Gold In The Bargain Bin – Where To Buy Music

Today’s post is about buying music, a topic I like to cover here from time to time. This time it isn’t so much how to buy it or what it costs, but it’s about where to buy it. And, more to the point, where I’ve bought it over the years.

While I was born in the late 70’s, I was a child of the 80’s and music was a big deal back then. Radio was huge, MTV was going full blast (with actual music), and people were scooping up albums left and right. Records were still a thing, cassettes were likely the predominant format, and CDs were around but just getting their legs under them.

Pop music was massive in the 80’s. Rock and metal were at their highest point of exposure and sales. Rap was emerging as a force. Country, well, it wasn’t necessarily great in the 80’s but a few legends of the game were setting themselves up on the scene. Music was everywhere – in ads, in movie soundtracks, it was big business in the decade of Reagan and cocaine.

For a good part of the population, buying music in the 1980’s was as simple as having the money for it. Mainstream releases flooded the shelves of both specialized music stores and general retail outlets. Mail order buying clubs existed, even if their best use wasn’t exactly above the board. It was pretty easy to get what you wanted when it came to music.

Well, mostly. I had it a little different. I didn’t grow up in a big city, my hometown’s population was around 2,500. It left one option, that being Wal-Mart. This wasn’t one of the SuperCenter Wal-Marts, either – this was a plain, old-fashioned Wal-Mart. The store was a different animal before the SuperCenter concept took off.

And as a side note – while I rarely ever visit my hometown anymore, I’m fairly certain that the store there is still a regular Wal-Mart, which is an oddity.

Anyway, Wal-Mart is where I had to buy music in my younger days. The selection was honestly pretty decent – I remember records still being in stock when I first really started paying attention to music, but I took to the cassette format due to cost and all that. I was into rock and hair metal at the time, and the store carried all a person could want and more of that.

As my tastes evolved in the early 1990’s, Wal-Mart would still serve a purpose but did become outmoded. I sought more and more stuff with the dreaded “Parental Advisory” sticker, and a holy site like Wal-Mart wouldn’t sell that.

They sort of did, once. I’ll post about it someday but I have to try to dig up more info on it first.

Thankfully a music store opened in the college town just 20 minutes down the highway from me. They had no qualms about selling PA sticker stuff to minors (that was never a law, despite many peoples’ misunderstanding of it) and they’d special order stuff that wasn’t on their shelves. I made out my remaining years of high school with that and the occasional order from underground distributors and labels.

I was in the military for four years and over in Europe during that time. While it seems nice on the surface, since a lot of metal comes from Europe, here’s a reality check – the music there is still just as underground as it is here, or at least was in the late ’90’s. There were plenty of music stores where I could get cool stuff, but mail order was still the lord of the land for more underground fare. That got easier with the advent of the Internet and online ordering, speeding up the process quite a bit.

After returning to the States just before the dawn of the new millennium, things began to shift. Music stores were still in force when I got back, but the digital music revolution clearly eroded the physical distribution model. Music stores began to decline as album sales fell, though the shops were far from extinct.

I was lucky for a very long time – a very quality CD store held out for a long time. Its name was CD Warehouse, and it was an awesome place to buy music. They had a great selection, the staff were super cool, and it was easy to spend a lot of time just browsing for something with no specific purchase in mind. A lot of what still sits on my shelf today came from CD Warehouse over the past few decades.

Sadly, the changing times caught up to the store, and they closed in the late 2010’s. It seemed as though buying physical music was confined to the online retailers. I was at a point where I had too much stuff anyway, so I was only making selective purchases when I really, really wanted to have something. It seemed that the idea of collecting music was going the way of the dinosaur.

But that’s not quite what happened, is it? I wasn’t paying all that much attention to it, but all through the last decade, a once thought-dead format was surging forward in a massive way. Even before my beloved CD store died out, vinyl was again a booming market. What’s old was new again, and the vinyl resurgence has carried into the 2020’s.

While there are plenty of places to buy records, we’ve been lucky that independent shops have seen a comeback. It’s so much better to buy in a shop run by people who know and care about what they’re selling, and the vinyl comeback has been a great opportunity for that sort of business.

Of course it’s getting to be a more rocky road. Vinyl prices are high, inflation is shit and it’s getting tougher to buy music. I’ve personally cut things off entirely for a bit as I regroup financially, and I know many others who have curtailed or eliminated purchases altogether. It’s a necessary thing in the present reality, but it’s a terrible thing for those independent stores who rely on those sales. Big box stores and online monoliths can get buy without music sales, but it’s the thing keeping the good shops alive.

And that sums up the journey of buying music from 1980-whatever through to the present day. I’m sure there will be further adventures in that regard, that is, if I can ever find that elusive thing called “surplus money” again. Nothing beats hitting up the store and finding that perfect album to haul home and put on.

Down In A Hole – Vinyl Prices In Late 2022

From time to time I like to revisit the topic of vinyl record prices. I talked about them not too long ago and, while returns are still early, it looks like the bottom might not be falling out of the market after all. There’s also a huge piece of news for a highly-coveted album from the 90’s being reissued.

While the US is apparently in an unsaid recession, inflation has been falling a bit and so far most collectibles markets seem to be holding steady. I keep an eye on the price of a few different LPs just to see how the price is moving, and so far nothing is off. No falloffs big or small, everything is holding steady. Maybe the number of sales are declining some, but that’s not information I have real access to.

I said last time that a vinyl crash wouldn’t be a good thing for buyers, even if prices fell. It looks like maybe, must maybe, we won’t see the worst case scenario of an all-out crash. I would expect some attrition in a down economy, but as of now we don’t know just how down this economy will truly be. At least at this point, things appear to be holding steady enough.

