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The return of the singles club
August 28, 2007 1:07 PM   Subscribe

First the Sub Pop Single of the week club brought us Nirvana, then the Moshi Moshi Singles Club, brought us Kate Nash; now more and more labels are having a go. What's more, the kids are buying seven inch singles again. Is this a backlash against digital downloads? Or just nostalgia for the 45?
posted by MrMerlot (43 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Rock on. I knew something was telling me to buy that record player this weekend (even though I don't think I've bought a record since 1992)...
posted by kittens for breakfast at 1:12 PM on August 28, 2007


Robert Pollard recently launched the once-a-month Happy Jack Rock Records Singles Series, which is quite excellent.
posted by dhammond at 1:12 PM on August 28, 2007


t's not unusual for fans to buy a 7in but have nothing to play it on, says Paul Williams at industry magazine Music Week.

Ugh. If true, that and the implication that folk are buying records to frame and put on their walls suggests a rather massive missing of the point.
posted by jack_mo at 1:16 PM on August 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


I think I think a lot of the contemporary 'Singles' clubs are actually more like 'Short CD' clubs, such as Asaurus Records' version.
posted by unmake at 1:17 PM on August 28, 2007


It's not unusual for fans to buy a 7in but have nothing to play it on

I have friends that do this and most of them do it because they plan to buy a record player soon or they have an old one that just needs repairs. Even if that's not the case, what exactly is wrong with someone hanging a 7" on the wall?
posted by dhammond at 1:19 PM on August 28, 2007


Its people trying to be cool.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:22 PM on August 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


I actually collect 7" singles of bands that I like. Usually the vinyl itself is colored, etched, or has some other "collectible" type quality.

I can't really say why I do it, I just like to.
posted by King Bee at 1:25 PM on August 28, 2007


Even if that's not the case, what exactly is wrong with someone hanging a 7" on the wall?

It certainly beats doing this with a vinyl single. (Warning: May make you wish to throat-punch someone.)
posted by kittens for breakfast at 1:25 PM on August 28, 2007


I run a brand new record label, and in light of the latest "CDs are going the way of the dodo" talk, I've been seriously considering releasing vinyl and digital downloads only, possibly with CD-Rs included with the vinyl. I feel as though we're definitely heading towards a situation in which the only people who are likely to bother making a trip to the record store are the ones who are looking for the better fidelity and fancy packaging that usually come with vinyl*. For everyone else, myself included, decent-quality files will suffice.

*in no way am I looking to engage in the old which-format-sounds-better debate.
posted by 2or3whiskeysodas at 1:32 PM on August 28, 2007


Buying 7" was something (sadly, oh man) we all did in middle school/early high school (I'm 24, so this was in mid to late 90s) to out-cool one another . . . so I'm not sure if the 7" phenomena is realy something new. I still have a few singles in my closet somewhere and no turntable to play them on - why are record players so expensive?
posted by flamk at 1:42 PM on August 28, 2007


King Bee: "I can't really say why I do it, I just like to."

Must be nice.

I used to collect comic books. Then I grew up and realized I had to pay bills and occasionally feed my piehole.
posted by ZachsMind at 1:42 PM on August 28, 2007


Is this a backlash against digital downloads? Or just nostalgia for the 45?

It's a plot by Sony. Now that home recording is cheap and actual tape is hard to find, they're now switching formats to make all the kids who were buying CDs/downloading from iTunes buy all of their favorite records as 7" single box sets.
posted by sleepy pete at 1:43 PM on August 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


Then I grew up and realized I had to pay bills and occasionally feed my piehole.

That's kind of sad. :(
posted by smackfu at 1:46 PM on August 28, 2007


why are record players so expensive?

They are? This must be a generational thing. In my day (I'm 39) even Fisher-price toys could play vinyl. Or you bought them at a yard-sale for like $10. We are talking actual record players here - nothing more than a spinning disk and a needle with some tiny amp built in - not a stereo system?
posted by vacapinta at 1:48 PM on August 28, 2007


I know that Saddle Creek Records, as well as various other labels, are doing something like what 2or3whiskeys suggested : releasing their vinyl with a code to get free downloads from their website. This seems like pure genius to me, because they're reviving the record, which just sounds better, while still alowing people the portability of mp3 files without resorting to piracy.
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 1:52 PM on August 28, 2007


So that's what a piehole's for!
posted by psmealey at 1:53 PM on August 28, 2007


Its people trying to be cool.

