An Interview with Michael Fremer of AnalogPlanet

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Ken Micallef Interviews AnalogPlanet Editor Michael Fremer About Duke,  Lloyd and "Getting There" | Analog Planet

“Nothing Can Stop The Vinyl Resurgence”

If you head over to AnalogPlanet’s YouTube channel, that quote is what you will be greeted with? Is it true? Probably. At least to a certain degree. There is an argument to be made that vinyl has perhaps peaked, but I don’t personally believe vinyl will ever “die” again. Of course, that begs the question- was vinyl ever truly dead? Or was it only dormant?

If anyone has the answers, or has a good shot at cracking the code, it’s AnalogPlanet’s Michael Fremer. Michael is a life long love of vinyl and audiophile. Known in most circles as the “Pied Piper of Vinyl,” Michael has been championing the format for years (even when it was out of style to do so). Today, I’ve got Michael Fremer with us for a chat. We talk vinyl, the origins of AnalogPlanet, his thoughts on RSD, QC and more. If you would like to learn more about AnalogPlanet, head over to their website here, or their YouTube channel here. After that, dig into this chat with Michael. Cheers.

Andrew:
Michael, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. It’s been some year, hasn’t it? What have you been doing to keep your mind off the ever-raging dumpster fire?

Michael:
I’m not sure what exactly you mean by the “ever-raging dumpster fire” but if you mean either the political or pandemic “landscape” I kept my mind on both while doing my work. I’ve found that the pandemic has increased interest in turntables, records and especially system upgrades and I’ve tried as much as possible to answer reader’s questions about upgrades especially. Business has been great for most “in-home” entertainment companies and vinyl has especially benefitted from it though there are many production delays due to COVID-19 in addition to demand back-ups.

Andrew:
Tell us a bit about your backstory? How did you get into music?

Michael:
I got into records as a toddler because I loved music. My parents used to bring me downstairs to “show me off” to their friends by asking me to identify records before I learned to read. I could because I knew the labels and I could identify the artists on say, Columbia, by scratches or other imperfections in the paper. So I knew which were Arthur Godfrey and which were Julius LaRosa or Rosemary Clooney or whoever (these were 78s!). Then I got my own record player for 45s. My father’s office was downtown NYC and we’d walk down Cortlandt Street where “Radio Row” was and I could peer in the windows of the hi-fi stores that were up and down the block and when I saw the McIntosh, Marantz, Harman-Kardon, Scott and other brands gleaming in the light I was HOOKED. Once I heard good sound reproduction it was all over for me….my first LP was The Kingston Trio At Large.

Andrew:
Tell how you got started with Analog Planet? What are the goals and how is it going so far
?

Michael:
I was a DJ in Boston, on WBCN and produced hundreds of radio commercials for stereo and record stores so my voice was well-known. I was asked by an animated feature producer to help write a script and do voices on an animated feature called Animalympics. The other voice over artists were Harry Shearer, Billy Crystal and Gilda Radner…from there I supervised the Academy Award nominated soundtrack to the original TRON! movie. Later, I started writing for The Absolute Sound and then Stereophile. I started with a friend, a print magazine called The Tracking Angle, which published for four years. It was a glossy full color magazine but we did no better than break even (around 16,000 circulation) so we folded. Didn’t lose too much money and it was fun. I then started a website called musicangle.com that did very well and made money. Eventually, the company that owned Stereophile offered to buy musicangle.com and start a new site called AnalogPlanet. I became an employee rather than a freelancer, which is how most audio writers are paid, and it was well to my advantage to do so. AnalogPlanet has outstanding web presence—approximately 190,000 unique visitors a month and the AnalogPlanet YouTube channel has around 43,000 subscribers. The goal is to continue publishing outstanding content, gain new readers and find young talent to write for us, all of which we’ve done. We have a 15 and a 16 year old contributing and both are outstanding writers and both are vinyl enthusiasts.

Nothing Can Stop the Vinyl Resurgence"—AnalogPlanet's Making Vinyl Video  Opener | Analog Planet

Andrew:
Let’s talk about a few issues we as vinyl collectors face. First- RSD. What are your honest feelings on Record Store Day? Some love it. Some hate it. Is it a cash grab? Is it killing indie stories, or helping them?

