The cost of vinyl

There was something posted on Instagram that caught my eye and it related to the cost of buying new vinyl LPs. The poster was basically arguing that now that vinyl is re-established as a viable music format, the cost of purchasing albums in that format should be coming down. This is not a new line of thinking as I can remember similar comments being made about the price of CDs back in the day and nothing much changing.

Jazz Journal December, 1956

I have a copy of Jazz Journal from 1956 and in the album review section not only the band members listed but also whether the release is an EP (remember those) or a twelve inch LP and how long each side of the release played. The review also lists the price that the music retailed at. The Modern Jazz Quartet released a 12in. LP (London LTZ-K 15022), which played for 18 min on each side at a cost of 37s. 6½d. This information is known but what does it mean to a modern day collector of vinyl?

The actual average earnings in April, 1955, the latest date for which figures are available, were £10 17s. 5d.

HANSARD 1803–2005 21 February 1956 Commons Sitting  NATIONAL FINANCE

With the cost of album being £1 17s. 6½d a record buyer in 1956 would be spending around 17% of their income, and that would be before rent, food, etc. had been paid for. National Service was still in place in 1956 and servicemen were paid £1 8s. a week but with all food, accommodation, uniform, and travel paid for – that MJQ album would have had to have been saved up for.

On the Waxtime label

The above wage figures are for those working in the industrial sector. In 2019, the average weekly wage for a worker in the same sector is £607 before tax, around £486 after tax. The MJQ album referred to above is available on vinyl today at £16 or 3.3% of income before other costs are taken in to account. So is the cost of vinyl today really too high and if so is that the fault of the record label or the artist?

All of us who like to own music would like to pay less for it and you can if you are prepared to download. However, MP3 as a format does not give you the tactility or artwork of the physical format of CD or vinyl. If you are going to”own” an MP3 library – when did you ever hear anyone offer to let you browse their digital library – you might as well stream and kill off the music industry altogether: see my post To stream or not to stream?

To stream or not to stream?

Like many who blog I am on Twitter and because I write about jazz music I follow those who produce the music I write about, listen to or go to see play live. Recently, the jazz guitarist Nigel Price posted the following on his Twitter feed:

I sold a CD online today. That brought in more revenue than a year’s worth of Spotify streams. @Spotify is killing revenue for musicians. The industry has never been in more trouble than it is now. If you love music, buy direct from the musicians you love.

Nigel Price‏ @Nigethejazzer Jan 29

As you might imagine this helped generate an interesting thread resulting in Crispin Hunt, Chairman of the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers & Authors, asking Nigel to get in touch.

Is streaming good for music?

Most of those who replied to Nigel’s original post support his view, as do I, but also recognize that streaming services do give the artist the opportunity to reach a wider audience than otherwise might be possible.

I do use Spotify but only to check out music before I purchase. I have discovered artists, bands and record labels that I otherwise would not have done and so in that respect Spotify has done me, and the artist whose music I buy, a favour. Unfortunately, not everyone appears to understand what the longer term effects of relying on streaming services might be:

Replying to @Nigethejazzer

I don’t think many people would sympathise with that point of view. People want to listen to the music they like; they’re not interested in financially supporting those musicians. I can listen to all the music I like for free on the internet; I’m not going to donate to musicians.

Hassan Tawfiq‏ @HTawfiq1 Jan 29

When musicians are unable to make a living from their music they will stop playing. Streaming only works for a small percentage of those artists who are currently in the public eye but for the rest, the percentage payed out in royalties is so low that to call it “income” is stretching the definition of the word to its absolute limit.

No doubt this topic will continue to run for some time and will, occasionally, resurface in another Twitter thread for people to air their views. The thread that sparked the writing of this post has reached its end but there were signs that a compromise could be reached. Inevitably the end user will have to pay, and rightly so, in order that those outside the current music mainstream can continue to live and produce music.

My bigger concern in all of this is how, in the future, music will be distributed:

The industry needs to change and it shouldn’t be up to the consumer to pay more for an archaic product. CDs are redundant …

CazzaBlanka5

Perhaps that is a topic for a different post.

Goodbye and hello to Jazz Journal

Jazz Journal in print 1946 – 2018

As a subscriber to Jazz Journal it was sadness that I read that the December, 2018 edition of the magazine was to be the last it would seen in its printed format. I looked forward to receiving my copy each month through the post and reading what editor Mark Gilbert had decided was important enough in the world of jazz to be published.

I always started my monthly read with “From the editor”, an often acerbic comment on the latest jazz related musings, before moving on to “One sweet letter”. This section was where the readers of Jazz Journal got to have their say about the current state of jazz; errors made regarding the name of the second trombonist in a big band event in Aberystwyth in 1962; or whether or not the star rating system is/is not fit for purpose.

In the February, 2019 edition of Jazzwise magazine the following was written in a piece about the closure of the Jazz Journal print edition:

Arguably at its peak from the late 1950s until the 1970s, Jazz Journal increasingly appealed to to the older, more mainstream jazz fan with writing and design aimed clearly at that market.