Of course it is -- surely, I'm not the only person who spent her freshman year of high school collecting Simple Machines' monthly Working Holiday series?

Anyway, that being said -- the demand for vinyl is still there. Our label has recently started kicking around the idea of releasing vinyl w/ the free MP3 download (as Matador and Sub Pop already do), and we've gotten a pretty positive response.
posted by pfafflin at 1:55 PM on August 28, 2007


I'm not so sure that it's backlash against digital downloads or nostalgia for the 45- records have never really gone away. Sure- they don't sell them at the mall, but 45s are still pressed, sold by mail order and in cooler record stores and probably most often by the band themselves while out on tour. Some folks do collect- but real fans play those fun little slabs of vinyl.

I love singles because it forces you to interact with the music- you put one on (or let it drop if you have a cool old player), stare at the single cover front and back while listening, and flip it when the song's over. It requires more work than a never ending "playlist" that drones on and on in the background, but it's worth it.

I'm also happy to note that my band was release #29 in the Sub Pop Singles Club vol. 2- right between Truman's Water and Zeke!

Also flamk- a quick net search yields 5 or so decent component turntables that cost less than $100 each. But why get a turntable when you could get a Vinyl Killer?
posted by puddsharp at 1:56 PM on August 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


So that's what a piehole's for!

And I'm plum outta pie!
posted by NationalKato at 2:04 PM on August 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


This is nice to see. I've got a fairly healthy vinyl collection, and just bought a slew of used records this weekend (got my Joe Jackson "Look Sharp!" and my copy of Bowie's "Station to Station"). My only real complaint right now is that my girlfriend's record player's kinda cheapo, but mine's on the schneid (anyone know what to do when your technics seem to over anti-skate? Like, the needle won't move toward the center through force of grooves…).
posted by klangklangston at 2:06 PM on August 28, 2007


Pfafflin— You're on Bloodshot? Oh, man, do that. I'll buy more vinyl, I swear.

Oh, and Beggar's Banquet does it— I bought the Long Blondes on vinyl (because it was, like, $3 cheaper) and got a ticket for a free download. Since the only place that CDs outstrip vinyl for me is being able to easily rip 'em, I was like, "Cool!" Of course, I'd already used soulseek to get the mp3s months earlier (because a) I don't buy anything over $2 without hearing it first, and b) staggered international release dates are so fucking retarded).
posted by klangklangston at 2:10 PM on August 28, 2007


why are record players so expensive?

You must be looking at top of the line audiophile stuff. You can buy a single belt drive turntable from gemini or numark for $100
posted by mkb at 2:13 PM on August 28, 2007


I'm a 7" buyer. I have a turntable. I use it often. A lot of the stuff I buy (from labels like Secretly Canadian, Barsuk & Kranky) is on vinyl.

Vinyl is appealing for a lot of reasons, but to me, it's about having something tangible, and to me, vinyl is the best way to do that. Big format, easy to make clear, or colored, or have locked grooves, or interlocking grooves, or any of the cool things you can do with vinyl.

7"s, to me, are good for a handful of reasons.

1. Split 7"s. They're awesome. Two bands for $4. I'm in.
2. Sometimes I'm into just listening to a few songs at a time.
3. Mostly, I think I just like having a variety of formats laying around. I like 12"s, 10"s, and 7"s. Each format has particular uses.

As for 7" singles "clubs," I think they're lame. I think record collecting in any way is lame. I certainly have my fair share of numbered editions, or handpainted sleeves, but the day I hang up my turntable is the day I buy some record because it's fucking rare. That is some lame shit, right there.

Klangklangston, check out this - it could be useful.

glad to see this isn't turning into vinyl v. digital. let's keep it that way.

posted by god hates math at 2:15 PM on August 28, 2007


Is this a backlash against digital downloads? Or just nostalgia for the 45?

The latter, a wee bit -but it's really a short-lived fad, designed to hype bands and create collectables. At one point, the SubPop 7" club was pressing something like 5000-10,000 singles. Now even well-sponsored "clubs" press 500 copies, and the majority of these go to speculators. It's a good publicity ploy which gets trotted out now and again. The "kids" are not buying singles again. Look at it another way - if half a label's 500 pressing is sold in the US, and half elsewhere, that's about 5 copies sold in each US state - and it's common that not all 500 copies get sold! A drop in the ocean, and that's being polite. But this is cost-free (or even profitable) publicity for most labels, with the cheapest of these clubs selling their singles for about $5, and going on up to $11 or so each - generally straight to the label (no distributors / stores taking a cut.)

