Records of Time: Slow and steady resurgence of vinyl albums

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Vinyl records have not ridden the lightning just yet. It has, almost faded to obscurity, through the rise of cassette tapes and music CDs, driving the medium to an underground settlement where audiophiles kept its spirit alive in the trunk of their cars. Now, there is a resurgence of vinyl records. Not a big one, but big enough to put it back on the surface.

At the November Hi-Fi Show (an annual confluence of audiophiles and enthusiasts) in Dusit Thani Hotel, Makati, through the kindness of Tony Boy De Leon (the brains of the event), I was privileged to have met HiFi Show co-organizer Boy Bustamante. He was happy and enthusiastic to show me around the event that showcased high-end speakers, tube amplifiers, home theater setups and modern turntables; but it was Boy’s fervent love and appreciation for vinyl records that caught my attention as he led me to rooms full of vinyl albums from decades long ago to modern hits of Adele and Taylor Swift.

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With digital downloads – legit or otherwise – and apps like Spotify, Spinnr, and even YouTube, it is uncommon these days for anyone to be purchasing a music CD. Buying a vinyl record on the other hand, is a different story all together. Not only does it sound better, but it also has that overpowering sense of art and articulate craftsmanship.

Granted that every vintage classic becomes a collectible, vinyl records are hunted down and traded across here and there, and around the world.  We also have kids from the ‘80s, ‘90s, and some Y2K buggers, filling their shelves with original record albums of The Beatle’s “Revolver”, The Rolling Stone’s “Some Girls”, and Velvet Undergound’s “The Velvet Underground & Nico”.

Boy Bustamante and Jay Amante  are vinyl collectors, both of whom are ready to travel to any part of the country if a new vinyl hunting spot has landed on their radars.

Boy is “semi-retired” and  now deals with furniture, but continues to hold a large collection of vinyl records, and growing. He, and some friends, had set up The Fat Lady Corporation around the early ‘90s, bringing in CDs and records to the Philippines. Fat Lady was the sole distributor of Rhino Records in the country but because there had been no market for records then, the store they supplied didn’t want them displayed.
The vinyl records were then sold in the back of their cars.

“At that time, it didn’t seem like a lucrative venture,” Boy said. “But the good thing is, we get first pick.” He smilingly adds with a wink.

Jay is 37-years-old and owns a vinyl records shop at Katipunan Avenue, known as  the Grey Market, in the Bellitudo Lifestyle Strip, just beside White Plains. He grew up with a family that loved music.  He had experienced music through vinyl, tapes, CDs, and the more modern digital format.

“My point of view is that, music is good in whatever form. This is the thing, if some think that DSLR cameras are the best, but if you don’t have it with you, it doesn’t make sense. I guess in music, I want music to be everywhere. But in the end, if we talk about sound quality, I don’t think there’s a debate,” Jay said.

Boy, once again ventured into selling via DiscExchange, which he set up with some friends in 2003. On vinyl collecting in their community then, Boy said, “We had younger people also, but basically, it was the older collector’s market. The ones who collected during the’70-‘80s, meaning, true collectors. Unlike now, there are those starting collectors who want to try vinyl or those just out of plain curiosity on vinyl.”

When asked on how vinyl became a thing of curiosity for the youth these days, “To tell you the truth, I think naging ‘uso’. It’s hip to buy vinyl now. I don’t know if the trend will last, hopefully it will, so the vinyl market will grow.”

Jay agreed, saying “Sobrang uso (in style or in fashion). We have to go beyond ‘uso’. There are many things wrong in the ‘uso’ and it’s the wrong reason.”

“It’s good in a way, becoming ‘uso’,” Boy said. “There is that realization. Assuming out of ten people that got hooked up on the ‘uso’ – after a while, eight people lose interest, if the remaining two will go further, that’s good enough.”

If this is also a thing that “bandwagoners” hop on, both Boy and Jay had dismissed the idea. For them, the more people who get into vinyl, the better.

Jay elaborated. “It’s not important to dwell on the ‘bandwagoners’. It is something new to them. You have to realize the format started – ‘40s or ‘50s – probably ‘40s, but, interesting enough, during the ‘90s, basically the format disappeared. The vinyl format is nonexistent to the 20-year-olds now. For those who belong to the 25-years-old and below age bracket, this is something new.  For us, it’s something from the past that gives a different feeling.  It is actually fascinating when you get to hold a CD then hold a record plate. And these young collectors and the curious-seekers, should realize, we, have a reason why we buy these.”

“Number one, size.” Boy and Jay said in unintentional unison, oddly enough, their voice and thoughts were in synced.

“Back then, when we buy a record, we listen to it as a whole,” Boy said. “Because of digital downloads, you choose only what is popular. Even on CDs, with the convenience of skipping – don’t like the first track, ‘skip’.” With records and turntables. “Here, you have to get up, and if you’ll feel lazy to do so, you’re  forced to listen to the whole side. But in the process, you get to like the whole album. There are songs, that don’t become  ‘hits’. Today, we are dictated mostly by what the radio – and what the Internet often plays . With vinyl, you get to listen to the whole record.  As such, sometimes you discover that there is a story.”

“In a musician’s point of view,” Jay said, “they will make one radio friendly hit and the whole album is good to go. Musicians back then know you place the record on side A, you will listen to the whole thing, flip it and you’ll listen to it all, so the creative process is much appreciated and grabs the attention.”

“Well we can’t speak for the artist’s side,” Boy said. “But assuming the artists knows the whole side will be listened to, they’ll make a good and compelling story.” He cited Chicago as an example.

On starting a collection of vinyl records, Jay suggested, not to get a turntable with a built-in speaker, which is usually located at the turntable’s base. The vibration emitted from the built-ins could slightly disrupt the needle on top the record as it spins. “Slight” is all it takes to make a bad sound.

Boy suggested, get a decent turntable, probably around 10-15K priced device is good enough. Get brands that are known and don’t settle on mediocre brands, because they can provide dissatisfying sound quality, which Boy said, “Gives turntables a bad name”  and people tend to blame  the record.

For some,certain collectibles are kept somewhere safe and never to be touched. Boy and Jay encourage collectors to play the records and listen to the music. Also, as much as possible, always get the originals rather than the reissues. They can either be more expensive, depending on their value, or comes with a cheaper price tag, if it bears any personal value.

Whether vinyl is a current fad or not is not really important, as what Boy and Jay had said. What is important is that records are retracing their steps and making a slow, surefooted comeback. It won’t be as grand as the ‘60s and so on, but their presence will be around for a while, and it may take a bit longer walk before they may disappear for good. But for now, vinyl records are very much alive.

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