By Pat Prince
In 2002 Gary Freiberg founded Vinyl Record Day, a nationally established day to celebrate as the organization's Mission Statement says: "The Preservation of the Cultural Influence, the Recordings and the Cover Art of the Vinyl Record" and to have August 12th as a day of Family, Friends and Music. The choice of the date, August 12, is significant. Reportedly, it is the day Thomas Alva Edison invented the phonograph in 1877.
So far, Vinyl Record Day has not gained the recognition that, say, Record Store Day has. But it is gaining momentum. Getting national publicity without a budget or a paid staff can be tough. To solve this difficulty Freiberg has written a proposal for a series of First Class postal stamps that commemorate the historical importance of the recordings on vinyl records. The Vinyl Record Stamp proposal has been accepted by the U.S. Postal System, the proposal’s current status is 'Under Consideration,' which, according to Freiberg, is a "notable big step toward issuance according to representatives of the Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee." Unlike Record Store Day, a for profit group whose focus is to sell music on any format, the goal of the 501 (c) 3 non profit Vinyl Record Day (VRD) is to increase awareness of the importance to preserve our audio history recorded on vinyl and to encourage a day in the middle of summer when friends and family gather together with their favorite music to remember that regardless of world news or personal difficulties life always has its goodness.
Below is a recent interview with Gary Freiberg, founder of Vinyl Record Day:
How did this idea of Vinyl Record Day become a reality?
Gary Freiberg: It was spurred by a couple of things. I conceived the idea in November of 2001 inspired in part by the events of September 11th. The idea for Vinyl Record Day (VRD) came from both the intense constant news that we were getting then, combined with my growing involvement in vinyl. It seemed we needed a break from war, terrorism and however random thought occurs mine was establishing VRD with one of the goals of Vinyl Record Day to remember regardless of world events we always have our personal memories of good times, of good people. And music is the primary vehicle to those memories. Everyone has their own soundtrack, as Dick Clark called it, when you hear a song and instantly fondly remember a good time or people you relate to that song. I wrote a proposal to the Board of Supervisors where I live and they officially declared Vinyl Record Day in San Luis Obispo County. Not to be corny but think of the good for the national psyche to have a day that we remember to keep in touch with life's basic goodness regardless of the world news or personal challenges. Preservation is a natural primary goal of VRD but I see the two goals: preservation of our audio history and a day of music, friends and family as equally important goals.
The preservation of our audio history is a real issue, though it doesn't have the emotional appeal of other charitable organizations such as the tragedy in Haiti. According to the RIAA only 5% of all recordings have gone from analog vinyl over to a digital format. Only 5%! I would bet that most record collections include recordings that are only available on vinyl; there are no two record collections that are identical. Record collections are personally unique and every collection has recordings that will never go to digital. So, for our audio history, to preserve our past for future generations, I think it is very important to raise awareness of the need for the public to preserve and care for their record collections, the recordings and cover art are our audio heritage.
Vinyl Record Day and the promotion of the Vinyl Record Stamp is to encourage the general public to regard "old records" with the same regard as "old books". An example, the other day I played for my 13 year old son a recording that has the voices of P.T. Barnum, Florence Nightingale, Teddy Roosevelt ... some of the recordings date back to the 1890s. This record will never be converted to a digital format and like millions of others is an important historical audio document. Without public awareness of the need to preserve our audio history countless recordings eventually could be lost. Parents who spent a lifetime buying records die, family cleans things up and suddenly the record collection becomes Dads old records. They go to Goodwill or get thrown out; the goal is to raise awareness that as we wouldn't destroy Dad's old books, we don't destroy old vinyl records.
I'm a one-man band so progress comes slowly, but each year something happens to keep moving Vinyl Record Day ahead. Last year Vinyl Record Day was celebrated in Australia, a Sydney radio station played vinyl all day to celebrate Vinyl Record Day. In 2006 I created the "Mural of Album Cover Art" since every charitable organization needs a poster child. The proposal for the Vinyl Record Stamp is an effort to get national exposure to raise awareness of the VRD goals, to encourage our audio preservation and actually have the public celebrate Vinyl Record Day as I discussed earlier in this interview. I submitted the stamp proposal in 2008 to the Citizen Stamp Advisory Committee; they are the staff who advise the postmaster on what the theme will be for stamps. Within a matter of days, literally, they accepted the proposal, it was assigned the best status, it's either "Rejection" or 'Under Consideration.' We're "Under Consideration".
What is the petition for then?
