV and started shuffling through the titles slowly so I would be sure to spot the record I sought. Once I located the record, I made my way towards the checkout counter, hoping that the record clerk behind the counter wouldn't judge me on my choice of purchase.

While I stood in line, my palms were sweating and thoughts steadily raced through my mind in anticipation of what the record would sound like. I noticed my heart rate increasing and my knees were weak as I raced home to listen to the record, much like the feeling that comes from a first love. Once I arrived at home,  I took the shrinkwrap off the record with an intensity that is often reserved for someone who plays extreme sports. Then, I gently dropped the needle into the groove of the record and was enraptured by the sound.  The warm crackle of the vinyl filled the room with a sound that could best be described as incendiary. From this day on, I would be eternally devoted to that round plastic disc with magic embedded in the grooves.

The next time you are thinking about selling off your entire record collection so you can digitize everything, please rethink your decision. Listening to vinyl is a precious gift that should not be wasted, and its resurgence is the primary reason that record stores are staying afloat in the digital age. While I certainly have my fair share of music in mp3, FLAC, wav and other digital formats, there is absolutely no substitute for the warm sound of vinyl.

Please support the artists that you love and appreciate so that they can continue to release albums, and when possible, purchase albums from mom and pop record stores instead of from big box retailers like Amazon or Best Buy.

I leave you with this last thought and a link for a record that personifies my love for vinyl.

What was the first record that you ever bought, or you first memory of listening to music?

Until next time, keep you ear to the ground for more choice sounds.

Addendum: By the way, this two part download is not one of my mixes, it's an ode to 78's that was released a couple years ago on the Honest Jons label. I won't give away the title as this is still in print, but please feel free to guess what it is.

For the Love of Vinyl Part 1

For the Love of Vinyl Part 2

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Spotify Vs. Pandora

Ever since stumbling upon an article discussing Spotify on the Mercury blog End Hits, I have been obsessively compiling playlists and searching for new music on Spotify like a kid in a candy store. It is currently invite only, but I received my invite within a week of the service launching in the U.S. If you don't want to wait for an invite, you can purchase their premium package for only $4.99 a month. Like any new service, it is imperfect, but what it does offer is well worth it. The cost of the service is free with advertisements for six months,  $4.99 for the premium package with no ads and $9.99 for the mobile version which allows you to access your entire I-tunes library as well as a massive archive of over 15 million tracks from Spotify. While they don't have everything on Spotify, they are adding over a hundred tracks a day. I was surprised that the sound quality is as good as it is for most albums, with only a few things that were under par. So far, I have been using the service for free, and this has generally served my purpose.

My assessment of Spotify Vs. Pandora is that they offer two very different services to the customer. Pandora is, as far as I can tell,  the only service that has the technology to let you choose attributes from a specific song and then generate a playlist based on that song. This feature is great for compiling a mixtape with a certain mood, although Pandora only lets you skip 4 songs in an hour. Once you pass this amount, you are stuck listening to whatever songs they play. I often find myself getting frustrated and turning it off after about a half hour. Also, the pay version of Pandora gets rid of the ads, but you still have the limitation of only being able to skip 4 songs in an hour. These ads usually play every 3-4 songs, and are not related to music at all, so it kind of takes you out of your musical listening experience.

Spotify has the ability to play the entire album and queue up the tracks as if you are playing them from your collection in Itunes, while it is not possible to play the specific track that you want to hear in Pandora. Another interesting feature of Spotify is that you can easily share the playlists that you have created in Spotify with your friends on Facebook. I haven't opted to share my playlists yet, as I am still evaluating the service, but I imagine that I will enjoy this feature once I do start sharing my playlists with others.

There have been some albums that I have been unable to find on the internet and on Soulseek, but I was able to locate these on Spotify. I had been looking for a hip-hop record from 2009 called Ill Mondo featuring Neal Rames. After searching on Google and Soulseek to no avail, I found it on Spotify in really excellent sound quality. I can definitely see the benefit of using a service like this especially for finding new music, and it would be really useful for listening to an album without having to download it to see if you like it. The main downfall I can see with Spotify is that if the service goes under you will lose all your music. 

I found it very useful when trying to check out a bunch of songs for a themed-mix tape that I have been working on lately. In the past, I would have gone to Soulseek and downloaded all of the songs, only to find that a couple really fit the mix. Also, I had fun doing label searches for indie labels like Merge, Teenbeat, Tzadik, Matador and Fat Possum. Once you type in label followed by a colon and then the the label name, it brings up the entire library for that label that is currently available on Spotify.  Therefore it should be used in addition to the other myriad methods of finding and purchasing music.

Overall, I have really been digging Spotify, and wanted to let you all know about it. While it is definitely not a substitute for rare music blogs, it does provide music listeners with a vast archive of music to choose from. 

Here is a list of awesome sites to get the most out of Spotify:

The main homepage for Spotify featuring many useful tips and tricks that will put you well on your way to fully enjoying the service

Spotibot- allows you to type in an artist's name and then it generates a playlist based on this artist

Essential Spotify Tools-
List of tools that you can use to enhance your Spotify experience

Share My Playlist-
A massive archive of the top playlists on Spotify

Spotify links based on recommendations and recent reviews from Pitchfork, Boomkat and Discogs

Seemingly endless archive of new releases on Spotify with a focus on indie, experimental and folk music

Pansentient League- New On Spotify-
A great way to find new releases on Spotify as there is currently no way to do a search for recent things added to Spotify

Spotify Labels-
A clickable list of every label available on Spotify that automatically generates a playlist of every song on the label

This should get you well on your way to enjoying the benefits of Spotify!

I will be back soon with a new Choice Cuts post as well as a new podcast.

Addendum: If anyone would like an invite to Spotify, I can hook you up. Just comment here and let me know that you are interested.