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For the love of vinyl: Tracking the way to Cleveland on Record Store Day
Vinyl records are seeing a resurgence thanks to a new generation of audiophiles, and new fixes to manufacturing LP's
by WKSU's JEFF ST. CLAIR
This story is part of a special series.


Reporter / Host
Jeff St. Clair
 
Sales of vinyl LP's are growing by about 20% annually while CD sales are plummeting. A new generation is discovering the pleasure of playing records, and that helps fuel a Cleveland company's foray into the old-school industry.
Courtesy of Jeff St.Clair
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To mark the seventh annual International Record Store Day, WKSU is offering you this encore presentation of Jeff St. Clair Exploradio on two Cleveland organizations that are working to infuse vinyl records with 21st technology:

The home of the Rock Hall has more than a museum to support its claim as a music city.  Cleveland also has one of the few remaining companies making vinyl records for a growing fan base of old-school audiophiles.

In this week’s Exploradio, WKSU’s Jeff St.Clair looks at how Gotta Groove Records keeps LP’s spinning in the digital age.

Exploradio: For the love of vinyl

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Back from the brink
It’s the crack and pop of needle on vinyl...the sound of a bygone era.  For most of us, vinyl is a quaint relic, boxed-up in the basement and replaced by CD’s, mp3’s, and now, the cloud.  The vinyl LP in the digital age could have followed rotary phones, cassette tapes, and 35 mm film into oblivion.   But it hasn’t…

In fact, the industry is rebounding in Cleveland.  

Vince Slusarz is president of Gotta Groove Records, about 2 miles east of the Rock Hall in downtown Cleveland.  The former corporate executive co-founded the company four years ago; he’d been downsized after 25 years at a local manufacturing firm.

That’s when Slusarz began looking for new opportunities.  And he says that coincidentally it was at that time he saw his college age daughter buying records.  Vinyl, he discovered, was becoming cool.

The act of listening
Musicians like Jack White, Mumford & Sons, and vinyl evangelists The Black Keys are among 2012’s top sellers in the analog LP format.  At about $4.6 million annually, vinyl is only about 2 percent of all music sales.  But while CD sales are plummeting, vinyl is burgeoning.  Stereophile magazine’s Michael Fremer says a new generation of music fans is returning to records.  

He says, “Young people get together and they sit around and they listen to records, just like I did when I was a kid.”

It's not just that vinyl captures more sound, he says putting a record on the turntable… setting the needle down… flipping sides… they’re all part of the act of listening.

And Fremer says , "that’s an important experience that we lost, and I think it’s being relearned.”

Vintage audio, vintage machines
It’s not just how to play records that’s being relearned.  Vince Slusarz at Gotta Groove says for him, learning how to press records took time.  He says, “There was a huge learning curve for us to get this in place, get it up and running, figuring out how to press records, how to make good records… how to keep the equipment running…”

Slusarz and business partner Dan Greathouse run six 1970’s vintage record presses at Gotta Groove. They bought the presses from a shuttered New Jersey record plant.  Keeping the antiquated presses running is a true challenge for Greathouse.

He says the machines have probably put out millions of records, "so there’s a lot of wear and tear on them even before we purchased them.”

Laser guided LP's 
Broken parts are scavenged from old machines or made new.  But Greathouse says one issue required a space-age fix.  He says one of the problems they’ve had is the alignment of the A & B sides of the record.  Engineers from NASA Glenn Research Center visited Gotta Groove and offered a laser-guided solution.

Greathouse says NASA came up with an idea to shoot a beam from the top mold into the center of the bottom mold and locate it using a reader, "that would show us exactly where that beam was.”

Problem is, with demand for vinyl records so strong, Gotta Groove has been unable to halt production long enough to install the high-tech fix.

One concern Slusarz does not have is competition. Gotta Groove is one of only a dozen or so record-pressing operations left in the U.S

Slusarz says no one makes the presses anymore; so, "you can’t really start a new plant unless you can find somebody who has presses that they’re willing to sell, so there’s plenty of business for everybody.”

Though its product is old-school, Gotta Groove is adding a 21-st century business model. Bands can finance their vinyl debut through a crowd-funding platform called Groove Bot – one of the few digital tools supporting the return to an analog era.

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