Scott Hull Guest Blogs at The Vinyl District

We’re psyched that Scott Hull is doing a guest-blog series over at The Vinyl District, which is the official blog of Record Store Day. Look for a new post up there every Friday up until April 16, or as we know it around here, Record Store Day 2011. Scott will be talking about all aspects of the vinyl experience: from cutting records to playing them; from the history of vinyl to the future. The first post went up this morning — have a look here:

We’ve got a couple other tricks up our sleeve for RSD 2011 — more on those as they develop. In the meantime, take a look at some of the coverage we did for RSD 2010, here.

Record Store Day 2010 Wrap-Up

The line outside J&R
The line outside J&R at 8:30 AM.
Well, it’s late afternoon on April 17, 2010 — Record Store Day — here in NYC. My feet are hurting and the limited Jimi Hendrix “Live at Clark University” is spinning on my turntable, so that means that it’s time to wrap up my RSD coverage!

I started out this morning at around 8:30 at J&R, way downtown. Since this was the store with the earliest opening hour in town, I figured I’d find a high concentration of the most fanatical record nuts there, and I wasn’t disappointed. The line outside (I estimate it was 100 people long by 9) was pretty mellow except for the occasional outburst of nervous anticipation. “What?! You got the Doors single? Doors?!” — that kind of thing.

And it was a pretty smooth operation once the doors opened — well, the first 20 minutes were a bit of a frenzy — and the stock of exclusive items looked comprehensive. (They didn’t have the Moby Grape 45 though — luckily I grabbed that later. It’s impressive.) It seemed like folks were getting what they came for. Store Manager Charlie Bagarozza said it was going to be a fun day; Record Store Day was off to a good start at J&R.

Brooklyn's Sound Fix Records
Brooklyn's Sound Fix Records.
Next up was Sound Fix in Brooklyn. I hadn’t gotten to cover the shop in the lead-up to RSD, but I would have liked to since it’s a nice place. It reminds me of Other Music; it’s got high ceilings, a similar shelving system, and carries predominantly indie stuff. But it does have its own vibe and is worth a trip. I didn’t realize that Sound Fix was as popular as it is — I got there about a half-hour after they opened and it was jam packed! It was all about the indie releases at Sound Fix, whereas at J&R it was more about the Springsteen, Stones, and John Lennon.

After some lunch I headed down to Other Music. They have their RSD down to a science there: lines around the block, because they were making sure that the place didn’t get too crowded. When I showed up ABC TV was in there. Crazy. I got to duck into the store for a few minutes and look around. It was mellow! Some soothing electronica spinning on the stereo, kinda quiet talking, everybody calmly looking through the racks… it was really well done. Other Music have been around for a while and they clearly know how to handle the big events. Kudos.

The line outside Other Music
The line outside Other Music.
I wrapped up at Academy Records on 18th Street which was doing some brisk business despite not carrying any of the limited releases. I usually find something cool in their bins — either CD or vinyl — and today was no different: a super clean Jeff Beck “Flash” LP, for $1. Now, Flash isn’t considered one of Mr. Beck’s finest moments (hence the price tag), but it IS Jeff Beck after all, and Epic pressings from the mid-70s to the early 80s sound real good in my opinion, especially when they have the MASTERDISK stamp in the deadwax like this one does.

Anyway folks, I hope you had a good time out there today and heard — and will hear — some good music as a result of Record Store Day. See you back here at The Masterdisk Record next week, as we get back to our regular programming with a story about engineer Randy Merrill’s mastering of Darcy James Argue’s critically acclaimed album Infernal Machines.

Limited RSD items at J&R
The limited edition wall 20 minutes after the frenzy.

Countdown to Record Store Day, Part 5: Academy Records and CDs

Academy storefront on 12th Street
Academy Records on 12th Street
If its used CDs or vinyl you’re looking for in NYC, Academy Records is your place. Or rather, it’s your three places — they have locations on 12th Street (all vinyl), 18th Street (CDs with some vinyl and a big classical section), 6th Street in Williamsburg (the very large vinyl annex).

