Record shop still making music in digital age
Published 10:43 am, Monday, June 9, 2014
There's clearly a difference between listening to a vinyl record and listening to an MP3. Otherwise, Johnny's -- the "genuine record shoppe" on Tokeneke Road -- couldn't continue enjoying its longevity.
In fact, record sales are seeing an upswing, according to owner John Konrad, who opened the store in October 1975.
"It's very liquid right now because of the resurgence of vinyl," he said, noting that changes have really become apparent in the last three or four years. In the recent past, records and CDs were selling about equal, but he said last Christmas wax was going out at about a 9-to-1 ratio compared with compact discs in his store.
"The CDs are shrinking and the vinyl is expanding," said Konrad, who has lived in Darien almost his entire life.
"It sounds better," said Matt Fogarty, of Stamford, a regular customer who comes every few weeks to check out new shipments of used vinyl that Johnny's gets in regularly. "The file of an MP3 compresses the sound. A record is as close to the (original) tapes as you can get."
A knowledgeable industry buff and a music maven, Konrad has a sign behind his register proclaiming that MP3s are not music, at least not in the same sense as a record. While he understands the value in terms of immediacy and convenience, he -- and many others -- don't think digital recordings compare to analog.
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One key difference is that all digital recording involve breaking the sound down into smaller pieces of information that can be stored in a computerized format. Known as quantization, this process means that the digital recording will always, even to a tiny extent, be missing some of the data of a recording.
An analog recording, on the other hand, represents an actual copy of the uninterrupted sound waves.
Konrad likened it to a film being shown in a widescreen format on a television set, versus a standard format, which will cut off the sides of what was actually filmed to make it fit a less rectangular-shaped TV screen.
"Analog will not only be loud, but it will be breathing," he said, describing the waves of sound as being more thorough than with a digital recording.
"Different parts of your body will actually respond different ways," he said. "Not to sound too New Age, but you're going to get a full body wash with analog."
"To me, there is a more broad range of sound coming from vinyl," he said, noting that the joy of the experience begins with actual contact. "Just drop a needle in the groove and something so amazing comes out the speakers."
For many, however, the joy of a record is something that even goes beyond the music.
"It's just a much richer experience," said Fogarty, noting that engaging with album-sized artwork is part of that.
"It's 12¼ by 12¼," Konrad said. "It's a piece of art. They make frames for albums. There's a reason for that. They're artwork."
Customer Peter Kempner, of Stamford, who's been drawn to Johnny's because of the range of music T-shirts and collectibles, recalled the joy of listening to records growing up.
"It brings me back to when I was a kid, back in the '70s," he said. "This is what we did for leisure. We'd go to someone's house and we'd listen to records for the afternoon and talk and hang out."
It was the joy of this experience -- and a love of music -- that drew Konrad to open his store. Originally a struggling fiction writer, the Columbia University grad decided he would devote a year or so to this endeavor while he was waiting for his novel to take off.
Now, almost 40 years later, he continues writing a different story than he'd envisioned. "It obviously didn't work out that way," he said, but he found a great value in throwing himself into the record store industry.
"I have visited Johnny's in Darien and found his store very rewarding," Webb said, noting not only a wide selection, but very friendly customer service.
"It's a boutique industry," Konrad said, pleased that young people are rediscovering the value. "It's a small boutique store industry now."
"It's back to where it was in the '60s," he said, "when it was a record, before it became a product."
For more information, visit Johnny's website at www.johnnysrecords.com.
Jarret Liotta is a freelance writer.