There are two ways to lower the price of secondary market titles that have huge price tags -crash the vinyl market to the point of oblivion, or reissue the old material. The second option is much preferred. And there is a heavy hitter coming to the reissue market soon.

In September, the market will see a new pressing of Dirt, the 1992 masterpiece from Alice In Chains. I can’t say for sure how many copies of the new pressing there will be – I thought somewhere said it was 2,000, but I can’t say for sure. Hopefully there will be enough to go around, again I don’t know the details.

It is a fantastic time for a repress of Dirt, because prices were getting out of control. All year it has sold at or near $100 US for a 2009 reissue (the one I happen to have). Not much movement since the reissue news, though a copy did sell for $60. Listing still abound at over $100, but I don’t see many copies moving until the new reissue’s stock makes its way through the market.

And I wonder what happens at the end of it all – will the 2009 press crash in price, or will it hold if the new reissue is limited in scope? I know the Facelift reissue awhile back was somewhat limited in nature, but I also know there are still stray copies out there at retail prices. Will Dirt get snatched up before anyone knows what happened or will it linger on shelves for a little while?

So Dirt is getting bailed out, at least for a bit. But what about the other coveted Alice In Chains records? The self-titled has never seen a reissue and costs an arm and a leg right now. If we are to use 30th anniversaries as a planned reissue guide, we have three years to go before a reissue. That’s a long time.

And what about Alice In Chains MTV Unplugged? The record was at retail prices not all that long ago, in fact I picked one up for roughly $30 late 2020 or whenever. Now? That thing can’t be had for under $200. And there isn’t a reissue in ready sight for it. I’ve said it before and haven’t done it yet, but I’m tempted to cash out on that one and get me some damn money.

That’s the one I’m really gonna watch over the next few months. I’m curious how Dirt does, but with no reissue in sight, how far does Unplugged go? A potential buyer apparently can’t rely on a shit economy to depress prices, so should a seller lean into the good times and cash out? I ask to myself to decide what I should do with a coveted record I could turn into several other records, and I ask in a general sense in our weird, shaky economy when we try to decide what to do with the relative value of stuff.

The Alice In Chains record prices are something I’ll keep an eye on in the next few months. In terms of blogging, I want to see how Dirt does after the reissue. I would think the older reissue, like mine, would tank, but early indications don’t show that. And we’ll see how the economy holds up, and if there are people out there still willing to throw down $300 plus on Unplugged, or if things start going south and demand softens.

There’s the general vinyl economy, and apparently there’s also the Alice In Chains vinyl sub-economy. Let’s see if I should ride it to the moon or get out while it’s hot out.

Disfear and Doomriders – All Paths Lead To Nothing, There Is Only Death

It’s that time of the week to dig into another offering from my singles collection. Today it’s the good old split single – two bands each offer a song, the vinyl gets pressed and here we are years later looking over the results. Split singles and even albums have been a consistent feature of the metal underground. I was never one to splurge on such things but I’ve wound up with a handful in my collection.

Today it’s a double dip into some very noisy territory – Swedish D-beat merchants Disfear are paired alongside American metal act Doomriders for this 2008/2009 split. Sometimes these split singles get their own “album” names and other times they don’t. In this case the single does have its own title completely separate from the two songs.

This isn’t necessarily an “unlikely” pairing but there is a common thread to tie these bands together – both groups recorded albums in this timeframe at GodCity Studios. GodCity is the brainchild of Kurt Ballou, who plays in Converge and has also produced a great deal of work at the studio. Ballou is also bandmates in Converge with Nate Newton, who is the head of the Doomriders project. (Note – the Disfear song on this release was recorded among themselves and not part of Disfear’s album at GodCity)

A lot of metal band trivia here, and more to come – but in reality there are only two songs to discuss here, so let’s have at it.

Disfear – Fear And Trembling

Disfear is an unsettling proposition, owing its sound to the crust punk and D-beat scene. It’s a very underground affair with English group Discharge as one of its primary pioneers. The music is very, very unsettling, noisy and not for the faint of heart.

Disfear themselves have a long history, though broken up in phases. They were around in the 1990’s but would go on hiatus and reform under a very different line-up in the early 2000’s. Two original members would remain and would be joined by Swedish death metal royalty – Entombed guitarist Ulf Cederlund and At The Gates vocalist Tomas Lindberg helped Disfear into a new millennium.

Our song today is, as far as I can tell, exclusive to this release. It was not featured on their 2008 album Live The Storm and the band haven’t done any further releases so I suppose this single is the only place to get the song. As luck would have it, this split is still in print for anyone who stumbles upon this and just has to have it.

As I’ve said, this music is not for the weak of ear or constitution. It is a noisy mess. Even for the standards of Swedish death metal, Disfear makes those bands sound like orchestra music. Lyrically it is apparently a dissection of Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard’s work of the same name. As lyrics and background info are hard to find for this song, I can’t source that claim, but I saw it in a YouTube comment so it’s probably true. And knowing how Tomas Lindberg likes to source such material, I would feel safe in the assumption.

Again, I’m pretty sure this is something most of my regular readers are not going to be into. This song is a headache in vinyl form. But this is my series of singles and well, here you are.

Doomriders – Crooked Path

Out to something still harsh and noisy but perhaps more conventional, we have New England’s metal/sludge outfit Doomriders. The group is the conception of Nate Newton, who is a member of the aforementioned Converge, as well as Old Man Gloom and presently Cave In.

