Record giant Universal Music Group is cutting prices on the CD, as analysts clamor for still-lower prices. But as for actual records – the kind made of vinyl – odder and odder innovations flourish. If the CD is dying, the vinyl record is an undead, sexually-alluring vampire.

Two recent releases not only treat the record as “delivery mechanism,” but also tools for playing the record.

The late hip hop great J Dilla (aka Jay Dee) gets a well-deserved tribute from his label Stones Throw, complete with some fantastic, unreleased instrumentals (“Safety Dance”, “Sycamore”, “Bars & Twists,” and remastered cuts for Mos Def, Q-Tip and Busta Rhymes). But, working in collaboration with Serato, this release also takes note of the people actually buying records these days: DJs. There are beautiful, donut-themed slipmats. (As far as I’m concerned, anything featuring donuts earns automatic bonus points. Mmmmm… donuts.) The records themselves, meanwhile, are dual-sided. When you want to hear the record, play it face up. When you want to use DJ software, flip it for Serato control tone. (Officially, that works with Serato Scratch Live DJ, but it’ll also work with the open-source Mixxx and Deckadance apps, too.)

It’s a fascinating idea: make the record itself friendly to vinyl and digital turntablists. Of course, if you’re a digital DJ, I imagine you already have the control records you need, but — you still get those tasty donut slipmats. And it is a reminder (as if you needed one) that DJs are keeping the record format alive. Massive CD sales may have been the domain of the mass market, but vinyl demonstrates how powerful niches and the long tail can be.


What’s that? No space for turntables? (Believe me, I feel you.) How about a record whose sleeve becomes a DIY turntable, spun with a pencil?

That’s the idea of a direct mail piece created by sound design studio Griffiths, Gibson, and Ramsay Productions (GGRP). Originally intended just as an attention-getter for creative directors, the concept has caught the imagination of bloggers, and those who got them wanted extras for their kids. (It takes me back to all the strange, cheap, disposable records we were handed as kids during what was supposed to be the last days of vinyl.)

The basic apparatus works just like a conventional record player: spin the record (using a pencil in this case instead of a rotating turntable), and a needle transduces the sound (here, amplified by the cardboard housing). I really like the cover on the record, too.

GREY SPINS VINYL HITS FOR GGRP [Marketing Mag Canada, via GGRP’s own excellent Making Noise blog]

And from one of my favorite design blogs, the eco-centered Inhabit:
Album Sleeve Transforms Into a Cardboard Record Player!

For their part, Inhabit notes the value of cardboard as construction material and the green-minded reuse of packaging.

It’s an idea that would be great fun to build upon. The only thing that’s missing, that I can see, is an easy DIY way of producing the records. (Lasercutter trick, maybe?) Adding a piezo element to amplify the signal could be a thought, too.

Another how-to on a handmade paper+needle configuration (suggested only for playing records you really don’t want to save), in a video on WonderHowTo (also via Inhabit):

And some more pics of the two designs mentioned here: