And the beat goes on

Many area spin doctors are finally turning to CDs over vinyl

April 20, 2006|By SAM SESSA | SAM SESSA,SUN REPORTER

Last November, DJ Lovegrove finally caved.

Mosaic, the outdoor lounge he manages in Power Plant Live, closed for the season, and Lovegrove took up a residency every other Friday at Sky Lounge Tango Tapas. Before then, Lovegrove, aka LG Concannon, spun some CDs but mostly stuck with vinyl - even as his fellow DJs slowly went digital.

But Sky Lounge's DJ booth was too cramped for Lovegrove to comfortably set up two turntables and two CD players simultaneously, so he had to choose one or the other. CDs won.

"I held out as long as I could," Lovegrove said. "I was definitely a purist in that I really didn't embrace the CD-DJing thing at first."

In the past year, the number of city DJs who spin only vinyl has plunged. DJs across the board - hip-hop, house, drum and bass and electronica - are moving or have already moved away from records and toward CDs and mp3s.

Some downloading Web sites such as Beatport.com and Traxsource.com offer new singles more than a month before record stores get them, and a number of labels now send out promo CDs - not records. Timing is everything in the DJ world, and most DJs can't stomach a long wait just to stay all-vinyl.

"I had a lot of friends in the industry that would give me tracks, and I was reluctant to even play them because it just didn't feel right when they were on CD," Lovegrove said. "I eventually had to, to keep up with the Joneses or keep ahead of the Joneses, really. There were no two ways about it."

Going digital has plenty of plus sides. CD DJs don't have to lug around big silver record boxes - they can fill up a CD booklet and play for days. It also makes flying much easier, because DJs can carry-on their CD catalogs instead of checking record cases, which were frequently lost or arrived late. Digital DJs back up their songs on laptops - a security blanket vinyl DJs don't have.

DJ Feelgood, aka Charles Fields, played the Global Gathering in Miami a few weeks ago and accidentally left his records there. He had to fly out for shows in other cities right away, and for the first time ended up spinning almost entirely CDs.

"I always kind of fought against it," said Feelgood, who owns Shorty's Martini Bar and Lounge. "I was like, `Oh man, why are these people playing CDs? But it's definitely, definitely a convenience issue also. If your record gets trashed, it's gone. If you lose a CD, you go burn another one."

Money is also spurring the crossover. At local shops like Midtown Records, 12-inch vinyl singles are $8 for domestics and $14 for imports. CD singles, which hold twice as many mixes, go for $7-10. Tower Records sells them for even less. Midtown owner Zik Jabar said he's barely hanging on.

"It's over as far as I'm concerned," Jabar said. "I hope I'm wrong. I keep talking to distributors and their sales have gone down significantly."

Baltimore production company Brothers in the Struggle has six tracks on Traxsource.com, according to DJ and producer Brian Pope. The company switched almost entirely to CDs and mp3s about a year and a half ago, to save money and reach more people, he said.

"When you do vinyl, you're limiting your possibility of sale because not everybody has turntables anymore," Pope said. "If you do CDs, you can market your product to everybody and not just DJs."

DJs are also increasingly downloading their music. Beatport.com is an online electronic music store that is keeping pace with a lot of the larger record distributors, said Shawn Sabo, the site's director of marketing and public relations. Beatport offers about 89,000 songs to its more than 100,000 users worldwide, he said. Some of the tracks are available exclusively on Beatport six weeks before they are released on CD or vinyl. Each month, the site grows about 20 percent, he said.

"A lot of the younger kids - they don't even remember what records are," Sabo said.

Downloaders burn these mp3 and wav files onto CDs and spin them on CD turntables. The most common is Pioneer's CDJ series, of which the CDJ-1000 is becoming the industry standard, local DJs say. The CDJ-1000 has an 8-inch circle that spins on top like a record. DJs use it and other controls to scratch and manipulate the songs just as they would on a turntable. On the CDJ-1000, there's a digital readout that lets DJs see when breakdowns are coming and where they are in the track.

Though DJs say the CDJs take some getting used to, once you have it down, it's really similar to traditional turntables. Though some record enthusiasts might argue, CDJ users say the audio quality is generally better with CDs. With CD turntables, there are no dull needles or worn and warped records.

"If you're getting things at the highest quality, it will sound better than a record," Lovegrove said.

Technologically, the next step is to cut out CDs altogether and store all your music on a computer, some DJs say.

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