Michael:
RSD is what saved Indie record stores! Store owners will be the first to tell you that. It brings customers in and creates a great deal of excitement. Yes, there are people there just to buy and put on eBay or Discogs, but what can you do? If you look at vinyl sales before and after RSD started you’d clearly see the evidence.

Andrew:
As I am sure you are aware, quality control is a pretty major issue we all face as collectors. In your opinion, how big of an issue is it? What is the state of QC within the industry?

Michael:
Pressing a good record is a near miraculous achievement. The more you understand the manufacturing process, the more you appreciate a well-pressed record. There are many outstanding pressing plants in the world right now, large and small, including RTI, QRP, Pallas, GZ, Optimal, Furnace, Gotta Groove, MPO, Third Man and I could go on. Plus, many smaller ones too. Are they 100% perfect? No. But pressing plants have never been and I’d say quality now is generally better than ever since most buyers demand it while in the “old days” records were your only choice. Many problems like warpage is more a result of post pressing handling issues, especially in shipping. But there are issues like eccentricity that continue to be a problem. I expect good, not perfect pressings when I buy records. If the record is too warped to play, of course I expect a replacement, but an occasional pop or click? Nah! Doesn’t bother me.

Andrew:
Let’s switch gears a bit now. Tell me your thoughts on the current state of the music scene these days? In your opinion, what’s it like out there for an indie artist?

Michael:
Not being an indie artist, I can’t answer that directly, but it appears that streaming is a greater revenue generator than originally thought. Between that and sites like Bandcamp where indie acts can get heard and sell physical merchandise, the financial opportunities are expansive as is the ability to get heard. YouTube too breaks acts (Justin Bieber, Billie Eilish) so the exposure opportunities are enormous, though of course so is the competition. The pandemic has been a disaster for touring musicians but it’s been that for many.

100 Recommended All-Analog LP Reissues Worth Owning | Analog Planet

Andrew:
There are a lot of artists out there whom are fantastic, but get stuck in the underground, while others go on to great success. What is it about our culture that causes this to happen? Do think the general public is truly listening?

Michael:
You have to remember that in the 60s Jimi Hendrix, Cream etc. etc. were “underground” acts. FM radio was “underground.” The Velvet Underground was, um, underground. So was Brian Eno, Roxy Music and most of the music I still love. The same is true today. How many reading this know Car Seat Headrest for example? I hope a lot and they’re going, “What’s wrong with this guy? Everyone knows them.” But I doubt it. Pop music is by definition the lowest common Pop denominator yet there are plenty of good acts that are also popular, like Billie Eilish, Lana Del Rey etc. As for Hip-Hop, there’s plenty good and popular there too: Kendrick Lamar, Tyler the Creator and yes, even some (but not all) Kanye West. Many of today’s “underground” artists will, like The Velvet Underground, be eventually recognized but as always, what’s popular is rarely great and what’s great is rarely popular. There was the “great inversion” of the early 60s when what was popular was also great (Beatles, Stones, etc.) but that’s rare.

Andrew:
In the world we live in today, we are more or less dominated by capitalism and the never-ending barrage of social media. How has this affected music as an artform? Is an artist’s ability to get their music out there hindered by all this, or helped?

Michael:
Don’t get me started on Fecesbook and Twitter. They are toxic places for information but for music? They are quite useful. Music was once controlled by a small group of white men. They controlled the labels, the radio, and what you saw on television. There was no “end around.” Now it’s every person for themselves. It’s a free for all and the best sense of the word. There’s actually too much choice with streaming, etc. but then as someone with 16,000 records, who am I to talk? Plus I stream and have lots of hi-rez files on a hard drive system….

Andrew:
Are you only into vinyl? Tapes? CDs? Where do you like to shop for music?

Michael:
I have a big LP collection, of course, but also reel to reel tapes, Qobuz, TIDAL and Spotify subs plus SiriusXM and I use ROON to organize my files and online streaming content. I have a decent sized CD and SACD collection but over time I’m putting them on the computer and chucking the CDs. A godawful format sonically and physically. I always thought a spinning digital disc was a stupid, interim technology and time has proven me correct. Plus CDs are really “analog” in that the “land” and “pits” on a CD are really analogs of the bits, not the bits themselves. And they are fragile too! I shop at MusicDirect, Acoustic Sounds, Elusive Disc, Amazon and at the few close by record stores. I’m fortunate to also get a lot of promo records. I remember in 1991 getting a promo copy of Nirvana’s Nevermind on vinyl. It was one of the few vinyl records I got all year from a record label. Now I can’t keep up with what I get sent and that promo copy, still in mint shape with the press release and glossy j8x10 gets up to $400 on Discogs! The funny thing is, that record was sourced from a CD! There are insanely great sounding reissues from ORG and Mobile Fidelity cut from the master tapes but people still want the original. I should sell mine. I never listen to it. I played the ORG version just the other night and it was so great!

