Inner Sleeve - the Rat Records Blog
Stories from 30 years of buying and selling records and what really goes on in a second hand record shop.
Hybrid Vinyl Customers
Yes, streaming is rife and can only increase. It's convenient. It's cheap.But the latest info from Amazon Digital
shows that music consumers aren't defined by what physical format they prefer, but by those wanting to OWN music on a physical format rather than just streaming it. The definition in the market is between Streamers and Owners.
But hold on, it seems the people who want to own music on a physical format ALSO want to stream music. Hybrid customers. Marketing pidgin. Is it because owning the physical format forces you to pay greater attention and thus value the music more? Or do you just want IT, the physical manifestation of the music: The sleeves, the info about the studio and producer, the pictures....Or do you just LIKE browsing in the shop, seeing what we have turned up for you each Saturday with likeminded folk....Or the ME time alone with your records, deck and mild intoxicant/stimulant....
Probably a combination, because it's not age, gender or ethnic background from what I can see in the shop.
But don't feel guilty that you have a Spotify Trojan playlist that you banged on last night rather than shuffle between 45s every 3 minutes 14 seconds whilst doing a stir-fry. You are not alone. You are still on the Owners' side and you are still one of the Rat People. Albeit maybe a Hybrid.
Record Snore Away
English is a very confusing language, especially to those that claim to speak it. Words that sound the same have a different meaning, often violently so.
And then there are differences in humour. Most Americans would see nothing odd in citing a winning race horse as ‘full of spunk’. In the UK that kind of talk could get you reported to the RSPCA, if not the Police.
There are 30 recognised dialects in the UK, and 24 in the USA alone.
Close study of the variants between dialects shows the rabid retardation of national stereotypes. Amongst the formal written versions of our bastard tongue ‘Standard American English’ is by far the most formal, cold, corporate and deceptive type.
Those who spend their lives mincing up the mind mashing minutiae involved on when one word means what and goes where and why Americans do not realise ‘pants’ means underwear do not agree on a lot.
But some polar oppositions between seemingly same words they all dig. One of these gruesome twosomes is the vital contrast between ‘Store’ and ‘Shop’.
In British English, ‘Shop’ refers to a single, small, clearly specialised place that sells only one kind of thing.
As in the best place to buy second hand vinyl in South London - if not on this part of the planet. Rat sells CDs too. And buys collections of records. That is it.
No-one is trying to sell you a coffee, pop concert tickets, a stupid hat or a fake vintage suitcase that has something claiming to be a turntable in it.
No organic locally sourced bean casseroles will be available for £11.99 each and we do not take reservations for the booths with a lovely sea view.
Rat Records is just a shop that sells second hand vinyl and CDs. You come in, we know what you want and so do you.
‘Store’ suggests something far larger, selling several kinds of stuff - and might be one place of many under the same brand.
The Americans can swing either way, but most educated ones tend to say ‘Shop’ when they mean somewhere of a human scale that you know and knows you. ‘Store’ means something else. ASDA is a Store, and if it does not sell some kind of vinyl and a nasty prison labour Chinese hipastamatic way to ‘play’ it, it soon will.
So you might have a few 180 gram digital sourced ‘reissues’ (as in a giant CD with surface noise) of common classics you can get at Rat for a fifth of the price. But you also can get a nice customised vintage jumper that says ‘Dad Rocker’ in diamante and a refreshing pomegranate smoothie while having a go on a restored Addams Family pinball machine. Fun, but not exactly focused on music.
So, as a Shop, we looked at today’s overblown, money mad mutant orgy offspring of Urban Outfitters, Radio 1 and Gourmet Burger Kitchen and thought about what RSD once meant, and might mean again. We thought about what it meant nearly a decade ago - when not just the small shops but the big stores were dissolving before our eyes like penny sweets dumped into boiling pig piss. The net and illegal downloads of pop not worth paying for, much less listening to was mincing it all up. RSD was about championing the local survivors - especially in the USA, where small groups of ‘Mom and Pop’ Stores still kept the vinyl faith and held on. It seemed a noble cause. One day in the calendar year for the foundation of the funk to show its best, spread some love and get some in return.
