Vinyl Vaults - Reunion Week


By Tanya Silverman

Photo courtesy of Donna Grayson.

“AMOEBA HAS CDS, VINYL,” a temporary banner on this California-based music store’s new website read to excite the public, “AND DIGITAL.”

New and Old Music Formats

Earlier this year, Amoeba Music revamped its website, following an intensive and expensive commitment of 200 employees and $11 million. One component of this project was the innovative Vinyl Vaults, which Amoeba describes as their “curated collection of digitized vinyl and 78s.” During the process of compiling these sonically cleaned and re-mastered tracks, engineers worked to smooth out the inconsistencies and static of out-of-print records, while simultaneously taking precautions to retain their sound.

The Vinyl Vaults and revamped website illustrate how Amoeba is executing efforts to keep up with the new technological era. Though its three CD and Vinyl shops still stand in the SF Bay Area and Los Angeles, times are tough for this type of business. Regional record-shopping landmarks like Specs of South Florida and the Lower Queen Anne branch of Easy Street Records of Seattle have failed to adapt in this digital age. Even Bleecker Bob’s, a legendary Greenwich Village spot open since 1968, will shut its doors to New York City in a few weeks.

Technology undoubtedly has affected access to music, and Amoeba could be making its attempt to synthesize a buffer zone that makes best of what is new and old.

The Vinyl Vaults: Rare and Out-of-Print Interests

Rather than browsing through hundreds of old records, which could have been damaged by dust, mold, heat or cold, navigating the Vinyl Vaults facilitates the process of going about one’s auditory interest. Such rare, older music has been made readily pursuable by means of up-to-date technology usage.

Over 1,000 titles are currently featured in the Vinyl Vaults, and Amoeba Music is busy loading up 10 to 15 more tracks daily; files are sold for 78 cents per MP3, 80 cents per Lossless M4A and $1.50 per WAV file. The most developed category is rock, which features sub-genres like garage and new wave, and there are also some oldies and novelties to search through. Everything is set up simply and browsers can listen to sound samples of the tracks before they decide to purchase.

Nothing universally conventional is available on the Vinyl Vaults, rather plenty of underground albums and unexpected word pieces are listed, as are various niche selections. Eastern European culture enthusiasts can explore the musical avenue of this intellectual interest through Bloodstains Across Yugoslavia: 22 Essential Punk Rock Blasts. Beatles aficionados have the opportunity to hear the spontaneous fanaticism this group emanated by listening to recordings of live fans screaming, cheering and commenting about the band playing a concert, all amidst the lack of actual hearable music emanating from John, Paul, George or Ringo in Beatles at Shea Stadium – Described By Erupting Fans!

Sid Vicious, former bassist of the Sex Pistols, can be remembered through his posthumous album, Love Kills N.Y.C., which is available on this online catalog. Practically all of the songs are covers, such as alluding to his own drug appreciation with his edition of the Ramones’ “Chinese Rocks,” or belting his (in)famous, angst-ridden version of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.” Living fast and dying young, the extremist punk is not remembered as the most talented musician, or as an inspirational role model, but the digitally re-mastered files available on Vinyl Vaults allow this English punk’s essence to radiate eternally on a readily available platform, even if the last physical LP is ever misplaced.

Legality Issues

Whether, niche, rare, out-of-print or even remotely mainstream, such a system as Vinyl Vaults has not steered clear of copyright and legality issues. Amoeba claims that they have attempted to reach out to as many “artists, song writers, publishers and/or record companies or their respective heirs and successors” that were possible, and those who discover their copyrighted material up on the Vinyl Vaults are welcome to contact Amoeba to work out agreements. In the meantime, the money earned from these sales is set-aside in an escrow account.

However extensive these outreach efforts were, a number of musicians and other right holders who are featured on the Vinyl Vaults were not informed about their work going up for sale in this manner. Upset by this fact, many expressing their dissatisfaction with Amoeba and are pushing to settle their case. It is unclear how this will unfold and the way it will affect the Vinyl Vaults.

Undetermined Times

While California’s Amoeba Music remains open to the public through its three locations, this company simultaneously transmits its mission to the current age by providing a comprehensive website with its most novel project, the Vinyl Vaults. None of this is static, however, and in an optimistic light, perhaps the Vinyl Vaults will work out legally sound with deserved respect to rights holders. It is an interesting method of musical preservation, and maybe (just maybe) the Amoeba shops will survive through the current era, as they still retain the value of record store culture that is largely disintegrating.