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9 things you already knew about vinyl, probably

1) There’s a record on Voyager for aliens to listen to.

NASA placed upon Voyager, a time capsule designed to communicate the story of earth to any extraterrestrials who may encounter it.  Included in the bounty was a 12-inch gold-plated copper disk and stylus poised to play the record from the beginning. Accompanying it are instructions indicating how the record should be played, shown by a series of symbols and drawings.  Looking at it, it’s about as clear as an IKEA instruction manual. Let’s hope that whoever or whatever finds it has experience with flat-pack furniture assembly and an Allen key (not included). Joking aside, the disk also contains the location of our solar system and our place within it, so they can come find us if they have any questions.

2) Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony was recorded onto the first 12-inch vinyl record.

Rather fittingly, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony was also included on ‘The Golden Record’ but did you know that it was also the first 12-inch recording on vinyl?  Phonographic records were originally pressed into shellac and did coexist with vinyl for some time before shellac was phased out in the 1950s. Performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra under Leopold Stokowski, the format wasn’t a success.  Competition from radio and the Great Depression are cited as reasons why it didn’t take off. It wasn’t until the post-war period and the unveiling of the LP by Columbia records that vinyl came into its own.

3) Why records spin at 33 1/3 revolutions per minute (RPM).

Thomas Edison started recording sound with his wax cylinder back in 1877.  Inventor Emile Berliner improved on Edison’s cylinder with a flat disc, the kind we’re used to seeing today.  The downside of this being in the 19th Century was that in order to play, a person was required to manually crank the handle to rotate the platter.  I’m sure you can imagine that. Something had to be done, people had sore arms and playback speeds varied depending on who was doing the cranking.  Shotgun not me! A motor was introduced to counter this problem which played at 78 RPM. Turned out that 78s weren’t practical, as only 11 minutes of recordings fit on each side.  With the invention of ‘talkies’, it became apparent that soundtracks couldn’t fit onto records playing at 78 RPM. The Vitaphone system was introduced in 1929 using a 3,600 RPM motor and switched onto a gear with 108:1 ratio resulting in the 33 1/3 RPM we know as standard today and the proliferation of the LP (long playing) format.

4) Songs closer to the centre of a record sound worse than those on the outside.

Also known as ‘inner-groove’ or ‘end-of-side’ distortion, no this is not an urban legend and what does this catchy name have to do with listening to vinyl you say?  In layman’s terms, there is more vinyl per second available at the outer grooves of a record than at the smaller part near the label. As a result of this, wavelengths become shorter and more compressed as you get to closer to the centre of the record.  This makes it harder for the stylus to track accurately and can result in tracking errors. It’ll be more noticeable on louder tracks, which is why you’ll find them on the outside and the quieter tracks on the inside. So, there you go, geometry!

5) The most expensive vinyl ever sold is owned by the US Federal Government.

A test pressing of ‘The Velvet Underground & Nico’, recorded at Scepter Studios in 1967 was sold for $25,000 at auction.  That used to be the most expensive record sold and was quoted as such for years. However, in 2015 the one and only copy of Wu-Tang Clan’s ‘Once Upon A Time in Shaolin’ was bought by the controversial Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO Martin Shkreli for $2 million.  The record came with a contract that stated the buyer may not attempt to sell or make money from the record for 100 years but may release the album for free if they wish.  Shkreli refused to release the album for free but went on to release snippets via YouTube. The album now belongs to the US Federal Government after being forfeited by Shkreli following his conviction for securities fraud.

6) The largest personal vinyl collection is owned by a Brazilian billionaire.

If you’d asked me last week, I’d have said that my father has the biggest collection of vinyl in the world.  Both he and I were sad to learn that a Brazilian billionaire has beaten him to the post. The billionaire, named Zero Freitas, is based in São Paulo and plans to turn his collection into a public archive of the world’s music.  To compare, the size of his collection rivals the entire Discogs database. Sources claim Freitas’ collection to house between 6-8 million records and he’s currently building a warehouse to store his collection, which he plans to call the ‘Emporium Musical’.

7) Hair, string and many other things have been pressed into vinyl records.

Step 1: Take an everyday object, step 2: press it into vinyl.  Makes that adventurously coloured vinyl you have look a little bit pedestrian now, doesn’t it?  Recently, if it can be mixed into a vat of wax pellets, someone will press it into a record. Blood, urine, hair, string, leaves and ashes have all been subject to this process.  Holograms and augmented reality have also been dabbled in. Liars dropped a special version of ‘Mess On A Mission’ for Record Store Day, having embedded the clear vinyl with string to match the artwork, a statement on string theory it was claimed.  For the 30th anniversary edition of the Ghostbusters sound track, Legacy added a marshmallow smell to the record to evoke memories of the Marshmallow Man.  Better than whatever ghosts smell like, I suppose.

8) There is a difference in sound on some coloured vinyl records.

Now, this one sounds like an internet conspiracy theory.  Granted where and when records were pressed or whether the record was sourced from the original masters or a copy can result in minor variations in quality.  People on the internet have been arguing forevermore that the colour of the vinyl also has an effect on the sound. But does it stack up? David Eck of Lucky Mastering believes that glow-in-the-dark vinyl, which requires phosphorus in the process, does lead to an inferior sound.  Other industry professionals say that more complex colouring such as split-colour, splatter or haze can add more surface noise. So, while no one colour is better than another, blending multiple colours can lead to a record that’s noisier overall. So, expect a soft thud in between tracks when the needle crosses the plane on those.

9) The best way to store records is vertically, not horizontally.

I think this goes without saying that you should store your records vertically and not stacked on top of each other horizontally.  To be fair, this isn’t a very common phenomenon and if you want some really cool ideas about how to store vinyl at home head over to here (https://www.funkymooserecords.ca/blogs/stories/the-fundamental-guide-to-vinyl-record-storage).  Because of their size and weight, records should be stored upright like books on a shelf.  Stacking them can lead to warped discs and ring wear on the album jackets. Not to mention if you have a few shellacs in your collection, they could break easily under the weight of a massive pile of records, particularly if you place a large house plant on top of the stack (warning: do not try this at home).

Growing up in the North East of England, Jasmine spent her teens writing live gig reviews for the local paper.
She got her undergraduate degree in Politics from Northumbria University and now writes freelance for Halopygian.
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