When I first got this split, which was way back in ’09 when it released stateside, this was the song that pulled me in more. I was familiar with Disfear but not with Doomriders and this was a sound I was pretty well lacking at that time. It is gruff but also groovy and well performed. I was very much into stuff like High On Fire around this time and this was a worthy compliment to that.

Crooked Path did see release on an album – the Doomriders’ 2009 Darkness Comes Alive. This single that I purchased for the involvement of Disfear led me to the Doomriders and it’s been a fond listening relationship since.

That’s about all for this one. The single was packaged in somewhat unique fashion – instead of a slipsheet or cardboard holder, a massive poster is folded into the 7 inch sleeve. I wouldn’t dare unfold it because I’d spend the rest of my life trying to get it back in to the sleeve, but it’s a nice touch for a cheap, out of the way single. (Actually not, it’s really easy to open and put back together as it turns out…) Stay tuned next week for another oddity from my collection of 7 inch single horrors.

What Goes Up Must Come Down – Vinyl Prices In 2022

I’ve written about this a few times now but it’s time again to look at the price of vinyl. It’s a massive topic in the world of music collecting (obviously) and it’s been a thorn in the side of many a collector for the past while. I know I feel the pinch and have tightened up my buying, and several others have relayed that they too are either limiting or cutting out buying altogether.

But – there is a mitigating factor to consider here. It’s a big one too. The economy? It’s a pile of trash right now. Inflation is out the yazoo (though prices are apparently creeping their way back down). Wealth disparity is at some kind of all-time high and everything just seems like a burning wreck right now. Even if things get better, it will be incremental and will likely take time to get to some kind of plateau.

So – what’s the rule about what happens to the prices of collectibles in a crap economy? Collectibles take a nose dive in price when the economy sucks. It makes sense – spending money on collectible stuff is a luxury, and in tough times many people have to pare down and focus on the essentials. It might be a lovely thought to have a collection of every Air Supply single released in all major countries, but who can afford that when rent is quadrupling in price?

There is a bit of caveat here – this possible drop in price likely only applies to the secondary market. New vinyl releases will most likely retain their current price points. New vinyl has been going up, a symptom of supply constraints and the rising costs of everything. Vinyl costs more to make so it will cost more to buy. Maybe there will be some budget-minded reissues or something once the supply issues are fully worked out, but I would imagine the new vinyl market will remain mostly where it is now.

But old records? Those have been priced to the moon in the past few years. Before the great vinyl boom of the 2010’s, a person could hit up a yard sale or flea market and walk away with a nice copy of an old standard for a quarter or a buck at best. Even a copy of a hallowed release like Air Supply’s Greatest Hits could be tripped over at the entrance to a flea market.

Since the vinyl boom, though, prices of even pedestrian old releases can bust $20. Budget record shopping is almost non-existent. Anything with a hint of collectible value is through the roof, and scarce releases like a lot of 1990’s vinyl have insane prices. That is the market that is likely to suffer in an economic downturn.

All out of love AND money

I haven’t noticed much action on prices yet, or much of anything from the vinyl market. But the signs are out there in other collectible categories. The collectible card games market (Magic The Gathering, etc) is seeing soft demand and lower prices on old product. The warning bells are already ringing in that sector, and it only stands to reason that other markets will follow.

Of course any real kind of downturn doesn’t happen overnight. There will still be tons of listings on Discogs for prices well above the listed median. But those records will just sit there. Stores that want to move inventory will begin marking down. And private collectors faced with troubling times will list their stuff in fire sale mode, driving prices down.

This scenario isn’t necessarily a boon for the budget-minded collector. The vinyl boom brought about a host of new record stores, owned and operated as small business ventures. Those stores will suffer during a vinyl downturn. This whole thing won’t just be a price correction because of the economy – it will lower demand and stunt the ability of sellers to find buyers. The ability to get vinyl at lower prices would come after a massive culling and our collecting landscape would not be the same.

Now I don’t know what will truly happen – it could be total doomsday, or it could be some lesser version of events that knocks stuff down a bit but doesn’t have earth-shattering effects on the scene as a whole. But the formula for a vinyl downturn is there – simply put, it’s in the economic downturn as a whole. How it all plays out remains to be seen.

On the note of vinyl and prices – I know myself and many others have been limiting purchases, or given up totally. I’ve only bought a few things this year and I have few plans for future buying – it’s expensive and I need my money for other things.

Here is a video done recently by my buddy David on his YouTube channel Hard Rock Reverie. He talks about this issue and his own suspension of purchases. There are a lot of collecting dominoes falling right now and that’s probably not a good sign for the state of the market.

The Ever-Winding Saga of Tool Vinyl

It is time to update the ongoing Tool Fear Inoculum vinyl saga. I have posted about it before, this was when I brought it up as part of a larger look at vinyl prices. While I want to cover that latter topic again, this Tool thing has grown legs of its own now and deserves its own post.

Last I wrote, the band had offered an ultra deluxe 5 LP, signed version of the album to VIP ticket holders at concerts. The box was priced at $800 for them. A “normal” (or, uh, unsigned) version of the box was made available to the public in April for around $160. I secured a copy, even though I’ve had a bit of a year and have better things to spend my money on.

My last line about the Tool LP package in that post has me cracking up right now:

“These will be flipped very hard when they hit in April, no doubt about it.”

It’s LOL time. Quite the opposite of being flipped hard, it turns out there is plentiful supply of the 5 LP box set. As soon as the boxes hit the market it was clear that supply was going to outpace demand. $160 quickly turned into $130, then the Discogs median crashed into the $99 dollar range. It is very easy to pick up a copy of the 5 LP box set for $99 plus $8 or so shipping today, months after release. Brick and mortar stores will sell them at cost just to get rid of them, which is a touch more than online pricing but should tell you something about just how depressed this asset is financially.