Jazzwise magazine, February 2019, p10

This may well be true and, in part, a contributory factor in the decision to move from print to online presence, but it is also interesting just how many times both Jazzwise and Jazz Journal covered the same artists, well established or new and upcoming, in articles about the musicians who form the jazz scene.

One area where the two magazines varied significantly was in that of album reviews. Jazz Journal is more “mainstream” in this regard, and that is not a bad thing, while Jazzwise would focus more on newer names to the scene. Both magazines published a critics poll at the end of the year but only one would separate out reissues from new, a bone of contention for many a reader of Jazz Journal.

I will miss the print edition Jazz Journal but welcome the fact that it will still be available as an online publication. I have had a look at https://jazzjournal.co.uk and like what I see. I do find it a lot easier to read than Jazzwise’s online version of their print copy and am very much looking forward to being able to access Jazz Journal’s archive when it is made available.

So which of these two monthly editions will I subscribe to in the the future? Well the answer is very simple, both. The two publications are different and each brings something of interest to what is available to fans of jazz music. I like to read about artists from the past, and their music, because they are often referenced to by the artists of today. Jazz Journal does write about “mainstream” jazz and I hope it continues to do so because it still has a relevance today and should be reflected in print, online or otherwise.

Long Tall Dexter

Described by Leonard Feather as “one of the most influential saxophonists of the bop era,” Dexter Gordon has been a recognized master for over four decades. This new biography traces his career from his early stints with Lionel Hampton and Louis Armstrong, through his time with the bop big band of Billy Eckstine and his sparring partnership with fellow tenor-player Wardell Gray in Los Angeles, to his self-exile in Denmark, and his triumphant return to New York in 1976, an event that decisively shaped the still strong bebop revival. Stan Britt devotes chapters to Gordon’s acclaimed performance in the movie ‘Round Midnight, for which he received an Academy Award nomination, along with extended discussions of his recording legacy and an analysis of his unmistakable tenor sound and style. With a notated discography and a keen appreciation of Dexter’s warm, ironic personality, this biography adds another dimension to our understanding of one of the coolest, and tallest, figures of jazz.

Long Tall Dexter by Stan Britt, Quartet Books, London, 1989

The quote above is taken from the inside cover to the book Long Tall Dexter by Stan Britt. I am currently part way way through its twelve chapters and have to say that I am enjoying it. I have been an admirer of Dexter’s playing for some time and enjoyed seeing him in the film Round Midnight (Directed by Bertrand Tavernier, 1986).

The book has an easy going, light but factual style about it. As one would expect there are references to numerous jazz players who had an impact on Dexter’s playing: Lester Young, Charlie Parker and Louis Armstrong. Two players who were to have a significant impact in Dexter’s early days were Wardell Gray and Illinois Jacquet.

Illinois Jacquet I am familiar with but not so Wardell Gray and one of the real joys of this book for me so far is the introduction of players like these whom I now want to investigate further through their music. The chapter on Billy Eckstine has also encouraged me to re-evaluate him as a band leader rather than a crooner. Considering that I am only part way through the book I may end up having a list of a lot of music to listen to and people to read about further by time I get to the end.

This book is available online in paperback though I was fortunate enough to pick up a hardback copy in my local Oxfam Books & Music shop. What will be interesting at some stage is to compare this biography of Dexter Gordon to the recently released Sophisticated Giant By Maxine Gordon.

Sorry to read that …

music retail store HMV is once again in trouble but not so surprised to read that Hilco Capital, the supposed white knight, took out almost £50 million in fees during the five year period that it owned HMV (Oliver Shah and Liam Kelly, The Times, 02/01/2019). In a declining high street retail environment, no chain could survive that level of asset stripping without seriously remodelling its sales strategy: something HMV have not done right for many years.

I was also sorry to read that Portsmouth Jazz Society has closed its doors because … ‘audiences have dwindled over the past three years and trying to “drum up” new people to come along, et cetera, et cetera, has become a thankless task.’ Sadly there will be many more jazz clubs run by dedicated volunteers that will close down due to the lack of an audience.

There will also be many who were very disheartened to read that Jazz Journal, the British jazz magazine established in 1946 by Sinclair Traill, is no longer to be produced in printed format. The “magazine” will move online but there has been little information put out as to when and in what format online.

So what is to be done? What can be done? Well look around you, independent shops are starting up as specialists – something HMV did not get right, they simply could not decide what kind of store they wanted to be – vinyl sales on the up, young people coming back in to book stores looking for real books, vintage Hi-fi on trend, even the charity sector diversifying with specialist book & music shops.

The future may not be all that bright at the moment but there are glimmers of hope out there if you only take the time to look for them. Take the Amazon app off your phone and go and talk to people in shops, at clubs and societies and feed off their enthusiasm; who knows, you might just discover something real!