In rotation: 11/13/20

Do People Still Buy CDs? The Answer Is Yes — Tens of Millions Are Still Sold Every Year: The short answer to the question that so many music fans have asked – ‘do people still buy CDs?’ – is absolutely ‘yes.’ But despite tens of millions of CD sales worldwide, evidence indicates that far fewer consumers are purchasing CDs amid the pandemic. It’s part of a trend that could continue even after COVID is in the rearview. Nearly 11 millions CDs were sold during the first half of this year — in the United States alone. Head over to the second largest music market in Japan, and CDs remain the dominant format with more than 70 percent of all recorded music sales. But with COVID closing record stores, CD sales in both markets could be facing serious declines ahead. According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), U.S. recorded music revenues increased 5.6 percent during 2020’s first half, to $5.7 billion at retail value, compared to the same period in 2019. The fact that this growth arrived amid the pandemic is significant, with CD-buying die-hards still making purchases despite record store closures and widespread lockdowns.

Austin, TX | Austin Record Stores Move the Needle on In-Person Shopping: You may now commence thumbing through the stacks again (provided you follow the new safety rules). Before last Saturday, I hadn’t set foot in a record store in seven months. The last time I’d gone that long, my favorite musical artist was the children’s singer Raffi. Still, my weekend trip to Waterloo Records felt normal – even considering I got scanned with a forehead thermometer upon entry, the checkout clerk was behind Plexiglas, and the shop’s used new arrivals section had been relocated to spread out customers. In those crates, I mined an LP from the Sixties vocal group the Exciters, then journeyed over to the international section and scored a copy of Divine Horsemen: The Voodoo Gods of Haiti, a collection of field recordings of possession rituals captured in the Forties and Fifties. I didn’t know I needed that record until I flipped upon it in a rack…Owner John Kunz believes the slow, scaled reopening of Austin’s record retailers speaks to them “trying to be part of solution, not part of the problem in terms of the spread.” Still, he says operations have evolved as we understand more about the coronavirus.

The best high-end turntables: So you’ve had your mid-range turntable for a while: it’s the best, you love it! However, there’s a daunting question lingering in the back of your mind, is there more? Well for the enthusiast or self-proclaimed audiophile, the upgrade to the next bracket is completely worth it. With any price increase you can expect an even more precise attention to detail – whether it’s design, sound quality, or components going into the construction of a turntable. In higher-end turntables, all of these things play pivotal roles in delivering you the utmost, and accurate sound quality you can imagine. There are a few caveats however: with an emphasis on vibration reduction, you’ll typically find features found in budget and mid-range turntables – such as speed change buttons, removable headshells, built-in preamplifiers – removed. Things such as your phono preamplifier, stereo amplifier, and RCA cables all need to be of a high quality if you want to get the most out of your turntable. Ease of use or easy set-up isn’t to be expected either.

Sleevenote is a high-res music player designed for album art: Tom Vek, recording artist, wants to sell you a music player. One that he’s designed himself. Sleevenote is designed to respect your favorite albums, from cover to tracklist, as a work of art in their own right. It’s pretty much all-screen, a 6.2-inch square picture frame that lets you interact with music the way we used to. Select a record, read through its (digital) booklet and select tracks by touching their name on the back cover. It’s designed to recapture the vibe you had when getting a CD, or vinyl record, ready to play for the first time. “I was doing the artwork for [2011’s Leisure Seizure] and it dawned on me that not everyone buying it was going to see it,” Vek told Engadget. Knowing that the work he was putting in to creating the album-as-a-package was likely to go to waste upset him greatly. “I’d been resistant to the iPod,” said Vek, “because it wasn’t a good replacement for the visual side of CDs.” For many cover design is an art form in and of itself, with many covers iconic in their own right.

Williamstown, MA | The Pick-Up Pop-Up Bookshop: A visual suspension of the new coronavirus reality: “It’s almost a single freeze frame of a movie. It’s a space, cast with characters. The idea is to take you away, and sort of transport you off Spring Street,” said Artist Stacy Cochran as she described her new Pick-Up Pop-Up Bookshop in town. As the Mass MoCA gift shop recently closed, Cochran fashioned an operative art installation to create a moment of atmospheric light in the symbolically vacant space. The space is not a complete store, but a pop-up installation, intended to emulate a bookshop, where people can pick up an order placed from the website of the Northshire Bookstore of Manchester, Vt. each week. “It was sad to see Images with an empty storefront. So I thought I’m just going to rent the space and do something here that feels productive,” the artist said. The goal was to contribute to the life of the street and bring people together in an unexpected way, especially in this isolating time. “The first thing I thought of was a bookstore. I am worried about independent bookstores, as we all are, and if anyone is going to spend money on gifts or for themselves, and be persuaded not to go to Amazon to do it, that seems like a win,” the artist said.

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