To lovers of music, it is the yoke that binds life’s moments and memories together. And, often, it is not just about music itself, but how it is experienced.
While going digital might seem to be the way forward for many of the younger generation, the long-playing (LP) record is what takes the older generation back to an age when music was not meant to be carried in the pocket and plugged into the ear.
Music enthusiasts relish LPs as the sound represents the truest form of the artiste’s work; the analog format, unlike its digital cousin, cannot be copied or pirated. With the resurgence of the LP in the world of music, in India and abroad, it will not be much of a surprise to find Lady Gaga’s latest single adorning an LP at your neighbouring music store.
“In the past eight to nine months, there’s been an increase in the demand and supply of LP records in the market,” says Premanth Rajagopalan, 48, a collector from Mumbai. “Landmark has a dedicated shelf to LPs.”
Two years ago, Reliance retail found that the LPs they had launched in their Kochi and Bangalore stores during Diwali were finding a surprising number of takers. Today, the sale of LPs accounts for “five percent of the international music sales”, says Deepinder S. Kapany, vice president & head, books, entertainment and e-commerce business, Reliance Retail.
And it is not just retailers. Record companies too have found value in LPs. “For big movies, we have a limited number of LP releases,” says Jatin Gill, vice president, music division, T-series. They print about 500 copies for select film releases, such as Salman Khan’s latest, Ready.
But there is a catch: T-series has to manufacture these records in Europe and bring them to India, as there aren’t many manufacturers in India. This makes LPs a more expensive proposition. While Hindi film music CDs cost between Rs. 150 and Rs. 200, LPs cost between Rs. 499 and Rs. 599. Western music LPs cost much more, between Rs. 1,000 and Rs. 1,600. The cost of LP record players ranges between Rs. 12,000 and Rs. 6 lakh, some even higher.
However, despite the price differences, it is consumer demand that is driving retailers and record companies. It definitely has snob value. Kapany says, “Having a gramophone is like a status symbol.”
Ferzaan Engineer, 48, thinks it is more than just snob value. This serious collector of LPs, has more than 1,000 of them; 95 percent of these are first singles. Engineer, a Bangalore resident, says there are three forms of LPs: Used records, collectible records (similar to the first edition of books), and audio file reissues.
While used LPs are not expensive, some of them may have scratches or dust on their surface and, therefore, are difficult to play. Collectibles are a sweet spot for those who can afford it. They are the first cut of an artiste’s record or single. These can cost up to thousands of dollars, based on their rarity.
Audio file reissues have become popular, with music companies buying the rights of a certain record and manufacturing a limited number of LPs. This may not be as coveted as the collector’s edition, but it is as close as you can get to the original master track.
While Engineer can afford to be a collector, there is a younger lot of enthusiasts — although few in number — that appreciates the LP just as much.
For Vidyuth Srinivasan, 27, a Bangalore resident and entrepreneur, LPs were something he knew of when he was a child, but only grew to appreciate as he grew older.
Srinivasan inherited a priceless selection of Ghantasala LPs in mint condition from his grandfather.
Varun Chhabria, 23, a student of Commits College, is not as lucky. “I would definitely have bought LPs if it were not for the constraint of finances. The cover artist for an LP has a lot more freedom to design and that much more space,” he says.
For Srinivasan, though, the going has been easy since inheriting his first collection. “A friend of mine was leaving India, so he gave me his collection,” he says. People who now know of his collection of 30-35 LPs have continued to give him their old records since they see no value in them.
Although Srinivasan is yet to buy his first LP, he appreciates their value: “We [the young generation] have got so accustomed to the perfection that technology brings to music, that the crackle in an LP reminds me of imperfection, and it reminds me of a bygone era.”
(Additional reporting by Rohin Dharmakumar)
(This story appears in the 29 July, 2011 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)