Unauthorized vinyl giving quality album reissues a bad rap
As vinyl enjoys such a strong resurgence, there are more great records on the market than anytime over the past 30-plus years. That's great news, obviously. Unfortunately, it also comes with a dose of bad news. Unauthorized reissuers aren't missing out on the opportunity to ride this vinyl wave.
"It's getting worse by the day," Acoustic Sounds owner Chad Kassem says. "There are legitimate distributors and chain stores that are buying and selling these without fear. ... They're coming out with everything and no repercussions."
What makes this such a problem is that the quality of these unauthorized copies are generally horrible. These records are typically mastered from a CD — at best — and pressed on the lowest-quality vinyl by some fly-by-night operation with no care for quality. As such operators aren't going to bootleg a title they don't think will sell, most of these are big titles by big artists. So now you get a totally substandard version of a great record, and that gives vinyl a bad name.
Imagine the customer who's just getting into vinyl. They head to the store and are so excited to find an affordable, sealed copy of one of their favorite records. But when they get home and play the record, it sounds unimpressive at best. A couple of experiences like this and suddenly you have a contrarian to the whole argument that vinyl sounds better.
These unauthorized reissues are all over the place, including in a lot of the biggest record stores. Either the buyer doesn't know better or doesn't care. Either way, it's up to you as the consumer to be the detective and to protect yourself from buying an unauthorized LP. Maybe you don't care that there weren't any royalties going to the artist or songwriter when you buy an unauthorized record. But you likely at least care about owning a quality record. More often than not, the record in question isn't going to deliver.
We're attempting to set our Analogue Productions reissues apart by including stickers alerting the consumer to the fact that this reissue is the real deal. We include language about how the record was mastered and pressed. Beyond that, you can tell by the weight and quality of the jacket. In most cases, an unauthorized copy is going to be flimsy and cheap feeling and looking.
Another conspicuous clue: The record label listed on the jacket or packaging sticker doesn't have an office address or website, and may often come from countries such as Spain and Russia. This 2012 column by Michael Fremer at AnalogPlanet.com addresses the issue and names some labels he says are best avoided. Here's our list: Doxy (not Sonny Rollins' label — another one using the same name), Dol, Dolchess, Vinyl Lovers, Wax Time, Jazz Time, Pan Am, Blue Moon and Jazz Wax.
So, that's today's Public Service Announcement. There are plenty of good records out there - more than ever. But you're gonna have to sift through the garbage to get to the gold.