Looking back, most of the stores (and some shops) that got flushed by the future had sucked harder than an atomic penis pump for a long time. Tiny Top 40 selections at laughable prices, sold lovelessly next to batteries and disposable headphones so expensive they might as well have been made of spider silk and emeralds. Staff who forgot to get their CV to Burger King in time, less connected to music than a wet breezeblock. And worse. This is why, somehow, even in the dark days of the 00s, Rat kept the lights on and people grooving.
RSD has outlived its purpose, and the fact it has been hijacked by labels keen to get max dollar for Bee Gees B sides and the new Star Wars ‘soundtrack’ is so well known the music press are mostly too bored to talk about it.
And that is why much in the old DIY punk rock way we have gone underground to dig up the real spirit of ‘Record Store Day’.
This year, for the first time, we have taken the highly controversial decision not to officially participate in RSD.
Instead, we have declared Saturday, April 16th as the First Ever RECORD SHOP DAY.
We appreciate Record Store Day - it is the biggest day of the Rat year when we try our hardest to bring out the most and the best for the least. Tom, Philippe and Pete have been known to reluctantly wipe away their tears, wince and put some of their own private favourites in the bulging racks. Anything and everything that gets someone into the habit of appreciating great music in the blood warm and bone deep way it is meant to is welcome.
Looking over lovingly at RSD like a disappointed friend that has grown apart, we wish it could go back to what it was meant to be - or change up entirely.
The war is over. Vinyl won. Record Shops and Stores that matter are alive and well, just like they always have been.
Unless and until RSD evolves into something more than a chance to hawk super rare Disney picture discs endorsed by Metallica, join us in declaring your sonic independence by celebrating Record Shop Day this Saturday.
Start your own tradition - chances are you already have.
Repress stress and real deals
We have looked at the scam of the reissue before. I'll give you a couple minutes to read how Philippe shattered my virgin vinyl illusions and showed how my New disc fetish helped the Mafia if not international terrorism.
Ok. Back to today.
When we wrote that, vinyl was not so hot. It still was small, cult and confusing. Things have moved on.
And that is why Tom was able to use his tartan totem power to get a hold of a shitonne of pristine 180g reissues for less than HMV ever paid. A lot of them are far better than I gave credit for before. Look out for them.
So what has changed?
Major labels like the Columbia/Sony stable really do make an effort to press discs as good or better than happened back in the day. Sundazed tracks down original tapes like an electric bloodhound. Light in the Attic find the artists, producers and whatever is still alive - adding extra detail, liner notes and not the usual throwaway extra trax.
And yet, and yet, the original is often best. Rat customers know it. That is why they will not pay too much for reissues, even the ones that are as good or better than the original.
It is the thrill of the chase, the sense of touching and bringing to life an artefact of our past, and more.
In many cases, the original is best because the artists were there to hear and supervise the whole process. From cutting lacquer to the test press and what came to the shops. Original does not even always mean the first press. As much as collectors love the very very first Black Sabbath issues - guess what - the next lot pressed by WWA used exactly the same metalwork as Vertigo. Therefore the stampers and the wax are dare I say it the same as the first press.
Later attempts were cash ins, and until vinyl woke in the last few years they were as hit or miss as a sideshow casino.
Some 'Scorpio' (and if you don't know what that is, you did not take enough time reading the link above) were straight from two inch analogue tape or else from Sony digital masters at higher resolution than life. Others were taken from CD, or battered stampers taken out of a skip.
Vinyl was 'heavy' 140g or more in most of history. But the OPEC Oil rape in 1972 started to take it down - and the fact you can heat up old stuff to make it new like a bad student pizza started to make it all suck. But 180g - what's that about?
It means less warps, better tracking, and deeper grooves. Much like something pressed fresh and sexy in Wembley in 1961. Should you pay FULL price for it?
You do not know the mastering, the source, the care.
At rare Rat price? Take a punt. This record will be well made and last. Get the original if you can, but in a fresh state, it will cost a lot more, even if it existed.
Why do so many reissues until now suck goat sack? It is not just the source files.
Even as a vinyl vulture, I can tell you 24-bit 192khz files are far better, clearer and more honest than all but the most sacred two inch master tape. No. It is a lack of skills and competition.