It turns out I was wrong about something. But hey, in today’s climate of Record Store Day flipping and price gouging, can anyone blame me for guessing that the Tool box would go for big money? I was far from the only one – many Tool fans rushed to get their pre-orders in, with good old FOMO (fear of missing out) playing its part in the modern vinyl economy.

Before I move on I do want to mention something – I am not, at all, mad about this. I wanted Fear Inoculum on vinyl and I have it. It’s not “worthless” by any means, though it is worth less than what I paid for it. It is an album I really wanted to have on vinyl and now it is on my shelf – its financial value is not a concern beyond any possible replacement cost from a disaster of some sort. I don’t feel “ripped off” because the price is less than I paid for it. I don’t complain when a record has a secondary market value far above its retail price, so I’m not gonna cry over spilled milk if one isolated album actually was pressed beyond demand.

If the Tool vinyl saga ended here, it would be a mildly funny but not all that out there story. It’s almost a nice thing – in the age of vinyl scarcity and supply constraints, a group of fans got a deluxe format for not a bad price. But, alas, the saga does not end here.

This is actually the third time I brought up the Tool vinyl in a post. I also covered it in a post called “Sticker Shock” when the world first learned of the deluxe box. I’ve updated it once to reflect a lower price point than what I originally anticipated, and I’m about to update it again to reflect that almost everything I said in that post is now bullshit. Or actually, it isn’t.

Here’s a choice cut from the Sticker Shock post:

“After all – if the vinyl takes up 5 sides, that only requires 3 LPs.”

It’s true – the deluxe version of Fear Inoculum is on 5 single-sided vinyl records with etchings on the other sides. That would easily fit on 3 LPs, it’s very obvious. It was obvious to me when I typed it in February and it’s obvious to Tool and their record label, who will be releasing a 3 LP version of Fear Inoculum in August. The price point for this release is running around $65.

On the surface it does seem funny that there will be a $65 version of the record when a $99 deluxe version can be had. But hey, in today’s economy, that $35 difference can add up. It saves money, it takes up less space than the gigantisaur 5 LP box, it (probably) isn’t insanely reflective and impossible to photograph like the 5 LP box. This version also has unique artwork from guitarist Adam Jones, so I’ll bet even some people who bought the big box will also buy this. Tool fans are easily parted from their money, we’ve certainly seen that in action. (I will not be buying the new configuration, for clarity’s sake).

Something else I said in Sticker Shock still rings true – Aenima is not readily available on record, the original pressing is scarce and costs several hundred dollars. And yet that’s better than the status of 10,000 Days, which is 16 years old and has never been pressed on (official) vinyl. But here we are with now two official pressings of the most recent album. That is one point several fans have been up in arms about that I can’t fault them for. I too would like to have vinyl copies of both of those records.

Of course, no one outside of the usual channels knows if there are plans for pressings of those other albums – we’ll find out if an when pre-orders open, more likely than not. It would seem strange to essentially flood the market with Fear Inoculum yet ignore highly sought-after versions of past records. But Tool is a strange band, so I won’t place a bet on it either way.

And so now, finally, I can (probably) lay the Tool Fear Inoculum vinyl saga to rest. My old “Sticker Shock” post from February seems freaking obsolete now, and even the blurb in the other post barely covered the tip of the iceberg with how this whole ordeal panned out. But hey, it’s hard to complain about having a ready supply of something on vinyl, given the scarcity and supply constraints still gripping the industry.

Price Points

I’ve done a few posts about money and prices of a few different things recently. I thought I’d do a few quick updates and also discuss the insane prices of a few records. But first, I’ll provide two quick recaps of prices I covered awhile back.

Megadeth cryptocurrency

As I wrote in the original post, I was a foolhardy individual and dropped $10 on Megadeth’s crypto launch awhile back. That was in December when $MEGA was first on offer. The price was tanking when I posted about it, my $10 had whittled down to $7.

Here we are a month and a half later. My $7 in 21 Megacoins is now a bit under $5. It appears that economic forces have further stifled any fortune I might have made off Megadeth and cryptocurrency. I really don’t know what to do with these Megacoins so I will probably just ride this rocket straight into the ground. I could have done any number of things with that ten spot but oh well, the meme was worth it.

Tool’s last album on vinyl

I did a post just after we all found out that Tool were selling “tour editions” of Fear Inoculum on record for $800 at their shows. The price point was insane, even for an autographed edition of an unwieldy, super deluxe 5 LP edition in ornate packaging.

As updates to my original post indicate, the band opened up the “normal” edition of the album for pre-orders to ship in the beginning of April. Those not-tour editions came with a much more reasonable price tag of $170. Though I probably have better things to spend money on I went ahead and pulled the trigger on a pre-order. It’s excessive and not at all necessary, but under $200 is a justifiable price point for the ultra deluxe package. A more budget-friendly 3 LP edition could be manufactured, but as I noted in the original post, Tool are in no rush to get their albums on vinyl so I didn’t want to be left out. These will be flipped very hard when they hit in April, no doubt about it.

Vinyl prices are nuts

I’ve been over it a few times, including just the other day – vinyl prices are crazy. The supply is constrained by outsized demand and undersized manufacturing. Things do not appear poised to get better any time soon, it seems people are hoping that capacity magically increases itself or something.

One thing I’ve noticed is that the secondary market is really getting out of hand. I don’t know enough about it to know if it’s coordinated flipper/gouging activity or if it’s simply supply and demand. Maybe it’s both, I don’t know.

Over the past 18 months or so I picked up most of the Alice In Chains discography on vinyl. Facelift got a new reissue in 2020 and I got it from the local record store on release. I bought Dirt, Unplugged and Jar Of Flies/Sap as well, all were older reissues that I paid normal retail prices for. I don’t have the self-titled release as it hasn’t been reissued and goes for big money, I also don’t have 2000’s albums as they spiked quite a bit right after release.

But going back to the Layne Stayley-era albums I did get – I bought these about a year ago, maybe late 2020. Again, I paid $30 or less for each of them, they were all on the store shelves and priced in the normal $25-30 range. Here are the present Discogs median values for each of these releases.

Dirt – $111

Facelift – $37 (nothing listed for sale under $50 though)

Jar Of Flies/Sap – $109

Unplugged – $189

Those prices are crazy. Facelift is still holding serve as a newer reissue but the intent of sellers to mark it up is clear. The others have flown up in value and are approaching crazy territory. And, as usual, the copies listed for sale are well over the median prices.

Alice In Chains is a very popular act and their vinyl will remain in high demand. Everything could be reissued again to keep prices at retail for buyers who don’t want to sell a kidney for the records, but of course the supply constraints of vinyl manufacturing come into play. How long would it take to press new runs of these albums? Would the major label take priority at a record plant and shut out smaller labels already far behind on album releases, or will the label just let the high secondary market continue and do a reissue later on? It isn’t like record labels really care about secondary prices, other than to gauge perceived demand for a back catalog repress.

I’ve had thoughts about selling off my AIC records with these insane prices going on. I don’t want to mess with the online marketplace though and I don’t know what I’d get from a record store for them, so I probably won’t. But these prices are tempting to sell into.

Is the Vinyl Bubble ready to burst?

The price of vinyl records and the scant supply remains a hot button issue in the music world. Prices of records, even fairly recent reissues, are causing eyes to pop out of heads. Even a run through stuff I bought at retail prices last year is making me consider offloading some stuff at inflated secondary values.

But the core issue at the heart of all ills in the vinyl world is the supply constraints. Existing plants are backlogged for months on end. Bands wishing to release albums often wait months after a digital and CD release date to offer a vinyl version. Some independent labels have floated the idea of not pressing vinyl or only doing it as an ultra-limited format. Vinyl is a red hot market but its supply issues could cause a bubble burst that might lead to a collapse of the format. People can’t be interested in what they can’t get.

All of this is at the heart of a new communication from Jack White, released yesterday. White has been involved in every facet of the music business – fan, artist and producer, as well as label owner, retail store owner and vinyl manufacturer. His statement discussed the issues at hand in the record industry through what he sees via his Third Man Records group.

This article from Pitchfork provides White’s statement, which is also in the above YouTube clip in abbreviated form. In it White is asking the 3 major record labels to invest in their own vinyl record production facilities in order to head off the massive supply issues currently plaguing the industry.

White’s appeal takes the high road and does not throw major labels under the same bus that many music fans like to throw said labels under. Last year Adele’s latest release was widely blamed for clogging record plant capacity as half a million records were pressed. This NME article has some industry experts explain, in their terms, why Adele and the majors aren’t the core issue behind record delays. I don’t know where I am in this argument but the people in that article possess a lot more knowledge of the landscape than I do so I’ll defer to their judgment.

One paragraph in White’s statement really hits home with me.

There are people who will say—isn’t this good for Third Man? More demand than you can handle? To which I say, even though Third Man benefits in the short term, in the long term it ultimately hurts everyone involved in the vinyl ecosystem given the bottlenecks and delays. Something needs to be done.

This is a point I’ve made in a few posts since I’ve been running this site. If these vinyl bottlenecks aren’t dealt with, it is going to have several ripple effects that cause the format to suffer. Bands and labels, especially independents, will abandon or at least curtail their use of vinyl due to lack of power to have their products made. The prices of highly sought-after records will climb on the secondary market if reissues can’t be pressed to meet demand. Vinyl will become a purely high-end market and effectively price out the average consumer in a time when the average consumer’s money isn’t going as far as it used to for a number of reasons.

Vinyl demand has climbed in the past decade or so and has skyrocketed since the 2020 pandemic. The industry is left without ways to quickly answer the demand, which in the end will lead to shrinking demand. Some collectors will give up out of disgust at high prices, others will scale back to only grabbing their personal essentials. Maybe the next year will see something tilt the pendulum back towards consumers but it isn’t a rosy outlook right now.

More pressing plants is the easy answer to the problem. Hell, I spent a bit of time last year looking into the prospect. While it isn’t hard to get presses, they are very expensive and the cost of starting a pressing plant is very, very high. It is honestly out of my reach as an individual with no business ties or experience in the industry.

Of course, Jack White isn’t asking everyday blokes like me to find millions in capital and open vinyl plants. He’s asking the major labels to shoulder the burden of producing their own records. The majors closed up vinyl shop in the 1990’s when the format fell off a cliff and are now using the handful of operators around that mostly opened shop to service independent labels.

It is a logical solution to the problem, though of course there is another side of the argument. If I were a major label, I’d be reluctant to fund any massive kind of vinyl pressing operation. They get by as it is via buying out the capacity of existing providers and they may not want to tie up the money and infrastructure in a format that has no guarantee of lasting. It’s a cold and clinical business outlook, but that’s exactly how these huge businesses look at things.

White’s message does reference investors standing by, willing to get in on the action while the market is hot. Perhaps enough new plants can open up to stave off a massive burst in the vinyl bubble. And, with the most rose-colored of lenses, perhaps the appeal to the majors to press their own damn records will be heard and heeded. I won’t bet money on it, but I’ve been known to be wrong a time or two.

There are looming problems on the vinyl horizon, and this appeal from Jack White should be taken as stark recognition of that fact. Plenty of people are willing to collect physical formats and vinyl has become the format of choice, but it is getting out of hand. And the supply not meeting demand poses a huge issue that could sink the format before it got its 2020 legs under it.

Sticker Shock

UPDATE 7-6-22: This whole post is essentially obsolete now. The limited box is hanging out at around $100 , and a new 3 LP version has also been announced. Here is a much more up to date post about the whole ordeal.

UPDATE 2-25-22: Pre-orders for the Fear Inoculum 5 LP version are now live, shipping on April 8th. The price is a manageable $169. A bit pricey but far less than I was expecting.

We are in a pandemic economy, rife with supply shortages, inflation, and a lot of other things that are complicated but make stuff cost more. We are also in the marketing era of the hypebeast, where FOMO rules the day and stuff that is hard to get becomes all the more attractive. Combine the two and things get really, really expensive.

Even all of that might not account for the latest music-related marketing craze. Earlier this week fans at Tool concerts began circulating the news – the long-awaited vinyl version of Fear Inoculum was for sale to VIP ticket holders.

The price? $750, with assorted fees and taxes, $810.

There is context here, though likely not $800 worth. The record box set comprises 5 LPs. Yes, Fear Inoculum is a long album at a bit over 80 minutes but it does not take up 5 records. The LPs are single-sided and feature etched designs on the second sides. The packaging is a deluxe version to accommodate the lofty record total and the editions being sold are signed by the band. A “general” edition will be for sale around April according to the band’s social media. No word yet if that version is this same one just unsigned (likely since it’s already pressed) or if there is a different (read: cheaper) configuration planned.

Obviously there’s a lot to unpack here. I’ve never been one to gripe about high-priced merch, as a rule. If Kiss wants to sell “Koffins” for stupid amounts of money, have at it. I don’t have to buy that, I don’t have to buy super mega deluxe collector’s versions of anything and I don’t have to spend $800 to buy Fear Inoculum on record.

All this does point to a problem, though – is this the only version of the record being released? I don’t expect it to hit for a $750 price tag on wider release in April but this could be $200 or $300 easily (EDIT – It’s $169, expensive but not horrible I guess). And if it’s the only official vinyl version of the album available, well, that kind of sucks. It forces a purchase at retail right away or a prospective buyer runs the risk of paying out the nose for it on the secondary market. It does break the line of affordability, even when considering this is something of a luxury market in the first place.

Tool is not one to shy from expensive memorabilia. Their merch table features many items priced far above the median line for arena bands. Having a $800 record might seem insane, and it is, but it’s not out of the ballpark for the group.

Perhaps this is just a limited, ultra version and a baseline, no-frills set will be released? Sure it will. I’d love to have their 2006 set 10,000 Days on vinyl. That album has been out for 5,778 days as of the date of this post and no official vinyl has been released. And their seminal 1996 set Aenima? An original pressing exists and will set a collector back several hundred dollars. No reasonable reissue in sight. I’m skeptical that there will be any consideration to a halfway affordable version of Fear Inoculum given the band’s proclivities with high-priced merch and no urgency to reissue scarce or non-existent pressings of past records.

I can easily say I won’t be buying this record, unless something happens and it is cheaper than expected (EDIT – it is cheaper and I am buying it) or a different version at a lower price point is released. I don’t have the money to prioritize to a high-end collectible thing at this point and honestly I don’t want to spend that much on what amounts to one album. I’ve spent a bit more on a highly collectible set before but that has 26 records in it and was a different story at a different time.

Tool fans are in a tizzy over the news of the record’s scope and price. Not Tool fans are having a laugh at the state of Tool merch and the six-figure job needed to acquire it. I guess time will tell if Fear Inoculum will be made available in a more budget-friendly configuration later on. After all – if the album takes up 5 sides, that only requires 3 LPs. I don’t know and we won’t know until release, but I pretty well do know what album won’t be on my record shelf.

Back From The Dead? The CD re-examined

One thing I’ve meant to write more about but haven’t got to much of is the topic of collecting. Though the issue of collecting is not necessary to discuss music, it is an important part of music for me and many other people.

Music collecting looked to be going the way of the dinosaur roughly a decade ago as digital music and streaming took completely over. But just as the digital revolution seemed to be ready to deal physical formats a death blow, something happened – vinyl sales shot up. They shot up big and are still going strong today. In fact, the industry is plagued with delays and shortages. The secondary market has become a nightmare of price gouging and watching stuff that was once a dollar in the bargain bin go for $20 or more.

While vinyl saw a new life in the 2010s, one format that looked to be on the way out was the compact disc. The CD revolutionized music in the 1980’s and especially the 90’s. It bulldozed cassettes and vinyl records into near oblivion, then saw itself outmoded in the face of digital formats. People sold off their CD collections, the prices tanked, and stores tied to the format faced extinction.

2021 delivered a bit of favorable news for the CD – sales were up a bit over 1% for the year. This article from Pitchfork gives the stats breakdown – the CD moved 40.4 million units in 2021, up from 40.1 a year prior. Though not the biggest sales spike ever, this is the first year CD sales increased since 2004.

One wonders how much life the CD truly has in it. The sales spike was prompted by the two biggest names in music – Adele and Taylor Swift. A new Adele album will cause sales to soar, and Taylor is re-recording her music to escape unfavorable rights management of her old catalog.