Eventually, these clubs always seem to fail or interest is lost or they just outgrow their publicity value. I understand why it's done - it's tough to get coverage in the Guardian selling less than 500 copies of a record any other way(!) - but to suggest that this is some sort of meaningful commercial trend is absurd. It's much more likely a last gasp.

A similar case - about 5-8 years ago there was a happening in Eastern Europe with "communist"-era products. After 10-15 years without the horrid "Commie" namebrand products of the Cold War years, people beginning missing that crappy laundry detergent, or that awful Coca-Cola knockoff. These products were revived, initially sold due to nostalgia and novelty, and many people wrote about how these products, which were dismissed after communism, actually had their own merits and how they displayed a backlash against capitalism and whatnot and asked all sorts of questions about what it meant. But a few years later, most of these "revived" products slipped off the shelves and weren't seen again. Every now and then, such a product is revived - I smiled when I saw the soft drink "Cockta" on shelves last year - but they don't last long and don't have any lasting impact. Just like the 21st century sales of 7" singles.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 2:17 PM on August 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


When it's so easy to play any one of your 10,000 tracks in iTunes, it's kind of fun to have something that takes some effort to play.
posted by smackfu at 2:18 PM on August 28, 2007


surely, I'm not the only person who spent her freshman year of high school collecting Simple Machines' monthly Working Holiday series?

I wasn't in high school and I'm not a her, but no.
posted by sleepy pete at 2:39 PM on August 28, 2007


OK, so I have "absolute positive anti-skate," like that guy. But the answer is that it's dangerous to adjust on my own. So now I need a turntable technician on the west side of Los Angeles.
posted by klangklangston at 3:19 PM on August 28, 2007


I don't collect 7" singles, but I have a lot of them because a lot of punk bands put out the majority of their music on vinyl, and don't get around to releasing CDs until far down the road, if ever. So I don't think "the kids" will ever stop buying 7" records, at least not as long as bands play in basements of filthy houses.
posted by cmonkey at 3:37 PM on August 28, 2007


I don't know if it's that there is nostalgia for them as much as that 7"s haven't lost any of their charm over these years. I'm a young person and I imagine I still buy them for the very same reason that people my age bought them in the past forty years. I don't see any reason to stop. The internet can't compare.

What the internet can do though is allow me the freedom to listen to a lot of music and pick what I like easily. That's why Singles Clubs have become outdated. Why should I pay a label to choose songs and make me buy them, even if it's music I don't like? I'd rather spend my hard-earned wages/allowances on music that I've had a chance sample on the internet after being recommended it by friends, the radio, websites, or other publications. Thanks to the internet, it's no longer as though I don't and can't know better.
posted by Shakeer at 4:05 PM on August 28, 2007


I've still got a whole bunch of those Sub Pop Singles Club records. LOVED getting those in the mail! They even get played every now and then, although I'm sure some collector would tell me its a bad idea or something.
posted by blaneyphoto at 4:09 PM on August 28, 2007


"Ugh. If true, that and the implication that folk are buying records to frame and put on their walls suggests a rather massive missing of the point."

There are also people who put stamps in books and don't use them to mail anything. Sometimes people find that objects have utility in themselves, not just in use.
posted by aubin at 4:12 PM on August 28, 2007


surely, I'm not the only person who spent her freshman year of high school collecting Simple Machines' monthly Working Holiday series?

I've still got most of them. Got them via mail order when I was 15, and ended up in a long correspondence with Jenny Toomey which involved me attempting to persuade Tsunami to come and play in Scotland. She said 'Yes, sure! We'd love to come and play Glasgow. Would you be into promoting the gig?' At which point I had to confess that, while I would love to, I was actually still at school. And I was 100 miles from Glasgow.
posted by Len at 4:15 PM on August 28, 2007


Even if that's not the case, what exactly is wrong with someone hanging a 7" on the wall?

Nothing really, it's just that playing the thing seems a better bet. Each to their own, of course, but people who collect vinyl in order to own it, rather than buying records to listen to them, sort of squick me out a bit. Admittedly to the extent that I've had a few shouty arguments with collector people who've objected to me actually playing my own (usually unbeknownst to me) valuable records, so I might have a chip on my shoulder when it comes to this. Or a different form of vinyl fetishism.

I love singles because it forces you to interact with the music- you put one on (or let it drop if you have a cool old player), stare at the single cover front and back while listening, and flip it when the song's over. It requires more work than a never ending "playlist" that drones on and on in the background, but it's worth it.

