Arun asks:

Hi O-Dub,

I was wondering if you’re still buying new hip-hop vinyl these days. There were a couple soulstrut threads on how vinyl quality is going down and prices are going up, and Serato makes it easy to spin digital. I could be wrong about this, but it also seems like fewer rap singles are being put out on vinyl.

(Editor’s note: “Thanks” to Ned Raggett, people have been treating this like an article which…it’s not. That said, perhaps I may have overstated some claims so in the interests of toning down some of my “riffing off the dome” hyperbole, I’ve eased up a bit. Original comments now struck through).

All true.

Vinyl quality is going down – not just the quality of the physical vinyl itself but the vast majority some may use non-mastered CDs as their audio source (vs. an original, mastered analog source). To put it another way…if I take a cassette tape and then use that to create a vinyl record…the record isn’t going to sound better than the cassette just because it’s on vinyl. If the source material is lousy, transferring it to vinyl doesn’t suddenly improve the sound. Yet, a lot of (well-meaning) people seem to think that their new vinyl reissue of whatever sounds awesome just because it’s on vinyl but don’t consider (or likely, don’t know) what the audio source of the vinyl was to begin with. Subpar source –> subpar vinyl. I don’t care if you press that sucker on 800 gram vinyl or whatever.

That’s not to say all new vinyl is inferior. There’s plenty of smaller, speciality labels that do due diligence on quality vinyl releases. There are still pressing plants (mostly in Europe) that make quality vinyl. If a label/artist has access to quality analog masters, they can produce a superior results. But sufficed to say, these seem to be are the exceptions, not the rule. (h/t to both Chris Portugal and Andy Zax, who’ve been trying to raise these issues for a while now, mostly to deaf ears).

Also: from a DJing point of view, “original vinyl” isn’t superior to Serato either. The convenience factor of the latter is obvious and bringing vinyl to a gig these days seems more an exercise in providing one’s bonafides, aka “O.G. release, ya bish.” Believe me: I very much get the appeal of that but it’s ultimately about vinyl-as-fetish-object vs. vinyl-as-DJing-material. If we’re talking strictly utility value? New vinyl means very little.

For these reasons and others, rap labels have absolutely slowed down in producing mass quantities of 12″s or LPs on vinyl. The main exception are those cravenly bullshit RSD “limited edition” pressings that people grip and flip thanks to their manufactured scarcity. But if you’re a label and you can distribute a digital lossless version of a song you want DJs to spin vs. spending money to press that same single to vinyl? Labels are already notoriously cheap these days.

For all this, that doesn’t mean I’ve completely stopped buying hip-hop on vinyl but it really comes down to that aforementioned “fetish object” value vs. “I plan on spinning with this.” In a sense, what I elect to get on vinyl is my nod to that single/album’s quality, i.e. “I give enough of a fuck about this release to bother to buy it on vinyl even if it’s probably an inferior pressing.”

Logical? No. But then again, so little of collecting vinyl functions along the lines of logic.

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