Here’s a little further breakdown of the three Academy zones. Interested in digital? Rock/pop/indie? Jazz, classical, or international? 18th Street is your spot. I like visiting there often because they have high turnover in their bins — so you’re always looking at new titles — and their prices are excellent. Average prices for used CDs range from $4 to $8 a pop, with the emphasis on the lower end of the range. God bless. They have a pretty big “budget” section now too where you’re getting into the $2 to $3 range. You’ll also find tons of very nice classical vinyl, CDs and DVDs (if you’re into that kind of thing), and lots of rubber toy dinosaurs too, for some reason.

For your used and new non-classical vinyl you want the 12th Street spot on the East Side. Lots of jazz, plus a decent rock section, a little metal and prog, disco, soul and smaller bins for soundtracks, lounge and more. They carry a really nice selection of vinyl reissues too, from the latest African comp to classic rock. Plus jazz, audiophile labels, krautrock, brazilian, metal… basically if it’s indie vinyl, they carry it. (And a little bit from the major labels too — like the recent Hendrix reissues on Sony/Legacy.) The guys on 12th Street play good music in the store too — aside from Downtown Music Gallery, Academy on 12th is the place where I find I buy stuff because they’re playing it in the store.

Vinyl bins at Academy 18th Street
The vinyl bins in the front of the shop on 18th Street.
The annex in Williamsburg is sort of like the 12th St. shop on steroids, though the genre distribution is different. Proportionally, they carry more rock, less jazz, and less new stuff; and they have tons of international, disco, and soul. Some classical too, but you really need the 18th St. store if you want high quality there. The place is BIG, and as a result there seems to be less turnover in the larger sections than in the other locations. But there’s a LOT of mass here, so especially if you’ve never been, you’ve got to go.

As far as Record Store Day goes, the 12th Street shop and vinyl Annex are carrying some of the limited edition items — mostly from the indie side of the spectrum, though Ben at the Annex told me they’ve gotten some of the more mainstream stuff too. 18th Street — whose product is 99% used, isn’t carrying the exclusive items, but they’ll be having a celebratory day anyway, with some special stock coming out into the bins and an in-store performance.

Another cool thing about Academy is that they recently started their own reissue label, with a focus on very rare African stuff. They press both vinyl and CD.

For more information, visit their website.

Used vinyl wall at Academy on 12th Street
The used vinyl wall at Academy on 12th Street.
Some of the classical collection at Academy on 18th Street
Classical at Academy on 18th Street

And that concludes my pre-record store day blogging! There were some other stores I wanted to cover like Sound Fix in Brooklyn, which is a really neat store, but I didn’t have enough time. I will, however, be tweeting and blogging from the field tomorrow — so I’ll see you in the shops!

Countdown to Record Store Day, Part 4: Downtown Music Gallery

Downtown Music Gallery
The entrance to Downtown Music Gallery's underground lair.
If you’re in NYC for Record Store Day tomorrow and are into experimental music, prog, jazz, avant-garde and downtown sounds, you gotta go to Chinatown and duck down into the marvelous Downtown Music Gallery.

I’ve been a big fan of this store since I first happened upon it when it was situated on 5th street off the Bowery. In fact, I was so immediately smitten with their amazing selection of Canterbury prog, obscure European experimental jazz offerings and forgotten 60s psych outfits that a few months after my first visit I walked in one day and owner Bruce Lee Gallanter looked at me and said, “you know, you’ve spent a lot of money here over the past few months — I want to thank you!” And that, dear readers, is the story of what happened to my 2002 tax refund.

I kept up my few-times-a-week visiting schedule through their next move, when they were situated on the Bowery below 3rd Street. Since then they’ve moved to Chinatown and I haven’t been able, for a number of reasons, to get down there anywhere near as much as I used to — but the love is still there!

Bruce and Manny
Bruce and Manny, Downtown Music Gallery's primary movers. (Photo by Geoff Smith, from the DMG website.)
Downtown Music Gallery is a record store lover’s record store. They guys that run the place, Bruce and Manny “Lunch” Maris are extremely knowledgeable about all kinds of music, and they’re usually willing — if they’re not too busy — to chat about any kind of obscure artist or title you like, or make a recommendation, or even occasionally play a request.

Their main categories are Downtown, Jazz, Rock/Psych/Prog, and Composition, and they offer used as well as new product. And like I said they have lots of super-obscure product on hand. Recently they’ve bought a few large prog collections, so if you’re into the prog you really should go.