Bingo! There's defo a difference between the sort of active listening that vinyl, CDs or cassettes promote and the 'er, what exactly have I been listening to for the last three hours' feeling one sometimes gets with iTunes tootling away unattended. Though it'd be nice to be able to search shelves as easily as you can files.
posted by jack_mo at 4:24 PM on August 28, 2007


Heh, I always love that story Len. (You should balance it out with the bleak, horrifying tales of record collection flood damage, though!)

There are also people who put stamps in books and don't use them to mail anything. Sometimes people find that objects have utility in themselves, not just in use.

Fair do's. I tend to admire obsessive collectors of other things, it's just that keeping records unplayed seems sort of cruel, to the vinyl, and to the other people out there who want to play it. I should really hit preview after returning to a tab after several hours, eh?
posted by jack_mo at 4:30 PM on August 28, 2007


If you have a record that is rare, just handle it carefully! Records get damaged through misuse. Playing it doesn't really deteriorate it all that much, and if you're listening to something so much as to diminish sound quality, the fact that the sound quality has been or will be diminished is a reason to consider another copy or listen to it in another format.

Stamps meanwhile can only be used once after which point they can either be collected or thrown away. It's not as though a stamp collector is choosing to not use a stamp by collecting it: it's already been used! The analogy doesn't really hold.
posted by Shakeer at 4:45 PM on August 28, 2007


There are also people who put stamps in books and don't use them to mail anything. Sometimes people find that objects have utility in themselves, not just in use.

Thing is, stamps are a one-off thing; once it's been affixed to an envelope and then paid said envelope's way, it's not worth what it was previously. Records are different – they exist to be played, and played, and played again. You can't say 'oh, well, it's been played once, and therefore it's worth nothing' about a record.
posted by Len at 4:52 PM on August 28, 2007


It's not as though a stamp collector is choosing to not use a stamp by collecting it: it's already been used! The analogy doesn't really hold.

I don't know alot about the hobby, but I think many stamp collectors do collect new or unused stamps - sort of in the same way people collect proof or uncirculated coins.
posted by blaneyphoto at 5:25 PM on August 28, 2007


When is the last time you were dying to send mail with a rare stamp someone collected? There is some beautiful music I may never hear, and so I get sad thinking that no one else is hearing it either because the few owners of that special piece of recorded music refuse to play it lest their property lose value. I'll try not to be bitter though.
posted by Shakeer at 5:54 PM on August 28, 2007


I did the Sub Pop singles thing for a few years, 1990-92, until I ran out of spare cash. They had near-immaculate taste back then and I was introduced to some incredible artists at their best (Unsane - "Vandal-X" 7" comes to mind) and great cuts from old favorites like Hank Rollins and Urge Overkill. Plus, SP would throw in bonus jams like a free Soundgarden single or a free TAD single.

I was more of an Amphetamine Reptile singles collector, with rock/scum combo Halo of Flies - I spent many $$ tracking those sides down.
posted by porn in the woods at 6:39 PM on August 28, 2007


If you have a record that is rare, just handle it carefully! Records get damaged through misuse. Playing it doesn't really deteriorate it all that much

except for picture disks, they're clear vinyl with one side being a flexi, sandwiching the picture. sometimes you can tell which side is the flexi by examining the edge real closely, but it's unreliable. flexi's wear out really quick.
posted by andywolf at 6:53 PM on August 28, 2007


Wow. How f*king great. Nothing has ever sounded better to me than vinyl. (Except for a live show.)
posted by Skygazer at 7:41 PM on August 28, 2007


pfafflin & Len -- I've got the Simple Machines set still, too!

This thread popping up now is hilarious, since last night, one of my dear friends informed me that (after I'd told her last week her 23-year-old son is emo if he's wearing girl's pants and writing a journal and all the other horribly embarassing crap he's currently doing) her son got all huffy and pissed off and stormed off after asking how old I am (32), getting the answer, bleating out "She's old, what does SHE know?!?" and storming off.

HA! SUCK IT, EMO KIDS! Go cry into your journal or something. When I was your age, we still had vinyl. AND WE LIKED IT.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 6:37 AM on August 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


When I was a kid, a DJ from a local radio station lived in our street and gave out 45s on Hallowe'en. I'm sure they were station cast-offs, but it was still pretty cool.
posted by howling fantods at 11:38 AM on August 29, 2007


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