Article in today's Philly Paper (but from a wire service) which I thought  
others might find interesting.
     Posted on Sat, Feb. 24, 2007      

Records still retain appeal - and  sales

By John Gerome
Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Those dusty records in your  parents' basement? They're 
not as retro as you might think. 
Many record collectors, DJs and music junkies still  consider vinyl to be the 
gold standard of recorded music - scratches, pops  and all. 
That enduring appeal has helped Nashville's United Record  Pressing, which 
cranks out 20,000 to 40,000 records a day, making it one  of the largest - and 
last - vinyl-record manufacturers in the  country. 
"Folks thought we had disappeared," owner and chief  executive officer Cris 
Ashworth said. 
Started in 1962, the plant is as much a throwback as the  shiny black discs 
it produces. The interior is dingy, the '70s decor looks  like a vintage garage 
sale, and the air is a stale blend of ink and  cigarette smoke. 
Ashworth, 56, sat down for a recent interview with an  ashtray and pack of 
Merits by his side. He hardly looked the part of  dance-music guru, but 60 
percent of his company's records are by rap,  hip-hop and R&B artists such as 
Justin Timberlake, Beyonce, Black Eyed  Peas, Christina Aguilera, Ludacris and 
Krayzie Bone. 
Most of the discs are 12-inch singles destined for  professional DJs at radio 
stations and dance clubs who still use vinyl  records and turntables to mix, 
scratch and blend music. 
"The record labels use us as a marketing tool to get that  new track out 
there," Ashworth explained. "They'll come to me on a Monday,  want it out on 
Wednesday and played Friday or Saturday night at a club or  radio station." 
Typically, the company will press four versions of the  same song: a radio 
and club mix, as well as an instrumental and a cappella  version so DJs can mix 
and manipulate the sound. 
Another portion of United's product goes to retail stores,  where vinyl is 
preferred by amateur DJs, collectors and purists convinced  that the sound is 
superior to that of CDs. 
"Vinyl has a distinct sound," said Doyle Davis, co-owner  of Grimey's New & 
Preloved Music, a Nashville store where 15 percent  to 20 percent of sales are 
vinyl. "You hear people use adjectives like  'warmer' and 'more round.' 
"And there are other things beside sound quality. People  know what the song 
titles are. It's not like, 'I like track 5.' You put  the needle on, and let 
it play through - not jump around. You have more of  an intimate relationship 
with the music." 
Vinyl records use analog technology, whereby a physical  groove is etched 
into the record mimicking the sound wave. CDs, on the  other hand, transform 
sound into digital packets of  information. 
"No one ever doubts the quality of vinyl over any other  format that's ever 
existed," said George Sulmers, a Nashville-based club  DJ who spins classic 
funk and soul discs under the name Geezus. "I  understand why change happened, 
but I don't think there was a valid need  for the change." 
The means of music delivery continues to evolve. Digital  downloading has 
eroded CD sales. Some artists are skipping CDs entirely  and releasing new music 
online for the casual listener and on vinyl for  DJs and hard-core fans. 
But vinyl still accounts for a small percentage of total  music sales. Last 
year 858,000 LPs were sold, compared with 553.4 million  CDs, according to 
Nielsen SoundScan. While the 2006 figure was up slightly  from 2005, the overall 
trend has been down from 1.5 million in  2000. 
Ashworth said he believes the data are skewed, though,  because a lot of 
vinyl is sold in mom-and-pop stores not reflected in the  SoundScan numbers. 
His company has managed to thrive by picking up business  from competitors in 
a shrinking market. Today, he has only 13 competitors,  compared with several 
dozen before CDs took over in the '90s. Revenue hit  $5 million in 2004, and 
grew to $7 million in 2005. Last year saw  significant growth over 2005, 
Ashworth said. 
And yet the plant remains a timepiece, with its rumbling  presses that jar 
the floor, noisy blasts of compressed air, and vats of  blue nickel solution 
used to create the master discs. 
Ashworth regards it a relic of Nashville's past, every bit  as important as 
the old RCA studio where Elvis Presley and the Everly  Brothers recorded, or 
the Ryman Auditorium where the Grand Ole Opry  enjoyed its heyday. "We want to 
be the last vinyl plant standing, no  matter what," he said. "There is no other 
plant that looks like this in  the country. This is an antique." 
Indeed, it still has the furnished apartment where Motown  Records executives 
stayed when they came down from Detroit during  segregation. The apartment 
adjoins a party room where Wayne Newton  celebrated his 16th birthday. 
Most of the major labels and many of the independents  contract with United. 
Elvis Presley's reissues are pressed here, as well  as recordings by Bob 
Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Cash, Rod Stewart,  Alan Jackson, John Mayer and 
many others. 
"If you look at the Hot 100 singles, we represent about 80  percent of what's 
on the chart," Ashworth said. 
Ashworth is something of an oddity. A longtime corporate  executive and 
former chief financial officer at Nashville Gas Co., he  bought this place in 1999 
with no experience or knowledge of the industry.  At the time, the 
vinyl-record business seemed doomed. 
"My son was very worried about whether he was going to be  able to go to 
college," he said with a laugh, adding, "Thank the Lord for  a trusting wife." 
But Ashworth made a go of it, and then some, boosting  employment at United 
from 10 to 60 people and fulfilling his own need to  create something. 
"A lot of people spend their lives doing something as  opposed to making 
something, and I wanted to make something," he said. "I  wanted something tangible 
in my hands at the end of the day."

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