Masterdisk has an important connection to Downtown Music Gallery too, since they’re the distributors for John Zorn’s Tzadik label, and Scott Hull masters all the Tzadik albums. Certainly, if you want something on Tzadik, this is the place to go. DMG has also released some great albums on their own label, DMG ARC. (Check out the Raoul Bjorkenheim / William Parker / Hamid Drake CD called DMG at The Stone — it’s powerful stuff.)

Downtown also has a cool selection of weird music books, CD box sets, shirts, hard-to-find music DVDs and other interesting odds and ends.

Though they’re not carrying much, if anything, of the limited edition items on offer for Record Store Day (most of that stuff is more mainstream then their areas of expertise), pretty much every day is Record Store Day at Downtown Music Gallery. Stop by and you won’t be disappointed.

Visit Downtown Music Gallery on at their website.

Countdown to Record Store Day, Part 3: Other Music

The vinyl wall at Other Music
Vinyl at Other Music. Note Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music on the third shelf up, recently mastered here by Scott Hull.
Other Music is definitely the most photogenic of the stores I’ve visited this week in preparation for Record Store Day. It’s a small spot, but it’s got high ceilings, and it’s lit more like an art gallery than a record store. Not that aesthetics are the most important thing about a record store , but it’s an added bonus considering OM would still be a top 5 NYC record store even if it was a dump!

Other Music’s main focus is indie rock, plus significant sections on more obscure artists from the past 40 years, a nice international section, experimental, electronica (still don’t know what to call this genre), and the indie side of dance music. It’s probably an even split between vinyl and CDs, and they sell both new and used.

What Other Music can’t offer in selection they make up for with quality. The staff is plugged in to the music they carry, so what you get there is a carefully curated collection. They’re all about the cutting edge of the genres they specialize in, so it’s a good place to go if you want to bone up on what’s happening in music right now. Just take a look at what’s being featured on their shelves, and read the handwritten reviews taped up under the music.

CDs at Other Music
CDs at Other Music. Yes, I couldn't resist -- that's my CD Java St. Bagatelles in the bin.
As far as Record Store Day at Other Music — they’re doing it in style, with guest DJs taking over the store’s sound system for hour-long intervals (including Avey Tare from Animal Collective and Dan Houghland from Excepter), many limited RSD releases, gift cards and tote bags from Converse, and live in-store performances. The artists playing are The Drums and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, and they go on at 9PM, an hour after the regular shopping portion of the day ends at 8.

Considering how small Other Music is, and how much cool stuff they have going on there, the place is going to be packed! So if you’re looking for one of the limited releases, you should probably get there early.

Special store hours for Record Store Day: 11AM to 8PM

Read more details about OM’s Record Store Day plans at their website.

Other Music Artist Wall
Photos of some of the artists that have played at Other Music.
Other Music Storefront
Other Music

Countdown to Record Store Day, Part 2: J&R

J&R Vinyl
One corner of the J&R vinyl department
Now that Tower and Virgin have vanished from the New York music retail scene (RIP), the only place in town to still get that old school multi-floor record store fix is J&R.

This is the place to go when you’re looking for new CDs and vinyl (they do have some used bins but it’s far from their specialty). J&R has three major strengths when it comes to serving the music buyer: selection, scope, and price. A pretty good combo if you ask me!

The main floor is mostly given to a very large pop/rock section. When it comes to classic artists like The Doors, Steely Dan, and Talking Heads, you’ll usually find their full catalogs plus some unexpected import items. Lots of lesser known artists too. Captain Beyond? Humble Pie? Free? Pretty much if it’s in print, you have a good chance of finding it here. They also carry a lot of indie labels, so you’ll find stuff from Relapse, Light in the Attic, Merge, Nuclear Blast, and on and on.

In addition to the rock/pop selection, you’ll find dedicated sections for oldies, rap & hip hop, a good sized jazz room and large classical and opera rooms, country, blues, and a sizable world music collection. There’s also a dedicated “audiophile” section (with gold CDs, SACD and DVD-A releases), folk and gospel sections, and more.

J&R’s regular prices are on the low side, and, even better, they always seem to be running some kind of sale. New releases in particular seem to go for sometimes surprisingly low sale prices.

Well, that’s a long intro. Let’s get to the Record Store Day stuff. J&R is definitely the place to go in NYC if you’re looking for the special limited releases, particularly the more mainstream ones like the Stones, John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix items.

