On September 5th of this year the Recording Industry Association of America released their numbers for their mid year report and without surprise the vinyl surge continued to flourish, and if the newly revealed numbers are any indication, vinyl will soon topple CD sales for the first time since 1986.
Since the dark days of the nineties when vinyl was relegated as obsolete, taking their shameful positions next to the fondue sets and hula hoop at the early oughts cultural garage sale, things continue to pick up. Although it wouldn’t take much sleuthing to find articles on the “vinyl resurgence” that populated the pages of travel mags and news programs trying to fill time a decade ago, the recent data does indeed indicated people’s urges to put the needle in the groove are not waning since the media generated vinyl explosion. With the R.I.A.A. reporting that mid way through 2019 vinyl sales represented $224.1 million of sales while cd’s remained just a mere nose ahead with $247.9 million of sales, but also declining three times as much as vinyl’s continued growth. Before the fans of the vinyl format start slapping backs and kissing babies though remember vinyl sales is only 4% of the market with streaming services making up the bulk of the industry and showing no sign of slowing down. Most telling was Warner Brothers CEO and resident wet blanket, Tom Corson explaining to Rolling Stone last week that although they are pleased with vinyl sales they will not be dedicating a department to vinyl and will just be looking upon it as a specialty market for a small market.
Because of this attitude from the big labels, small independent vinyl only labels have been springing up and meeting the demand from vinyl fiends that just have to have their music stamped into wax as opposed to streaming into their ear buds.
A local label that has been dazzling both the current release market as well as the highly competitive reissue market is Montreal’s Return To Analog. In just over four short years the label, headed up by local brick and mortar wax shack owner Aux 33 Tours, Peter Markotanyos has released over 50 releases
on Return To Analog including crucial live releases from Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk, current bands like Steve Hill and Men I Trust, Reagan era Montreal hardcore from Genetic Control and has far more poised to smash open the international vinyl market in 2020.
Godberd talked to Pete Markotanyos via email
Godberd: How did your vinyl odyssey begin?
Peter Markotanyos: My passion for collecting vinyl developed when I was 12 years old. As a kid I used to do odd jobs such as mowing lawns and things of that nature so I could get money to buy records. I guess /you can trace it all back to the first record I ever got which was Kiss Alive II.
Godberd: What was the first project for the label and how did it come about? Was this the inspiration behind starting up the label?
Peter Markotanyos: Our first Release was Offenbach’s Tabarnac, which we released on Record Store Day 2015. As for the inspiration being the owner of a record store its far easier for me to identify original pressings that are scarce on the used market for which there is a lot of demand for. Even then though it’s important that it’s a release we love and artists we wish to work with.
Godberd: There has been a definite Quebec slant to the label, such as Quebec classics like the twangy surf music of Les Jaguars. the garage punk swank of The Haunted or the Reagan era hardcore of Genetic Control. Was it important to showcase Quebec’s wide musical history?
Peter Markotanyos: Oh absolutely! Our goal is to bring awareness and showcase artists that for one reason or another might not have gotten the recognition they deserved when the records were initially released. A lot of those albums are now sought after and we are happy to introduce these albums again in both French and English languages to a new audience.
Godberd: There has been a lot of reissue labels like the Numero Group, Light in the Attic Four Men With Beards etc. was there other labels you looked to for inspiration?
Peter Markotanyos: Not really, we just wanted to do our own thing without being pigeonholed. We just want to put out great music regardless of the genre.
Godberd: Certainly there are audiophiles picking up your releases, are you getting the direct stereo ¼ inch two tracks or are the sources different for each release.
Peter Markotanyos: The sources will vary from one project to another but we always strive to seek out the best source material and work with that. The process can be quite complicated and time consuming but it is a labor of love.
Godberd: Once you find a record you want to put out what are the steps you take before it is manufactured and hitting the shelves?
Peter Markotanyos: This is a little hard to answer, as the process is never the same from one project to the other. There is a lot of technical stuff that I do not want to bore you and your readers with.
Godberd: Are people outside of Quebec discovering the Francophone artists on your label?
Peter Markotanyos.: Definitely. Our customer base is actually bigger overseas than it is locally. A lot of our releases have found homes abroad (Europe, Asia, USA..) thanks to a solid network of distributors.
Godberd: Do you think the vinyl surge has peaked and we have already seen the watermark? Will it ever go away?
Peter Markotanyos: It never really went away. The shop has been opened for 14 years and the growth is significant from one year to the other, Return To Analog is a young label and just in the past 2 years sales have also significantly increased so I would say overall things look pretty good.
Godberd: Many have complained the vinyl prices have sky rocketed over the past five years, do you agree?
Peter Markotanyos: Based on my shop owning experience I would definitely have to say yes as there are may factors such as the exchange rate that does not help matters much. Labels are trying to recoup the impact of loss of revenue stemming from cd sales, streaming/downloading, etc. Seeing as there is a resurgence of interest in the vinyl format most labels will see an opportunity to make some of that money back. For all these reason we decided to go the opposite route and make our products very affordable and buck that trend.
Godberd: Can you describe a typical Return to Analog customer?
Peter Markotanyos: There is no real typical customer because of the variety of genres we carry but when you offer great titles for under 20$ it’s a lot more tempting for vinyl fans to experiment and try their luck at something you might not normally consider getting. However we do have a lot of returning customers that actually collect every release we put out.
Godberd: What is the inspiration that makes you want to reissue a record. What are the prerequisites? Are you putting out current artists as well?
Peter Markotanyos: We are working with current artists such as Men I Trust (which will be releasing a new double album in October), Ghostly Kisses, Elsiane and Hands of Despair to name a few. We have plenty more coming up.
Godberd: Your roster is very disparate. Was it important that you were able to jump around from genres like jazz, garage, psych to hardcore etc? Will this hinder or help you as a label?
Peter Markotanyos: Variety is very important to us. Every title we put out is carefully curated. I do not think this will hinder the label, crossover market is a very important aspect of the business.
Godberd: What is your elusive Holy Grail vinyl record finds that have you forever crated digging?
Peter Markotanyos: That is a very tough question, there are a couple I could think of off the top of my head. I recently started getting into obscure instrumental funk albums and would love to get my hands on a copy of Tarika Blue’s s/t album, at the moment that is my top grail.
You can keep up with Return to Analog’s vinyl releases at www.returntoanalog.com and visit Aux 33 Tours at www.Aux33tours.com or darken the door to their brick and mortar shop in Montreal at 1373 Mont Royal East.