As soon as the CD scam killed mainstream vinyl, the number of pressying plants tanked. That meant the number of people who knew the whole process - who dug the craft of metalwork - all the steps that take you from a master mix tape (or sorry, file) to the final record - went lower than blacksmiths.
Quietly, in the last few years, this has started to turn around.
Surviving big big pressing plants like RTI, Pallas, GZ Media and the ex-EMI Vinyl Factory held on. New entrants like Quality Vinyl Pressings have brought the best of digital tech to vinyl by hacking old machines. �Things like automatic temperature control to make every disc the best it can be.
Many talk of a vinyl bubble. �A fad. All these old factories at full tilt and sometimes to be fair making not so great discs under the pressure.
But money talks and bullshit walks. Most vinyl, old or new, is bought by people under 35. Top consumer electronics companies are making or will make turntables again. People are scouring the Earth and risking murder to get whatever decent pressing machines are left. And modifying them with new tech to make them better.
The big story is that on the quiet - GZ Media, and more importantly, the veteran Pallas have created new pressing machines. This is an investment of many hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Vinyl never died. It is now more alive than ever.
And yet, and yet. Always go for the best. And that means originals or reissues but only at a Rat price. Because to pay for those machines, believe you me getting a 'new' disc will be worse value than a gold plated Big Mac.
It's BIG! It's BACK! It's COMPACT!
We all know and love the fact Rat is the TK Maxx of wax, filling the racks with magic.
But lurking for too long has been the silver supplement too many love to hate, and often forget.
We have always had them. We are tired of sitting on them. It is time to rediscover your love for the best thing out there besides vinyl. The real deal digital format. Uncompressed. You own it. Rip, mix, burn, gurn and all that. We covered the rise and fall,
Even new now, CD's are superb value. Secondhand, they are unbeatable.
The drives may not be in the latest laptops, but that's to make them a bit smaller and more profitable for the man. In every home and the head, there is groovy place to put the silver rival of the black magic.
Don't hate. Celebrate.
Rekindle your romance by remembering that there is a shittonne of amazing music that never was, and never will be on vinyl.
Many major artists, tracks and live recordings will never, ever be available on the digital 'services' everyon keeps trying to sell.
Search for anything cool on Spotify and you will discover our new foamy world of streaming has more holes than a giant cheese grater.
The tartan pterodactyl has been on the prowl for shiny magic. In the first instance he found 2500 goth/industrial CDs, and 4500 obscure garage/americana/guitar band CDs.
We're putting them all out at £3 each or Philippe's special; 8 for £19.
The presumed extinct £50 CD man is back and we are now topping up the rack every day with fresh £3 CDs. We see nothing wrong with interesting CDs. If they are just £3.
£3 can barely buy a bad coffee. Or a flaccid pocket sandwich.
But at Rat it buys audio bliss. And £19 is either a couple of bad takeaway pizzas on the street, or a life enriching musical experience at Rat.
What else is down?
We have a steady inward flow of classic rock and jazz albums.
Rat sessions are big. Check them here.
Tom has a cheeky secret UK buy happening in the middle of this month, and is considering the reality of getting 2,000 class LPs in the middle of Rome. Logistics will be hard.
Any advice on how to deal with the gorgeous, dangerous mentalness of The Eternal City are much appreciated.
Otherwise, just remember when it comes to music three, as in three pounds, is truly a magic number.
