Some people really need more things to do! Oakland Toy Lab discovered some years ago you could play vinyl records using two pencils and your teeth…

This blog believes that there are a lot of people in the world who simply haven’t got enough things to do with their time. Maybe it’s because I’m one of those people who likes being busy or maybe because my diagnosis is actually correct. I’ll let you be the judge of that one…

One set of people who evidently didn’t have enough to do on one particular day some years ago was The Oakland Toy Lab. Because they managed to come up with the most pointless idea since someone at Colgate in the 1980s said “I know, let’s introduce a ready meals range, with meals like Colgate Lasagne”.

They created the tooth phonograph.

Yep. It’s exactly what it says on the tin.  You get two pencils and use one to spin the vinyl record and another to listen to what’s on the record. And if you think I’m joking, here’s a full set of instructions on how you could do it yourself. Although I’d honestly worry about the sanity of anyone who willingly wanted to.

It all reminds me of the last episode of British comedy Blackadder. It’s the first world war, and they’ve been told they’re leaving the trenches tomorrow – going over the top to a near certain death at the hands of enemy gunfire. Blackadder recalls how men would previously try to get out of the war by sticking a pair of underpants on their heads and two pencils up their nose to convince everyone they’d gone mad.

These tooth phonograph people are well and truly up at that level of bonkers…

So why DO you have to wait so long to get vinyl out of a record pressing plant these days? Staff shortages, lack of plants, Covid – and you can now add Jeff Bezos to the list!

One of the reasons I’ve pretty much stopped making music is because of the depressing realisation that there’s very little support for anything new. For example, back in the days of physical media, record labels invested heavily in new music. The old adage of “you’re only as good as your last record” was very much in play.

Once you’d pressed up your CDs and vinyl and sold it, unless there was massive demand for more, no more copies would be made. It was as simple as that. You could only rely on a record for so long – and loads of tricks were used to increase the lifespan of music. Pop releases in the 1990s frequently came with house and garage remixes. Sales on vinyl counted towards the final chart position and decent remixes were guaranteed to sell.

Not anymore. Streaming has turned this on its head. In the past, if you wanted to listen to old music, you had to actively hunt for it. You had to go to record shops which had second hand vinyl. These days, you just search for it on Spotify and there it is. As I reported recently, 66% of all audio streaming in the USA these days consists of “catalogue material” – that’s anything which was released over 18 months ago.

And this appetite for the old has now permeated the world of physical media too. This is one reason why vinyl sales are up dramatically on a few years ago, and why older music also dominates here too. That looks set to continue, as Amazon recently launched its own record of the month club. They send out a record dating from the 1960s or 1970s to their subscribers every month on vinyl.

A company like Amazon comes with massive clout. This is something which vinyl pressing plants will find hard to ignore. So whilst they’re pressing “dad rock for actual dads” for Jeff Bezos, as 5 Magazine put it recently, everyone else has to wait up to a year for their records to come out the plant doors. Not terribly fair…

Thanks to 5 Magazine for providing the inspiration for this post.

Eight months on, sending vinyl into the EU is still a laborious process – and the workarounds aren’t too viable either…

Who could honestly have anticipated that signing a deal to leave a major trading block on Christmas Eve in the middle of a pandemic whilst another wave was happening would be a bad idea? Worryingly, the answer is not many people. So only now, many months later, are some of Brexit’s ramifications becoming clear.

Back on July 4th, I wrote about how even Discogs were having trouble understanding the new rules on British customers shipping vinyl and CDs into the European Union. Which didn’t leave much hope for the rest of us. Bandcamp have been having much the same issues with sales – and this is causing problems for labels such as Balkan Vinyl.

They can’t send out vinyl via Bandcamp without their customers in the European Union incurring a tax bill on the order side. Sending vinyl through their distributor costs the label money. Anyone trying to send vinyl from England, Scotland and Wales into the EU has to fill in a customs declaration form – but not if you’re based in Northern Ireland.

This has created a strange situation. Whilst Great Britain has to get used to a new system which is more bureaucratic, expensive and takes longer than before, residents in Northern Ireland can continue posting things the way they’ve been done since 1993. If you have a way of getting vinyl across the Irish Sea and posting it from Belfast, you have a way around the problem – but I suspect it’s not an option for many.

I don’t remember the Brexiteers telling us years ago that they wanted posting to the EU to be more expensive. Eight months on, and this is yet another self-inflicted problem they have absolutely no intention of fixing…

You know that level on Super Mario Bros 3 where the sun is trying to kill you? Now it’s coming after your vinyl records as well!

There are one or two levels in the Super Mario Bros 3 game where the sun is basically your enemy. It chases after you and occasionally takes a swing down to try and catch you. Many an hour during my childhood were spent frustratingly trying to thwart this enemy.

Well, at the moment, the sun is killing vinyl records. Or warping them, to be precise. This happened on a smaller scale in the UK last week, but is particularly noteworthy in the USA – currently experiencing one of the biggest heatwaves in its history. People are ordering new vinyl and discovering it’s unplayable when it arrives – and it’s causing problems for manufacturers who already have a lot on their plate.

This all reminds me of a story a guy told me years ago. He told me he had some gigs lined up in Ibiza in 1995. When he got there, he arrived in the middle of one of the hottest summers that the Balearic Islands had seen in decades. Upon opening the box, he discovered several vinyl records in an unshapely mess.

But there was no time to replace the records. He just had to do his set and hope for the best, much to the bemusement of other DJs who’d never seen vinyl like this before. Whenever the sound started playing up, he’d just start playing about with the filters – somehow creating an almost flange sound.

His friends nicknamed him Flange for years afterwards…

Streaming up, downloads down: the state of music according to MRC Data – just don’t expect the dance music community to benefit from it!

MRC Data have just released a new report in the past few days, analysing trends on in the world of music. I’ve downloaded the whole report and found it quite fascinating reading – and although the report largely deals with the USA, I suspect a lot of it applies to the UK too.

Here’s the bit I found most fascinating at all – and it isn’t the revelation that vinyl sales increased by 108.2% in the USA last year. More on that in a minute. No, it’s the section about the Japanese market – who have stubbornly stayed loyal to physical means like CDs and vinyl whilst the rest of the world embraced digital. It looks like this trend could be changing.

Physical sales in Japan fell 9% between 2019 and 2020, whilst streaming revenues increased by 27% in the same period. It also reveals 64% of Japanese listeners use free streaming services. The industry might welcome this – all that vinyl is expensive to press, distribute and market. But as someone well aware of streaming’s derisory payouts, I can’t say I share their enthusiasm.

Streaming is up, downloads are down and physical sales are up. But anyone thinking this is good news if you’re into dance music had better think again. For starters, the dominance of the majors and the lack of vinyl pressing plants mean that waiting times to get your music pressed onto wax are the longest they’ve ever been.

Also, the first generation of dance music producers had their work on vinyl. Not just because it was the way DJs worked at the time, but because remixes were massively in demand in the 1990s. Sales of vinyl counted when it came to getting songs in the top 40, so drafting in the likes of Masters At Work, Love To Infinity, Frankie Knuckles and so on to make house mixes made sense.

Nowadays? The artists are still dominant on vinyl, but those remixers are nowhere to be seen…

Judge Jules won’t budge, but his vinyl will! Surprise at revelation that long time DJ no longer owns vinyl or turntables

I came across something of a surprise revelation over on Facebook earlier this week. Judge Jules might have got some stick from me last year for starting to do personalised videos for the random sum of £123.67, but I do remain something of a fan.

He’s one of the main reasons I got into house music in the 90s, and was often the reason I kept going back at times when I started wavering. So it was something of a surprise for me to see this on his Facebook page yesterday.

He did a post about how he planned to keep his live streams interesting – and they are pretty good, to be fair – by putting on themes each week. In response to someone who asked whether Jules would do a vinyl set, he responded with…

This initially came as a surprise, but upon looking into it, I came across this interview from 2017. Jules said..

“I’ve got a certain amount of my original vinyl, but I’m format agnostic and not really an anorak-ish vinyl collector. So, if I have a great track as a digital file then I’m not really bothered whether I still own the vinyl or not.”

The judge won’t budge, but he happily allowed his vinyl collection to do so…

No, music is not expensive, and here’s why

Periodically, someone comes along on the internet and complains that downloading their favourite music is simply too expensive. Do not fall for this view. Quite simply, it’s bollocks.

Music costs money to make. I have my own costs to pay. I have a subscription with Roland Cloud, for example, that needs paying. My costs aren’t huge compared to many, but they still exist.

I would love to be able to use real musicians and instruments on some of what I do, but the cost is a sizeable one. It’s almost certainly not something I’d be able to recoup based on my sales. Singers cost money. Mastering costs money.

Yet there are those out there who seem to think they have the divine right to compile folders full of other people’s music – that they have no rights to, by the way – and just give them away for nothing. They clearly don’t realise they’re helping destroy the music they claim to love. Artists won’t go on forever if they’re losing money.

If I’d been around making house music in the 1990s, you would have had to pay between six and eight pounds for my music on vinyl. If you wanted a copy, you’d have had to go out and buy one. Promo copies and test pressings did exist, but they could be pretty hard to get hold of.

So don’t complain to me that 99p is expensive for a song. It simply isn’t. If you want a full release now with a few remixes, it will probably cost you no more than a fiver. Those double 12″ back then would have cost £10 if you were lucky…

Bandcamp, vinyl and pressing my own

I note with interest, courtesy of the taxpayer loving Resident Advisor, that Bandcamp is rolling out their vinyl pressing service to the bigger community on their site. Previously, it was an invite only service.

Vinyl has always had a certain mystery for me. I did learn to mix on vinyl in 2005, but I didn’t spend long on the medium. The digital revolution was well underway and I moved on soon enough. So my knowledge and skill of the medium would be rusty, to say the least.

But now that I’m mulling over the idea of pressing a few things to vinyl, it’s reignited that interest. It might pass again, it might not.

What would you like to see me pressing to vinyl? Let me know in the comments below.