The biggest music story of 2011 was the introduction of Spotify, a music-streaming service that allows users to listen to just about any song they desire, whenever they desire, for the price of muting a 30-second advertisement every half-hour. It's user-friendly, it's legal, it's free, and it's the latest and most convincing evidence that bands attempting to make money selling their music are screwed.
A remarkable corollary is the rise of vinyl sales, which are currently the highest they've been since 1991. The mass digitizing of our culture has created, in certain demographics, a premium on tangible objects. Earnest music fans crave more than a cluster of songs to scroll past in their iTunes. They want, and are sometimes willing to pay for, the old-school package: a record crackling on the turntable, full-sized art to hold and look at, decoration for the living room.
This vinyl resurgence will not save the music business. But it offers a niche revenue stream in a dried-up industry and an opportunity for loyal fans to show support. An encouraging number of local acts embraced wax as a release platform in 2011, and we've spent the last few weeks speaking with some of the musicians and designers who played a role in these projects. Look through and read their thoughts on vinyl and see some dazzling album art. Then go track down these bands and buy some records from them.
Label co-founder Tom Sorells, on the vinyl reissue of the Titan Records boxed set: "Numero Group is a Chicago label that has this really great track record of documenting forgotten music scenes, and they released a CD box of our stuff in 2009. But I always really wanted to see it reissued on vinyl. And finally they agreed. So there are four LPs in this big slipcase box, and there's a 24-page booklet that comes with it that kind of tells the Titan story, which we worked on for probably a year. It's nice to see it in big print where everyone can sit down and read it."
Sorells, on the cover: "It's the same cover as our 1980 Titan sampler. It's kind of a takeoff of the famous RCA logo of the dog in front of the Victrola. I think we even used the same breed of dog as the RCA dog. We brought it to this high-end stereo store — this was back when you had to buy speakers the size of suburbs to get good sounds — and set the dog in front of these expensive state-of-the-art speakers. We had some other ideas for the reissue cover, but Numero Group always felt that the dog with headphones was an iconic image."
Kansas City Slickers
Sing Sing Records
Kevin Sanders (bass), on the artwork's inspiration: "Dennis Pash, the leader and primary songwriter of the Leopards, created the artwork. I think it was the title of the album, Kansas City Slickers, that inspired the artwork, rather than the tracks. The cover is from the cover of the original edition of the sheet music for '12th Street Rag,' by Euday Bowman. The back cover of the album is also from a piece of ragtime sheet music, 'Peaceful Henry,' written by E. Harry Kelly and published by Carl Hoffman Music in Kansas City in 1901. Dennis and I are big fans of ragtime music, and you can hear a strong ragtime influence in the Leopards' music."
Sanders, on how a 30-year-old album, of which fewer than 1,000 copies ever existed, came to be reissued by a label in New York: "Sing Sing approached us about reissuing the album on vinyl. They said that there is a market for this kind of music on vinyl, especially with young people. We've seen Kansas City Slickers sell on eBay for as much as $200 to $300, so they may be right."
"Patio Set" b/w "Sex Drive"
Last Laugh Records
Bill Goffrier (vocals and guitar): "We didn't have a lot of experience at the time when we were doing it. I sort of recall sitting around and sketching it out at a rehearsal we had. I think we sort of sat around some table and sketched out what we thought would be a good cover idea and practiced some calligraphy and talked about some photographs. John Nichols, the singer, did the calligraphic lettering, as I recall. We used parts of some photographs, just to be a little bit more mysterious about what was actually being depicted. At first, we kind of wanted a picture of the band, but then we decided that, no, we didn't even want a picture of us to be on there. It ended up being very loose, and it always kind of amazed me that the front cover was so lopsided. Why couldn't we have leaned the photograph, have it cut square, or have actual vertical and horizontal edges, instead of kind of like crooked? But crooked it was, and there's mistakes on the back, and I guess we thought that was kind of punk at the time.
"Last Laugh contacted us about a year before [the release]. I didn't really know anything about them, but they asked about doing it, and ... we happened to have the mixed-down master. It was just sitting and rotting anyway.
"One of the problems with our [original] pressing is that it was a little off-center, but as you got to the end of both songs, there was always kind of this wow and flutter that people thought was some kind of studio effect, maybe. But it was the fact that the record was off-center and never quite sounded the way it was supposed to. So this one might actually sound better."