Digital killed the vinyl-scratch star

Marketplace Staff Feb 15, 2010

Digital killed the vinyl-scratch star

Marketplace Staff Feb 15, 2010


Bill Radke: You’re probably heard vinyl records are back in style. The research company Nielsen says 2009 sales were the highest they’ve been in almost 20 years. But a crucial element of the vinyl revival is melting away. Marketplace’s Kevin Ferguson reports DJs are dumping vinyl for a new technology.

Kevin Ferguson: The computer program that revolutionized DJing starts off with just a beep:

[Sound of a turntable tone]

That tone you hear is coming from a special computerized disc a DJ puts on a turntable. The disc looks exactly like a vinyl record. It feels like one, too, so a DJ can scratch it.

[Sound of a DJ scratching a vinyl record]

Alex Salcido explains how it works. He’s a DJ equipment salesman at a music store in Cerritos, Calif. He says he can do the exact same thing to any MP3 file on your computer. And that’s what’s made the program so popular.

Alex Salcido: It just gives you the emulation and it gives you the feel of real vinyl. So you pick up the needle, put it in the middle of the record, and the MP3 picks up in the middle of a song.

For almost 30 years, DJs defined themselves by playing, mixing and scratching vinyl records. But today, most professional DJs have to go digital in order to stay competitive, using programs like Serato, Traktor, or Numark Virtual Vinyl.

Charles Fields has toured clubs all over the world for the last two decades. Ever since he went digital, he doesn’t worry anymore when someone requests a song he doesn’t have.

Charles Fields: I remember I was playing in Miami recently and I asked the lighting guy the password to get on their wireless, and I got on the wireless in the middle of playing in front of 2,500 people and downloaded the song, and played it, you know, five minutes later for the person.

Like a lot of DJs, Fields has basically stopped buying vinyl. That hurts music stores like VIP records. Back in the day, VIP had 11 stores, and was a cultural epicenter for LA Hip-Hop. But now there are just three. Kelvin Anderson owns the Long Beach shop:

Kelvin Anderson: It was around 2,000 pieces of vinyl here at the beginning of 2009. Right now, it’s probably around 300.

Anderson is worried his store won’t make it through the year. But he doesn’t blame the new technology. In fact Anderson, who’s a DJ himself, stopped spinning vinyl years ago.

In Los Angeles, I’m Kevin Ferguson for Marketplace.

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