Country Artists Take a New Spin on Vinyl

Country Artists Take a New Spin on Vinyl

By Randy Rudder

© 2013 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

Not since the early 1990s has the acronym
“LP” had currency in the recording world. Yet it’s creeping back into the
nomenclature among some Millennials and members of Generation Y as they discover
the wonders of vinyl albums.

This trend isn’t just about nostalgia or even the music itself. It’s
about the market. “There are several potential consumer demographics that we
are targeting with the vinyl release of the Pistol Annies album
Annie Up,” said Gary Overton, Chairman/CEO, Sony Music Nashville. “Obviously,
there are the audiophiles, who will love the sound of this album on vinyl. We
are also targeting the Baby Boomers that are going back to listening to vinyl
albums. And we are targeting the Millennials who are hearing vinyl for the first
time and are loving the whole experience.

“We did a limited vinyl release on the first Annies album
Hell On Heels),” Overton added. “It sounded so good and was
so well received that after hearing the new songs on their second album, it was
a no-brainer to release it on vinyl.”

It’s not just new Country albums that are being released
on vinyl. “We’ve been actively reviewing and determining iconic albums to
reissue on vinyl over the past several years,” said Jason Boyd, VP, Sales and
Marketing, Universal Music Enterprises. “Our focus has been heavily on rock,
jazz, alternative, metal and select soundtracks. We felt we should begin releasing
some of the iconic and influential Country albums from our rich catalogue.”

Their initial selections for vinyl
reissue were Glen Campbell’s
By the Time I Get to Phoenix, Merle Haggard and The Strangers’ Swinging Doors and the Bottle Let Me Down, Wanda Jackson’s Rockin’ With Wanda!, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Will the Circle be Unbroken and Kenny Rogers’ The Gambler.

going after both the newer vinyl music fan who is discovering the many different
types of music on LP, and core fans of these artists,” Boyd said. “Many new
consumers to the vinyl format are experiencing and developing new types of music.
We’ve been introducing them to various jazz and rock albums. Why not expose
them to legendary Country albums, provide them with (a) new pristine pressing
versus used versions? On the other side, we have our core fan who loves Merle
Haggard, Glen Campbell, Kenny Rogers, Wanda Jackson and the Dirt Band. We feel
they would enjoy having a new version of a classic favorite in their collection.”

According to Boyd, the LP format’s
appeal goes way beyond even these considerations. Look, for example, is nearly
as important as sound. “Each (vinyl album) has a very distinctive appeal,”
he noted. “The Kenny Rogers album is such a big hit, with an amazing cover.
It looks really good on LP. Album art is critical to the decision process of reissuing
vinyl. Having a 12”-by-12” piece of art representing the album is essential
to the experience. We go to great lengths to faithfully reproduce the album jackets,
sleeves, inserts and so on, exactly as they were when initially released. Vinyl
fans spend time reviewing and looking at the covers. Many fans display them in
their personal space as a reflection of who they are. Having a Merle Haggard album
carefully positioned in your living room provides a representation of your musical
taste and makes a statement about you.

“There’s an experience in listening to vinyl and a process
to actually playing the LP,” Boyd added. “You have to follow very specific
steps to place the album on the turntable, flip to side B and go through dropping
the needle in the groove if you want a specific song. All of this is part of the
experience. Digital is about convenience and quality. Music fans should have their
favorite album in the formats they want. Vinyl, digital, CD, stream — it’s all about choice.”

Vinyl will never threaten the dominance
of digital downloads or CDs, but the uptick in demand is undeniable. Nielsen SoundScan
tallied 4.6 million LP sales in 2012, up by 19 percent over the number of sales
in 2011 and the greatest amount since SoundScan started tracking sales in 1991.
More recently, during the week ending April 21, which included Record Store Day
on April 20, another Nielsen SoundScan record was broken with a one-week total of 244,000 LPs sold.

Ashley Monroe was one of many artists
commemorating Record Store Day, marking the occasion by releasing a vinyl edition
of her acclaimed solo debut album,
Like A Rose.
Another celebrant was Eric Church, who released a double-LP version of his live
Caught In The
Act: Live
, on that same day.

“Vinyl sounds the best, particularly
if you are cognizant of compression and frequencies that lie above and below those
that are typically assigned to what the human ear can hear,” said John Peets,
founder of Q Prime South and Church’s manager. “Vinyl can reproduce a very
wide spectrum of frequencies, some of which are simply felt. Also, most evident
on the high end, analog representation is one of the actual sound wave, rather
than a digital sampling of a couple of points and the computer ‘guessing’
the curve. The more the entire recording stays in the analog space, the more these
attributes come into play.”

Sound quality, physical interaction with the album and turntable, cover
art and a growing market of young and aficionado listeners all come into play
as artists decide to explore the new/old format. But Overton also finds something
more ephemeral behind the vinyl mini-revival.

“What I think is significant is the fact that young
people are buying turntables for the first time and listening to vinyl albums
together with their friends,” he said. “Music was meant to be a shared experience,
not a shared file.”

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