J&R window sign
Some of the items coming on Saturday.
I talked to Senior Store Manager Charlie Bagarozza and Marketing Manager Wayne Olsen at the store on Tuesday. Record Store Day has grown exponentially since it’s debut in 2008, so much so that in 2009, Wayne says, there was more demand for the special items than either record stores or record labels had expected. Customers weren’t able to get everything they were looking for. But this year both record companies and shops are taking extra steps to make sure that the demand is better met. Wayne said he’s feeling good about the stock they’ve been getting in in preparation for Saturday. That said, these are limited items, and Record Store Day is expected to be even bigger than last year, so get there early! The store opens at 9 a.m., but keep in mind that there was already a line formed outside before opening last year.

In addition to the special releases, J&R has a lot of fun stuff going on including free giveaways, autograph signings, and performances (including one by Judy Collins). Check the full list of goings-on here: J&R Record Store Day Events.

Did I mention that they’re running a sale all week on all CDs and vinyl in the store? Yeah, J&R is a pretty great record store.

Countdown to Record Store Day, Part 1: Princeton Record Exchange

Prex Storefront
Princeton Record Exchange
If you live on the East Coast you’ve probably heard of Princeton Record Exchange (or Prex as it’s affectionately called). Heck, if you’re into records, you’ve probably heard of it wherever you are; it’s a pretty famous spot.

I’ve known about it for years, being a dyed-in-the-wool record geek myself; but I never made the trip before this past Saturday. I can report to you now that the place lives up to the hype!

Prex didn’t look huge when I walked in (years of hearing the name had clearly charged my imagination) but my estimated browsing time of an hour easily ran over another 40 minutes and could have gone on well beyond that. They’ve got a ton of vinyl, CDs, box sets, DVDs (if you’re into that kind of thing) and who knows what else, in new, used, and budget divisions.

I spent most of my time with the rock and jazz vinyl and CD sections and trawled very fruitfully through the budget CD wall and “new arrival” bins. Then I spent some more time with the punk and metal sections, and marveled at the selection of box sets — including dedicated bins for out of print Mosaic boxes! That’s the kind of detail we’re talking about. But I didn’t get near the big classical section, or into the vinyl “recent arrival” bins, let alone all the understock — TONS of understock. So when you make the trip, be sure to give yourself lots of time.

Prex Mosaic Bin
The Mosaic Bin at Prex
Another thing that was interesting about the shop is that it was very busy the whole time I was there — and this was, I take it, a typical Saturday. The folks running the place were nice, and helpful, and there was a lot of upbeat talking and trawling going on in the shop. New stock streams into the racks fairly constantly. It’s a fun environment.

Aside from the ogling (and the purchase of a number of choice items), the other point of my trip was to get the skinny on the Record Store Day preparations from Jonathan Lambert, the store’s General Manager. Turns out that not only is this a big week for Prex because of Record Store Day, but they’re also kicking off a week-long 30th Anniversary celebration on Saturday. There will be live music (in Hines Plaza, a block from the store), raffles, freebies, and, of course, a huge amount of limited edition merchandise.

The raffles are pretty amazing, starting with T-shirts and gift cards, and culminating in prizes like a USB turntable and a grand prize of BOTH the Beatles stereo and mono box sets. The free raffle tickets will be available at the library concert and at the store throughout the week. There’s going to be Prex 30th anniversary stickers and even temporary tattoos too.

Prex Raffle Sign
The Raffle at Princeton Record Exchange
And then there’s Saturday’s main attraction: the over 150 limited edition titles released on Record Store Day, including 7″ singles from Elvis Costello (on Hip-O), Elvis Presley (on Legacy/Sun), John Lennon (on Capitol) and Peter Gabriel (one on Realworld b/w Stephen Merritt, the other on Jagjaguwar b/w Bon Iver), a 4 LP vinyl reissue Wilco box set from Nonesuch, and lots more. (You can check out the complete-for-now-but-still-growing list here: Record Store Day Special Releases.)

Jonathan said that he feels good about the diversity of titles and quantity of stock they’ve been receiving, and hopes that Prex will be able to meet customer demand for the limited edition items. But, considering how busy Prex is on a normal Saturday, I’d say you’ll definitely want to get there early if you have your eye on any of those special items!

Visit Princeton Record Exchange on the web: