Monday, November 14, 2011

Digital Killed the Phonograph Star

It is a project I had been threatening myself to undertake for a few years.  "Threatening" may be too strong a word, but "promising" is hardly accurate.  I wanted very much to convert my record collection to digital format, and maybe I was committed to renting a conversion device... but not to buy one.

I said to Dr A, "I don't really need to own it.  I mean, what would I do with it once I was finished?"  This very good friend agreed to buy one with me, and we would share custody.  A Win/Win, as they say - lower cost, and how fun! to listen to our lives pass before our ears every time we got together.

It also solved the question of what one does with this machine when one is finished converting:  One Will NEVER Finish this project.

This is not meant to be a review of the brand we bought.  It is meant to be a review of what will happen to you if you are over 35 and decide to take on this project.  You might want to set other hobbies aside.

I bought my first record album in 1974.  I will smugly share that it was Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.  This does not mean that everything I ever bought was this cool (nor does it mask the fact that the Beatles were already broken up when I bought it).  I bought what may be my last record album a year ago.  It was on eBay and featured the chapel choir of my alma mater recorded in 1949, and even though it is recorded in 78 rpm and probably as fragile as a china plate, I bought it.  But before that, I think my last purchase might have been at a Jolly Jim's Collectibles show in the past 10 years.

I have about 100 albums by my best guess.  I refuse to count them because it seems obsessive, but judging by how many are in an inch, and how many inches there are....

Dr A and I kicked our project off in January of 2010 with all the big 80s bands, easily the most recent items in my collection.  I thought it was unfair to make her girlfriend suffer through the Monkees, Osmonds, and Bobby Sherman.  She might have tolerated the Beatles, but I thought this would at least give us some common ground.  Until she reminded me she was 3 in 1980.

Unlike "ripping" CDs, there is no fast way to make this conversion.  The machine is literally a turntable with a USB cable to your computer, simply to carry the sound.  Additional (very simple) software talks to iTunes for you, but everything else is you and your Phono, just like the old days.  Needle up, needle down, try to skip the songs you don't like and catch the ones you do.  Even if you play through, every record takes about an hour.  You feel some sense of "progress" --  because at the rate of 4 or 5 songs a side, you feel every track go in -- but it is excruciatingly slow, and reminded me that I stopped listening to my records in the first place because I had to keep turning them over (oh yes, better believe I still own my record player).

 I find can't really do much else while the conversion is going on.  My mind wanders and the record ends.  Just as I did with my old mix tapes, I catch the scratch-scratch-hush-needle return and don't bother to record it again.

You will get pops, and cracks, and (if you have not taken good care of your records, and none of us has) some warpage.  Phil Collins skipped right through "I Don't Care Anymore," because I really don't either, and if it gets on my nerves over time, I'll simply delete it.  It's the Future!

I will still keep the originals; I know myself.  Not just for the art, the sleeves, the lyrics.  Everyone our age understands that.  I stuck things into the sleeves as well:  concert reviews, ticket stubs (Billy Joel in 1978 - $6 - not bad!) the occasional Dynamite cover.  I like them archives there, yet-to-be-discovered.

What I miss most about record buying might be a memory you share as well.  In Boston's Kenmore Square (and likely in the funky comic books and record store of your skateboarding youth), one could buy a record grab-bag.  For $1 (ONE DOLLAR) you got 10 albums in a plain paper bag.  It was my own personal lottery system at a time where $1 was more than a subway ride home.  I got some horrible unheard-ofs.  I got far more treasures, which I look forward to loading into my Playlists.

What in the world will iTunes Genius make of 10 tracks of Twiggy?
Apple might want to think about the digital grab bag.  I have a lot more dollars these days.

Hope you're enjoying National Blogpost Month.
Here's another NaBloPoMo participant for you to enjoy.


  1. I also still have my record player which includes 8-track and cassette player. I have plenty of all of those kinds of musical items - some of which go back to when my children bought them. Some are collectors' items -- Partridge Family is an example. There are also lots of what they now call elevator music (which I like a lot) I also have the little 45 rpm inserts and the records. Good example: Old Shep by Elvis Presley!! I'm not exactly a hoarder but if the system ever goes, I will be very upset. M

  2. I thought ripping cds was time consuming enough. On the one hand, it sounds like listening to a bunch of old albums you probably haven't listened to in years would be kind of fun. On the other, I'd be seriously tempted to just buy the ones I could as digital downloads.


Comments Build Community! We thank you for yours. Spam comments are not welcome and will not be posted.