June 30, 2017, 8:48am, I sent the following pitch to M. at The Smart Set:
“Dear M., …I'm delighted and curious about the phenomenon of posting YouTube videos of an LP played on a record player…. I'd like to write a short essay about how weird it is—the way it blends hi-fi and lo-fi, analog and digital, while also creating a pleasing visual.”
M. liked the idea. She wrote, “At one point, I could only find Elton John’s Sick City in that YouTube format… it’s definitely a weird phenomenon….”
I began to look into that “weird phenomenon,” i.e., the “full vinyl rip” of, specifically, horror movie soundtracks. Consider Alan Miller’s typical (of the genre) post of Waxwork’s Creepshow soundtrack (by composer John Harrison): A shot of a Technics SL-D1 turntable, the Creepshow LP on the turntable, a corner of the LP sleeve visible to the left, and a little of (presumably) Miller’s apartment in the background; the record begins to spin and a hand (presumably Miller’s) moves the tone arm and lowers the needle—we’re about 20 seconds into the video when the music begins. Presentation varies a little. The record, shot from above, fills the frame. Decorations are assembled around the turntable. The LP is removed from its sleeve (often to show off clever packaging) and placed on the turntable. We see the LP as it’s flipped from side-a to side-b. Etcetera.
Generally, the people who publish these videos keep themselves anonymous, but the aforementioned Alan Miller included in his “about” page the name of the record store where he worked (this information has since been removed)—I wrote to his employer and shortly thereafter Miller replied.
I told Miller about the article-to-be-written and added, “There's something peculiar about these videos—watching someone's record on the turntable, watching the record run out and get turned over—It's wonderful.” And I asked a few questions. Eagerly, he answered.
He posts his videos because he “got tired of listening to 128k or less audio streams of some of my favorite [movie] scores” but finds “pointless” the debates from “the old audiophile gatekeepers” about “vinyl vs. CD vs. SACD vs insert format.” He simply wants “everyone to be able to hear how awesome these scores and soundtracks are!” I asked how he chooses what albums to post:
I try to pick albums that are rarer than others. If something has already been posted to YT [You Tube] in high quality audio, it seems a bit redundant for me to do the same. Copyright is a huge factor as well, with some rights holders being more aggressive than others. One of my more popular videos a few years back was the Mondo release of John Carpenter's Halloween on orange vinyl, a beautiful record but ultimately pulled (and a copyright strike taken against me) for using the audio.
A copyright strike, he explains, “are the bane of YT.” He says, “Google has software to monitor the audio/video content of everything posted to YT, so if it detects a pattern that is known to be copyright [sic] they will send you a notification….” According to Miller, a first strike prevents the uploading of videos longer than ten minutes for six months; the second takes away uploading abilities for ninety days; the third terminates the account. Google support states that the first two warnings “may affect your ability to monetize”—Miller made it clear that “there’s no monetary incentive here. I can’t make money off of copyrighted material (nor would I want to)….”
Aside from the pleasure of sharing music, Miller agrees that “we all like showing off our turntables, yes.” Because he worked at a record store, he was able to “trade often”—and thus show off a wide variety of equipment. (A favorite of mine is the Mitsubishi X-10—its turntable is vertical.)
I wrote to music critic Anthony Fantano for a little outside perspective—I saw a kinship between the album reviews he posts on You Tube and the enthusiasm for LPs Miller, et al, exhibit. Maybe my questions were lame—Fantano's answers certainly were. I asked, “In the face of a possible DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) takedown, why do you think people [post full vinyl rips]? He replied, “cuz they want to and don’t care cuz they’re not trying to do YT professionally.” As Fantano once tweeted, “well, yeah, but i’m a youtuber, so i’m going to respond to it in a video.” The written word is not his bailiwick.
I don’t know if these rips are good for the companies that specialize in collectible vinyl soundtracks. I don’t own any records from Mondo or Waxwork—I can’t afford them. Or, rather, I can’t justify paying $28 for Re-Animator, or $36 for Friday the 13th The Final Chapter, or $250 for the Nightmare on Elm Street 8LP box set—much though I wish I could. But I imagine that those who can do, because these records are not just about listening.
Watching an LP revolve on a turntable is a significant part of the pleasure of vinyl. Forget the arguments about audio fidelity. Vinyl is tactile first, audible second. The equipment required to listen to it, cheap or high-end, is simple. Ideally, you’re in the room with it, but the video posts please.
I never wrote the essay for The Smart Set.
[ Photo: the inner sleeve art for Waxwork Records' Friday the Thirteenth pt. 3. ]