Freiberg: The stamp advisory committee approved the proposal because the Vinyl Record Stamp met the stamp approval criteria: Is it timeless? Is it of a broad cultural appeal? Is it American-based? The history, the legacy of the vinyl record and cover art definitely qualify. The reason for the petition — and it’s a very friendly, respectfully worded petition — is to urge a year of issuance be assigned. Vinyl junkies and the general public need to be involved if the petition is to be successful, this is a true grassroots effort. The purpose for the petition is to demonstrate to the Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee that there is broad public support for the Vinyl Record Stamp series. My dream is that in August of this year, to celebrate Vinyl Record Day, I can present a minimum of 10,000 signatures. I've been at this since 2002; I don't care how long the road is as long as the journey ends with a year of issuance, that's what the petition is meant to do, get a year we can look forward to the Vinyl Record Stamp! The ultimate goal is for the stamp series to influence increased awareness in the general public of the importance of preserving our audio history.
The current chairperson of the Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee is from the film industry. Recent stamp series have commemorated 50’s TV shows and screen stars. The Vinyl Record Stamp is consistent with these media themes, I believe our audio history needs to be commemorated and recognized for its cultural influence as has the visual media. What would movies be without soundtracks?
So chances look good that they will approve a stamp?
Freiberg: I’m very optimist that the advisory committee will eventually declare a year of issuance for the Vinyl Record Stamp series, but I think rather than sitting back, keeping our fingers crossed for that year to come soon, being active could help the approval process. We have to be respectful, not in their face, yet I think the industry and the public can do something that makes the Vinyl Record Stamp proposal stand out from the other proposals under consideration.
If it came time to produce a stamp, what would you choose as an image to represent vinyl?
Freiberg: I did give examples in the proposal. The stamps could have designs of 45 spindles. There’s so much that could be done because of the distinct eras that vinyl recordings cover. Fashion and life styles from the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s are reflected in the Album Cover Art from those eras. In example I can see a stamp of families the way that families were depicted in the '50s, with teenagers around juke boxes, Mom in a cocktail dress and Dad in a shirt a tie. There’s no lack of potential subject matter.
What do you hope to see accomplished by all of this?
Freiberg: Hopefully the Vinyl Record Stamp series would accomplish a couple of things. Ideally the exposure would influence changing perception in the general public toward “old records”, that these are audio historical documents that need to be preserved and respected for their importance equal to historical literature. I hope too the stamp series would cause people who have their collections stored away to talk about vinyl records, to be reminded of the pleasure they used to get from playing them and as a result assure taking care of them for future generations.
And probably more than "I found some old records. How much are they worth?' Hopefully, this appeals to people that are more interested in vinyl than its dollar value.
Freiberg: That is an excellent point. Preservation is the essence of what this is all about. The dollar value is a side benefit because if something is of a high dollar value it means from a historical point the recording is rare. There are countless vinyl recordings that are not economically feasible for a record company to release on CD or make available to download because there’s not sufficient demand to make the release profitable. There’s not a government agency in charge of storing our audio history, the Library of Congress is the closest there is to institutional preservation. It’s us, the public, who are the custodians of our audio history and each individual record collection needs to be cared for as it probably contains recordings only available on vinyl.
Vinyl is gradually gaining popularity back.
Freiberg: Yes, it’s an interesting cultural phenomena that change seems to be a constant from one generation to another. A younger generation tends to distance themselves from previous generations in fashion, hair styles, most anyway they can. A lot of parents who went from vinyl to compact disc now have kids that grew up only with compact disc. To the late teens, early 20’s vinyl is a new discovery, the vinyl record to this generation is something novel and new, it’s hip. For the people in that age group to be discovering vinyl is a good thing for preservation as it extends appreciation of the format in the future. This renewed appreciation is very encouraging for the vinyl industry; we survived the low point of the “dark ages” of transition when CD’s replaced vinyl as the primary listening medium. From a preservation concern “new blood” is an important ingredient to long term preservation of vinyl recordings.
Why did the recording industry turn its back on vinyl?
Freiberg: Since the first cylinder Edison records record companies have changed the format as a new way of marketing their product. After the Edison round record came the 78 flat record then the 33, 45s, 8-track, cassettes and mini cassettes, compact discs and now downloads. Re-packaging and re-formatting is a staple of the record companies, these enable the companies to resell music they have sold before. When CD’s came out it was a huge boom for the companies, the public rushed to replace favorite vinyl albums on the new format. History shows once a format is replaced record companies have no use for the older format because that’s not where the money is. And yes, I get pleasure seeing vinyl sales go up as CD sales slip.