Is this sales surge a flash in the pan or a sign of a shift back to the nearly-dead CD format? Adele doesn’t release new music that often and can’t prop up the music industry on her own. And Taylor will run out of back catalog to re-do at some point. Are there other sales drivers to sustain a renewed push for CD’s?

A fair portion of my disorganized CD collection

It is easy to write off the CD surge as a one-off event. After all, the CD format is outpaced by the convenience of streaming. While streaming is not generally of the same quality as a CD, it is obviously good enough for the masses. There doesn’t seem to be an indicator that people might move from streaming back to the CD.

Except, well, there are a few. The jump back to CDs might not have anything to do with streaming – it lies in the current state of vinyl.

Vinyl is in the midst of a huge renaissance right now. Sales are huge, record stores have opened across the land and collectors are gleefully shoving handfuls of cash off for the sweet new limited pressing of their favorite acts. It was an unlikely resurrection, fueled in no small part by the much-reviled hipster of the late 00’s and early 10’s.

But there are signs of trouble on the horizon. Right now vinyl is expensive and only growing in price, much like everything else these days. The secondary market is out of reach for most collectors of modest means. And manufacturing plants are backed up enough that some albums are getting their vinyl release almost a year after the same album dropped on CD and streaming. Major players like Adele hogging limited production resources only exacerbate the vinyl supply problem.

I know this shit is getting expensive

I don’t have statistical data in the same way we can track the rise in CD sales but I do have anecdotal evidence that some collectors are backing off vinyl and returning to the CD format. A little money goes a much longer way on CDs than on vinyl. Especially for back catalog collecting – imagine the amount of money someone would need to get, say, the Scorpions extensive catalog on record. Now have a look at used CD prices for the same band the next time you’re out. Much, much cheaper.

There is another issue looming – again anecdotal, but some independent and underground labels are having such fits getting vinyl pressed that they are considering abandoning the format. That might be a bit extreme but there is a realistic possibility that vinyl becomes a very niche and expensive high-end market while the masses may have to find content in CDs or streaming.

I don’t want to be a prophet of doom, except maybe when I’m plugging the doom genre, but it might be looking a bit hairy for vinyl. I’d guess it still has legs under it for awhile but the market forces do need some correction before a segment of the marketplace turns their backs on it. I don’t know if that will equal a new boom for CDs or not, or if this new advent of the format is just a glitch brought about by a few major artists releasing albums at once.

I do know that I and many others will maintain collections no matter what happens with the market at large, but the present and future states of affairs do shape and inform what we do. I hesitate to say that the CD is on the way back, even with some promising signs. The unfortunate part is that the most positive indicators for a CD revival are at the expense of the vinyl resurgence. Only time will tell.

No theme here, posting this just because

Paying The Price – Collecting Records In 2021

One topic I want to cover more aspects of on here is music collecting. Not everyone does it these days but several of us still have collections of various physical formats. I’ve done one post so far on my own collection, as well as this post specifically about my Iron Maiden collection. And there are numerous issues within the realm of collecting that I plan to discuss going forward.

Today I want to get into vinyl collecting specifically and one huge elephant in the room that comes with modern-day record buying. Overall it’s the price of records today that has become an issue of huge concern among collectors. Back ten or so years ago old records were in flea markets for a few bucks apiece, while new records that were coming out could be had for maybe $20.

The music industry flipped on its head a few times in the past decade though, and now we live in a world where new releases push $30 or more and many old records are sought-after relics that command big prices depending on the shape they’re in. Flea market rummaging these days is reserved for the old polka classics that never had much of a market in the first place.

This isn’t a simple examination that ends with “damn, records are expensive.” There are a number of factors that play into the vinyl price inflation and why the market is the way it is today. Of course the prices of everything go up over time. If that was the only issue here I wouldn’t have a topic to write about. I know people love to lament how much cheaper things were way back when, but it’s a baseline business education fact that prices go up every year. This affects manufacturers, distributors and obviously, consumers. There’s nothing else to see here in regards to increasing prices.

What we have is a resurgence in vinyl interest. The record was a dead format, having been killed off in the early ’90’s in favor of the smaller CD. Then the digital revolution came and threatened the very existence of physical collections. I myself was still buying CDs and even a few records into the 2010’s but by and large people kept their music on their phones. This then gave way to streaming, where all you have to do is pay someone $10 a month to listen to more music than most people could ever bother with.

But then the vinyl boom came around and totally turned the physical market on its head. Records had never totally gone away – they were issued in limited pressings for diehard fans and collectors. Some of those 2000’s releases are now small goldmines. I’d love to have a vinyl copy of Neil Young’s 2007 Chrome Dreams II, but the price of admission is at least $100. And in the same year Nine Inch Nails released Year Zero, one of my favorite albums from them. If I want that record? We’re talking $250, at least.

Now both Neil Young and Trent Reznor have been pretty good about doing album reissues. I don’t have the income or desire to have original presses of everything ever released so I’d be more than happy with a new pressing of either album. Reissues do come around for a lot of albums, some that were scare in the first place or perhaps not even done on vinyl, as with much of the 1990’s. It is the saving grace for the middle-class or modest-income music collector.

But even reissues can be tough to come by, much like new releases. I don’t have a huge problem getting what I want but I have learned one valuable lesson – if I know a record is coming out, I better pre-order it and make sure I get a copy. Some new releases might be available at retail price until the pre-order sells out and will be two or three times higher ever after. And while some labels do their best to make sure reissues of even recent material are out there, the record manufacturing sector is in such short supply that lead times on new pressings are months out. It especially hits independent labels hard when the majors are filling orders in every available plant for Record Store Day reissues of the same ten albums.

