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Country Artists Take a New Spin on Vinyl

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Will The Circle Be Unbroken/CMA/ Nashville, TN -- By Randy Rudder
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.

“We’re 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 album, 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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