The "compact" disc was really promoted as, not only a way to save living and storage space, but having more music space on it.
Freiberg: That was the same motivation when the 78 changed to the 33, the 33 played for 15 minutes, the 78 played about 5 minutes before the record needed changing.
When the CD was introduced a big attraction was putting in a disc and listening to the whole album without changing, then we went to multiple disc players and the time restraints of vinyl was quickly eliminated.
There's an interesting story I heard from Alex Steinweiss, the father of Album Cover Art, about how the 45 came to be. After years of research Columbia came out with the 33 format circa 1949, beating the giant RCA to the technical improvement of more music per side. Columbia met with General Robert Sarnoff, the Chairman of RCA, and offered to share with RCA the technology of the 33. That’s like Steve Jobs of Apple calling Bill Gates of Microsoft to give him the blueprints to the latest product Apple is coming out with. Instead of getting Sarnoff’s appreciation, he was angry that his engineers didn’t come up with the technology first and stomped out of the meeting, went back to his engineers to demand they come up with something new to counter this new 33 speed. If you take the original speed of 78 and then you subtract the new speed of 33, you get 45.
You are also involved with Rock Art Picture Show ...
Freiberg: I consider myself fortunate that my professional and benevolent interests are the same. I hope I don’t sound defensive but I have never earned a penny from Vinyl Record Day, I feel fortunate that my passion is also my work. My business is Rock Art Picture Show, in 1998 I co-invented a record album frame after wanting to display some cover art and not liking the clip frames. Encouraging the display of the art form is an extension of my preservation goals, again, I am appreciative my professional and benevolent interests are the same.
In order to keep Vinyl Record Day a 501 (c) 3 non-profit tax deductible organization, the only non profit dedicated to the vinyl record, and not for VRD to be a personal foundation there must be a distinct wall separating Vinyl Record Day and Rock Art Picture Show. I’m not trying to make myself out to be the guy in the white hat but there’s no ulterior motive to my commitment to Vinyl Record Day and the preservation of our audio history. My time and efforts are all volunteer.
Concerning the Vinyl Record Stamp petition nowhere is there a request for money. What the petition and the quest for a Vinyl Record Stamp series needs is genuine electronic signatures to confirm that these are individual signatures. There is no commercial use of the signatures and there won’t be in the future. There is a petition for individual or a PDF download for multiple signatures.
How do you feel about other associations that support vinyl like Record Store Day?
Freiberg: Record Store Day is a commercial venture whose goal is not to support vinyl or the preservation of our audio history– it’s to support record stores and sell music whatever the format might be. That’s not a bad thing, but their priorities are very different from Vinyl Record Day which is a non profit organization. From the very beginning the goal of VRD has been to preserve the past and promote the future acknowledging the vinyl industry is an industry that needs to grow as any other to survive. I don’t mean to sound begrudging even though I think it will, it’s not intended to be. Record Store Day came after Vinyl Record Day, and they’ve been very successful in getting industry support because a group of chain record store owners got together, pooled their resources and hired a non store owner public relations person to organize other store owners. Record store owners are an independent group, there is an inner circle that is closed to outsiders, non store owners; they turned a deaf ear on Vinyl Record Day when I approached many of them in 2003 to 2005 with a third goal of Vinyl Record Day, that being recognizing VRD as a new opportunity for record stores to do a lot of what they ended up doing for Record Store Day of having specials, in store promotions, creating a new reason for people to come into their stores. I could not get their attention because I’m not a store owner, I’m an accessory owner. It may sound like whining but I finally gave up trying to talk with record store owners and have worked to increase awareness of Vinyl Record Day audio history preservation without record store support. Though it may sound like it I’m not complaining, that’s just been the history.
Anything else you'd like to add?
Freiberg: Vinyl Record Day has the purpose of audio history preservation and to benefit the national community by celebrating the personal connection we have with music. The Vinyl Record Stamp petition is a grass roots effort to draw attention to these issues through issuance of the vinyl stamp series.
I appreciate Goldmine talking with me and ask readers to please vest themselves in our audio preservation, to electronically sign the petition at www.VinylRecordDay.org or download the group petition and get signatures of 5 friends and be a part of this stamp drive, to be able to say when they stick that Vinyl Record stamp on their envelope “I had something to do with this.” And don’t forget to celebrate Vinyl Record Day on the first Saturday following August 12th which is August 14th. Thank you.
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