Radically Resetting Record Store Day
Remember Record Store Day?It was barely a month ago gone and so now the dust has long settled, the bunting is down and the hype machine has moved on.I was there at the end, and at the afterparty where boxes of 7 inches and more were turned into a flowing sea of happy feet and faces at The Tiger.Tom suggested taking the tips and insights he gave and revisiting matters in a couple weeks before interest was gone.Trouble was, interest was already gone, internationally, before the last wax had been spinned and bar tab settled in Camberwell. There was less than no point to say anything, cynically.I've been searching for inspiration ever since.And now I realise this is the same problem infesting Record Store Day itself.On the day more records were sold and groovy people came through the sacred door of Rat than any other time in the year.However, Record Store Day was the reason but not the result in terms of what people really wanted and asked after.Less than 5% of punters asked about the releases made available for the Day Rat could hardly get if we wanted, and are of little relevance to customers. No-one told we did not have them went away unhappy.Missing out on a repro Adam Ant 7 inch is less cause for tears than facing a flaccid fart on 436 bus.The marketing jive provided was low grade, intern Xeroxed stuff. A logo so shoddy it looks like every D-grade music festival 'featuring' Bonnie Tyler from Swindon to Swansea, and some stickers.It seemed like the UK variant of the Day was run by a couple bored rich kids in a basement.The UK is one of the largest music markets in the world.If the masters of RSD had not lost interest, much less inspiration, in the UK, they would have staffed it up hard.We approached the media to share our not at all negative but not hype infested take on it all, and get more people to feel the Rat Magic. The response was more lukewarm than microwaved cat vomit.Major music journos, not anonymous nothings like me, shrugged.They dug Rat, They felt the blood truth of vinyl. But they had heard more than enough from, and about, Record Store Day. Perhaps permanently.What is it, really? Some criminally priced special releases of stuff not quite special enough to merit their own release window. Really find a lost David Bowie radio show from 1973? Why lose the lucre and the attention in the fog? Increased footfall in the already hot likes of Rough Trade. Yawn. Whatevs. Etc.There were only 55 pieces of media coverage in the UK for RSD.Most credible stuff was around the shop worn Foo Fighters coming out with some kind of documentary I cannot be arsed to watch.I'll give a clue to my not so secret identity by revealing I have spent almost all my miserable adult 'life' in marketing and advertising.Before you quote Bill Hicks and encourage me to act on many justified suicidal urges remember that the first scrawls of the written word beyond rude money owed accounting shit was pimping one wine or olive oil over another. In Pompeii the prostitutes had logos on their sandals that had the Latin for 'Follow me for Sexy Sexy Time' on the bottoms to brand the street strewn dog and horse dung ensuring horny punters came along.And anyone in my trade will tell you in its current form RSD is as played out as 'Car Wash' at a fucking wedding reception you're only at out of dumb social duty.It will either stay as it is, or decline slowly. There is too much Major label interest for it fizzle out altogether but the media and the beardy zeitgeist have left the building.What is a way forward? Three things.Some of them are dead tacky but we need to sacrifice some cool to keep alive. Start with Richer Sounds and CD on wax Reissues then end up at Rat. I know I did. Evolution is possible.1: Hardware and bringing more shops - not just record shops, into it. We need more than the major labels and even the 'independents' shilling records not special enough to stand on their own, but a gateway drug of fucking hardware. Sony. Marantz. Rega. Panasonic. Innovators like U-Turn Audio. Technics still exists in Japan, they just don't do decks. But the stuff to make 1200s did not end up in the bin - they just need a good reason to make them again. What could be a better reason than RSD? We need Amazon, Richer Sounds, Dixons, Argos, Tesco for fucks sake - not just record shops. We need vinyl starter kits with whatever Jack White sub-Stooges shite people want when they begin. Make the hardware mainstream, and some people will eventually find something decent to do with it.2: Bring Used out of the cold and into the heart of RSD. Again, this is a lifestyle choice. It's the ability to play the discs and have discs to play. Like so much of the analogue world, we stand on the shoulders of giants. Even if that giant is Uncle Saul's collection of New Wave LPs. There will always be more secondhand records than new pressings. Despite the noise, no-one is making new pressing machines or plants. Reissues are often digitally mastered if not just big, crude copies of CDs with surface noise.3: Have two, three or four a year. Make it a surprise! Loving records, music and choosing vinyl is part of what who people ARE and feel. You are not YOU just one day a year. Why not make it a real shock what hardware and software will come, when and why? Don't make it a dead day in the calendar, make it way of LIFE.Whatever happens, Rat will be Rat and be there.We are not a fashion, we are part of a religion.But those that control this need to take a step back, smell what they are shovelling and move on to something bigger, and deeper.That matters, and lasts.Or else in 2016 there will be 23 pieces of media coverage in the UK, more obscure and irrelevant than in the 15 with the "Electric Banana" marvelling at some Nirvana sideman act and fucking James Last repros.It's not a day, it's a choice to be great as a human being. A choice we take and love, every day.
Older wisdom from the inner sleeve
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