By Russ Megowan
With peer-to-peer programs and CDs making music far cheaper than buying vinyl records, it seems impossible that a store that sells only vinyl could still exist.
But they do.
On the corner of Maple and Cedar streets in downtown Santa Cruz, Metamusic Records is the sole vinyl-only store in the area, selling a variety of collectible and current vinyl records to the masses. UC Santa Cruz alumnus Johnathan Schneiderman, the store’s owner, founded it in honor of a lifelong obsession with the seemingly obsolete medium. He took some time recently to talk with City on a Hill Press (CHP).
CHP: So how did the obsession start?
Schneiderman: The thing is, I never really purchased CDs. I was raised on tapes as a kid. My parents had all these records, and I got into them around when I was eight. I started getting into records and being a record nerd. I would play my friends’ CDs and then play the records, and they would stand in awe because they felt the record sounded so much better.
CHP: How did you get the idea of opening your own store?
Schneiderman: It just sort of happened, really. When I realized I wasn’t going to make it as a professional musician, I continued playing music for fun and sold records from my collection. I started selling so many that it turned into a business. I was working out of a public storage container, and it eventually got so big I figured that I could start a store. So I moved everything into a really small basement across town, opened the doors, and had one.
CHP: What sorts of people shop at your store?
Schneiderman: It’s pretty split between hipster kids, DJs, and older people reliving their past. Most people seem to know what they’re doing when they come here. Others wander in confused. As a result, I don’t feel much of a need to advertise as people who like records actively seek them out, which I do whenever I go somewhere new.
CHP: Most people don’t go out to a store to buy music these days. What do you think they might be missing out on?
Schneiderman: I find that a lot of people enjoy going to record stores to get the little nuances when buying music. People will come in, ask for a recommendation, and feel satisfied when they get something they wanted but weren’t expecting. There’s an online program called Pandora, which allows you to type in some music you like and it gives you [other] music you’ll probably like due to their similarity. But people still enjoy coming here and asking me if I like a band and if I can recommend something similar to it.
CHP: What do you think the advantages are to listening to vinyl over MP3s?
Schneiderman: I feel the experience of listening to records is more enjoyable because you’re doing more than just hearing the music. You’re also experiencing the artwork that was intended to go along with it and getting a more in-depth look at what’s going on in the recording process because records have more of what’s going on.
CHP: What about the concrete, scientific differences between the two mediums?
Schneiderman: Scientifically, vinyl has a deeper bass response and better mid-range, which is what our ears actually hear and what our mouth actually produces. If you look at it on a graph, the waves move up and down, but when you look at a CD, it looks blocky with the peaks and valleys flattened out. CDs only possess sound frequencies you can hear. While you may not be able to hear some of the bass that records produce, you can still feel it.
CHP: Do you think MP3s can achieve the level of sound that vinyl produces?
Schneiderman: It’s possible, but it’s more of an imitative sound. Digital cameras have gotten to a sampling rate where they can appear better than developed pictures, but I think it’s different with sound. The record needle is like a reverse seismograph that reads over all the vibrations that have been etched into a record, while MP3s play ones and zeroes that represent the samples taken from the vibrations, so it’s always a step behind a record. You also cannot really replicate the experience that listening to a vinyl record conveys.
CHP: Why do you think people continue to buy vinyl records?
Schneiderman: There’s a sense of nostalgia that comes with records. It’s the only format that’s made it through the ages. Records were invented in the 1920s, and they’re still around. CDs will come and go, tapes are gone, VHS is gone, and despite the fact that people can hold over 500 songs in their pocket, people still go out and buy a record that’s larger than their whole iPod.
CHP: Do you think vinyl records will still be around in the future?
Schneiderman: I think so. At the moment, I think they’re a bit more popular than usual. Demand for records rises and falls over the years, and once MP3s sound better than now, demand for them will probably decrease. I don’t think MP3s will ever be able to make up for the packaging that goes into a record. I may not always have a record store, but I’ll always love vinyl.
They’re like a time: I can remember everything that happened surrounding where I was in my life when I bought each of my records, and most people probably can’t tell you what they were doing when they were downloading songs off LimeWire.
I think a lot of people go out of the way to collect something with nostalgic value and having fun collecting rare things. It’s a multifaceted interest that goes beyond just listening to music.