I will say this about Record Store Day – I think it’s fantastic for the stores. Retail music stores were nearly extinct before this vinyl resurgence. I don’t at all mind seeing lines of people outside shops I frequent, I want these businesses to succeed and more customers is always going to be a good thing.

But RSD has a bad side, too. Multiple, in fact. It clogs up record plants, which again are in very short supply. But it also feeds into the modern market we have going on in music, gaming, shoes and even toilet paper at times – the secondary “flipper” market. In less savory terms, vinyl has fallen prey to the scalpers and price gougers.

The play is this – a record label offers a reissue or new release in limited scope, between 1,000 and 2,500 copies. Flippers buy up as many as possible and immediately post them on eBay and Discogs for insane mark-ups. Regular fans who really wanted the record but had no shot at the one copy in their local store with 35 people ahead of them in line on RSD are left out in the cold. It’s either suck it up and pay the scalpers’ prices or go without.

This issue plays out in consumer goods everywhere today. Scalpers using bots have turned current-gen gaming consoles into a total fiasco. PC stuff like GPUs are unobtainium these days. But it has redefined music collecting and not for the better.

I honestly have not gone to a Record Store Day. I’m not fond of huge lines for small buildings and also I often don’t see anything I absolutely have to have on the release lists. There’s always a record or two I wouldn’t mind having but nothing that gets me out of the house.

I did miss out on one record I would have like to have, though. In 2020 a reissue of Skid Row’s excellent Slave To The Grind was released for RSD in a limited format with bonus tracks, which is a creative way to get the clean and explicit versions of the album on one release. I was very stoked for a chance to get the record, but that chance never came. None of the local shops were able to get a single copy for their RSD allotments and the record instantly sold for $75 or more the day of release. The current price has gone over $100 on Discogs. It’s truly cheaper to get an original 1991 copy on record which was only released in a few countries and is pretty scarce.

I’m not willing to pay that much for the record even though I’d love to have it. It’s something I’ll just have to live without unless a local store gets a copy in someday and I can trade a bit into it. I’m fine with the CD copy of the explicit version I have that cost me $4.

Even without the dark aspect of flippers and scalpers, sticker shock is getting to be a thing with vinyl these days. Prices had moved to a rough average of $30 for a new copy of either a new release or reissue. But now that needle is moving upward. I’ve noticed a fair bit of new releases going for $40 or more. Hell, I paid $60 for the triple-vinyl copy of Iron Maiden’s new album Senjutsu. Yes, it’s Iron Maiden and yes I’m going to pay it, but I sure as hell noticed.

I do think this combination of factors like scalpers, supply shortages and rising prices might lead to the end of this vinyl boom. Let’s be real – this was never going to last forever. Collectibles as a whole are a weird market with unpredictable rises and falls, and in some cases those markets have now been entered into by investors. Just look at the collectible card game market for a prime example of that.

I’m not trying to be doom and gloom here, if I had my way a healthy vinyl market would continue on for the end of time. My town is lucky to have a handful of local stores that offer great selection and a much better shopping experience than ordering crap from Amazon or Discogs. But there are some alarming signs that, when put together, could lead to reduced interest in vinyl and an eventual crash in the market.

First off, labels are having issues getting records pressed. Smaller labels especially face months-long delays in getting their new albums to press. This causes smaller runs of vinyl, which feeds the scalper market by creating scarce supply to feed greater demand. The prices rise, both because of flippers and the natural or otherwise rise in prices.

What does this do? Seriously – Spotify is $10 a month. The other streaming services are roughly the same price. This is what the vast majority of music listeners use anyway so the economy of that is going to sway yet more people to it versus hunting down overpriced vinyl.

And for the diehard physical collector that refuses to give all the way in to streaming? As luck would have it, there is a much cheaper and more convenient format to consume music with. The CD is still around, though it was a battle for life there for awhile. I’ve noticed more collectors and music fans going back to the CD. Hell, any back catalog release is $5 or less these days and CD’s are literally all over the place. It’s a quiet undercurrent of people returning to that format but it’s noticeable and it’s getting a bit louder.

Should more people be turned off by the array of factors leading to higher record prices, I fear the market will suffer as a result. Many of the stores today are small businesses – they can’t survive a huge drop in demand. The vinyl boom needs to continue or at least plateau to something sustainable for them to continue on. If people keep running from the format or limit their purchases to their absolute favorite artists who often sell directly, it could spell trouble for what has been a fantastic renaissance for record stores.

Again, I hope this doomsday scenario doesn’t play out. In this crazy world that changes and mutates more often than most people change their underwear, I’d like to have something last for longer than a few years. I have X amount of life left and I’d like to spend it as a music fan and collector. Hopefully circumstances change a bit and the market can push through the rising prices, supply issues and scalper problems.

In the end, the price of records is an issue that needs to be dressed for the long-term health of the market. I can’t fix flipping nor do I have any practical ideas on how to, even though it’s a much-despised part of the modern process. But it’s not the only issue the vinyl industry faces today.

As a footnote – let’s give credit where credit is truly due to the vinyl resurgence. The independent and underground scenes in every genre kept vinyl going in a time where no one else cared. But it’s that oft-derided subculture from a decade or so ago that truly brought vinyl back. Give a round of applause to your local hipsters for kick-starting the vinyl revolution. I’ll talk more about them (uhhh, them…) another time but I wanted to throw a mention in while I was talking about this.