Little Luxuries / Rebuilding a vinyl lifestyle
New ways to enjoy retro technology
Custom turntables can be part of a return-to-vinyl investment; albums shown are from Vinyl Me Please.
Photos by Stephen Gabris
The line of people kicking themselves because they either threw out, donated, or gifted their collection of vinyl LPs is a long one. Perhaps you’ve already noticed: vinyl is back.
Actually, the return of phonograph records has been going on for about a dozen years, but, since 2016, it seems to have penetrated the mainstream. Many new releases are made available on vinyl, and classic titles are also being re-pressed. Little selections of records can be found at Best Buy, Target, Barnes & Noble—even, sometimes, at Aldi.
In contrast, you can’t find CDs anywhere. Even Best Buy stopped carrying compact discs late last winter, but records are showing up all over the place. Want a vinyl copy of Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys? You can hunt around for a vintage copy or you can also get a brilliant, shiny new one, in stereo or mono! The vinyl rabbit hole is long and winding, however, and it can be hard knowing where to start.
A small (but growing) Colorado-based company called Vinyl Me, Please (VMP) would like to help. It’s a subscription service—and while there is a monthly selection involved, there’s no windfall of music for a penny like the old Columbia House and BMG models. Instead, VMP strives to expand the horizons of subscribers by pressing titles that are either otherwise out of print (and, therefore, sought after) or critically celebrated but outside of the mainstream. There are three monthly selections produced along three different genre preferences (Classics, Essentials, and Rap/Hip-Hop), but customers can freely switch between them for a diverse selection of records every month.
“Everyone is overwhelmed with the amount of music coming out these days, and building a record collection from scratch is intimidating,” says VMP co-founder and CEO Matt Fiedler. “We launched VMP in 2013 with a mission to build great record collections, discover new music, and find a community of like-minded music lovers along the way. We believe true discovery is about depth and experience.”
In addition to the three key monthly selections, VMP does small runs of other titles, both eclectic and mainstream, often offered in exclusive colored vinyl. These, too, can be swapped for monthly titles that don’t appeal. In recent months, VMP has featured titles by artists as widely recognized as Queen, Lil Wayne, Van Morrison, and Snoop Dog, while also reviving long out-of-print records by Feist, Mavis Staples, and Lafayette Afro Rock Band (the latter might sound obscure, but you’d probably recognize the fantastically funky title tune, “Soul Makossa,” which has been sampled in countless hip-hop and dance tracks). Subscriptions are available at $29 monthly, three months for $81, or a year for $299. Shipping is included, and the Essentials line includes collectible art prints and fun, custom cocktail recipes that go with each monthly edition.
VMP is a great way to begin building a collection that’s serious but spunky with a keen sense of history. And because the records are exclusives, they retain higher value on the second-hand market should you decide to sell them.
Phil Machemer of Revolver Records has a new location on Elmwood.
Vinyl Me Please advertises on websites and social media outlets, but sometimes word of mouth is the best advocate for a niche business. A regionally focused Facebook community called the WNY Vinyl Collective (WNYVC) is a perfect example. Members post real-time photos of what they’re listening to, adding information about the record’s personal significance or how it was acquired. WNYVC members, now numbering nearly 4,000, include local retailers Robert Paxon (aka, Bob the Record Guy) and Phil Machemer (Revolver Records). Both have also recently opened brick-and-mortar shops in the area. For Paxon, despite years selling at other venues, this is his first-ever store, located at 6047 Transit Road in Depew. For Machemer, it’s his second. After a successful three years at 1451 Hertel, he took the plunge with a second location in Elmwood Village in November. Located at 831 Elmwood, directly next door to the Lexington Co-op (corner of Lancaster), the new store is a big hit.
“It was becoming more and more apparent that I was growing out of the space I had at the Hertel shop,” Machemer explains. “Also, I felt that the closing of Record Theatre left a gap in the Buffalo market that we could fill.”
So far, so good. Machemer, thirty-two, has done solid business in Buffalo for the past ten years, first selling out of his garage and at outdoor markets before opening on Hertel in 2015. “Honestly, I think vinyl will always be popular, and I believe it’ll continue to gain momentum,” he says. “There will always be people who want to own physical media and vinyl is the ultimate version of that.”
Finding a player
Buffalo folks looking to start a record collection or expand on an existing one have clear options. But there’s also the issue of equipment. Since hitting the market with their inexpensive, cute, suitcase-style turntables, Crosley has become one of the country’s leading manufacturers. And a Crosley is fine for used, vintage records. But for anyone that will likely invest in new vinyl releases, often pressed on thicker, 180g vinyl, Crosley turntables do not track well; the tonearms are not calibrated properly to handle heavyweight vinyl, which results in skipping and distortion. Better to invest in an Audio Technica table (available at Revolver and Stereo Advantage) and a set of Bluetooth speakers, or a turntable made by U-Turn, based out of the Boston area. In addition to three standardized models, U-Turn offers the option to customize your order, starting at $179.
“We’re focused on the music-making components of the turntable—the parts that actually play a role in sound reproduction,” U-Turn co-founder Ben Carter told us. “That lets us build turntables that punch above their price tag.”
If you’re in the market for a refurbished turntable, receiver and/or set of speakers, visit Black Dots—another local vinyl retailer—at 363 Grant Street. If you already own a vintage setup but it needs repair, contact Jack at Vintage Audio in Kenmore, 768-2682.