Tuesday, September 7, 2010
Cellist (and friend of this blog) Gordon Withers takes to the stage tomorrow evening at Velvet Lounge as opener for All Tiny Creatures. As such, we thought it an opportune time for a chat. About vinyl. —Ed.
The recent vinyl renaissance has coincided nicely with my desire to finally record solo rock cello albums. Since my first album (Jawbox On Cello) was a benefit, it didn't really make financial sense to put it out on vinyl. However, it was something I really wanted to do for my second (s/t) album.
Ever since I was a kid, I loved vinyl. I had a Fisher Price turntable on which I would play (or ruin) my mom's old Beatles albums. I also loved my dad's collection of classical vinyl. Apparently he had belonged to whatever the 60's classical version of Columbia House was at that point, and had amassed an enormous collection from always having forgotten to send the little postcards back in time. At any rate, I grew up loving the sound of both old classical and rock albums - so rich, full, textured, crackly... so much character.
Fast forward (reset the needle?) to today. Much has been made recently about the resurgence of vinyl vis-a-vis the decline of other tangible musical products. At this point pretty much everyone agrees (finally!) that vinyl sounds better than CD's. But in the past couple of years, vinyl has come to fill emotional needs too. Playing a record is far more of a conscious act than listening to music on CD's or iTunes. LPs can be miniature works of art - or conversation starters. As the founder of BandCamp pointed out when launching their vinyl-only BCWax label, books and records are a physical manifestation of a person's taste - a visitor can easily peruse someone's physical collections of music and literature, but that is not so easily done on a computer or Kindle.
In producing a vinyl version of my new s/t album, I wanted a product somewhere in-between the expensive, collector packages that many artists are doing these days, and a low-end "vinyl version of the album". My research took me to Gotta Groove Records, the only new vinyl press to open in the US in years (and in Cleveland no less!). I fell in love with their backstory, but ultimately chose to hire them based on their commitment to quality. They don't skimp on the gram-weight for their basic records, and they'll also handle all of the printing, packaging, labels, etc. in-house. I had my good friend Dave Gonzalez design an amazing cover that looked best on the 12x12 vinyl package. I set up a BandCamp site to handle the distribution and download codes. Finally, I was lucky enough to get an early invite code to Kickstarter at this time last year, and set about financing the pressing of the vinyl via pledges and pre-orders.
An aside: BandCamp and Kickstarter have come to represent the gold-standard of independent music financing and distribution in the new decade. Their sites are so intuitive, well-designed, and infused with so much genuine love for art and music. If you are not familiar with them, it's worth spending the time to check them out. You'll discover so many amazing projects and artists within the first few minutes.
But back to the vinyl release. I tried to make the vinyl version "special", without being ridiculous. Many of the collectors' editions coming out these days I consider little more than price-gouging of hardcore fans. I priced my vinyl release at $10 (in retrospect, $12 would have been better), and included 2 download codes, handled through BandCamp: one for the album itself, and one for 2 bonus tracks (only available with the vinyl purchase). I went with standard black vinyl, standard labels, and regular sleeves to keep costs low. But I took a lot of care with the music itself. Anytime you record in J Robbins's Magpie Cage studio, you know you'll get an incredible-sounding end product. But we made sure to mix the album with an eye toward the vinyl version. Additionally, I had two masters made - one for the digital/CD release, and another for the vinyl. The latter had less compression, and was EQ'd to take advantage of the vinyl medium's strengths. To me, listening to the album on vinyl, it sounds like a whole different record. The first time I heard it, it was like a revelation.
I am definitely planning on doing all future releases on vinyl, whenever possible. I recommend it to others, too - if you have enough fans to support a Kickstarter project, you can pretty much do anything you want. And it may just be the Project Manager in me, but I really enjoyed the whole process. It's definitely a lot more intense and time-consuming than sending off a master to DiscMakers, but it's a lot more fun. I loved getting test pressings in the mail, approving label designs, and building the finished product when it finally arrived. Having a vinyl release, even one done totally independently, feels like a culmination of some kind - my music has finally arrived.
I'll have a few copies for sale at Wednesday's show, opening for All Tiny Creatures. I may not do a re-press, so get it while you can!
Gordon Withers - Cast Into The Sky (Mp3)
Gordon Withers - Revolving Doors (Mp3)
Approved for download!
Posted by Jon at 2:40 PM