Turntable Set Up Seminar Friday, December 20th At Audio Advisors, West Palm  Beach, FL. | Analog Planet

Andrew:
What are a few albums that mean the most to you, and why?

Michael:
The ones I can always pull out and play earn that over time. I’m a big anglophile so Beatles, Stones, Who, Kinks, Yardbirds, XTC, Roxy Music, Brian Eno, Cream….I could go on there. Plus, Beach Boys, Dylan, Nick Drake, Moby Grape, Joni Mitchell, Hendrix and I’m sure I’m leaving out many others I never tire of listening to that people reading this will think, “HE DIDN’T MENTION SO AND SO? WHAT’S WRONG WITH HIM!” I mean as I wrote that I thought of The Neville Brothers, Sam Cooke, all of the great Motown artists, B.B. King, Muddy Waters, and Lightnin’ Hopkins. Now I’m looking over at my Jazz collection and…I’ll stop.

Andrew:
All musical possibilities aside, what else are you passionate about? How do those passions inform your music, if at all?

Michael:
I’m passionate about politics and current events, so happy to listen to artists that address social issues throughout musical history, which reminds me that I forgot to mention Nina Simone! Pete Seeger, The Weavers, etc. I love to cook and bake and I’m really good at both. I do all of the cooking in my house. My wife doesn’t cook, which is fine with me since I enjoy doing it. I used to do all of the work on my car, when I had a vintage SAAB. I bought it new in ’72 and kept it until 2000. Around the mid 80s if you didn’t do the work yourself, it wasn’t worth keeping such a car, so I did it. I rebuilt the engine, did all of the brake work, etc. but one day as I was packing the wheel bearings with grease I realized doing that was not compatible with installing $5000 phono cartridges, so I sold the old cars. I still drive a SAAB—it’s a 2008 300 HP 9-3 Turbo-X, 6 speed manual (I’ve never owned an automatic transmission car). And I’m keeping this car until it’s no longer feasible. I love it. I’m not into watches, pens etc. and in fact I do not collect hi-fi gear. I have a great system and a few back up pieces but I don’t have a wall or rooms filled with various amplifiers and speakers.

Andrew:
What do records and music mean to you?

Michael:
Pretty much, music next to basic body functions is essential for me. I think records define me! I love visiting people and looking at their record collections. From that, I think I pretty much know who they are. I’ve been lucky to travel the world over the past few decades and meet people all over the place and visit them at home. I’ve done that in Japan, Thailand, the U.K., Australia, Bulgaria, Austria, Germany, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and the Philippines. Probably leaving out some places, and wherever I go I hang out with audiophiles and listen to records. The most annoying thing is to hear people say, “Oh, audiophiles, they don’t really like music, they only like ‘gear’.” What bullshit. All of the people I’ve met are passionate music lovers.

Andrew:
Last question. What tips would you have for anyone just getting into the hobby? How do new collectors get started? What should they avoid?

Michael:
The Internet has made easy learning about records and record collecting, and assembling a good audio system. Just pay attention. Today you can assemble a really nice system for not that much money and get started on the road to a great system. You can buy records online or in stores. You can stream before you buy. There’s great used gear on eBay and other sites. And millions of records for sale on Discogs. Don’t listen to the people who say you can’t trust your ears and only measurements should guide your decisions. Those people are fools. Measurements do matter but only as guardrails to avoid really poor stuff. Based on measurements, CDs were declared “perfect” but that’s only because they weren’t measuring everything. We cannot measure everything and anyway, no recordings, no technology is perfect and it’s important to balance everything in the right proportions. For me, records are still the best way to collect and listen to music. The packaging is the best, the sound is still the best though high resolution streaming is really good. Still, if I were to sit anyone reading this down in my room, and compare their CD or stream the same music and then play the vinyl, I know they’ll hear that the records almost always sound best. I advocated for vinyl when it was going away and I predicted it would return when a younger generation finally got to hear it properly and experience it, and that’s what’s happened. How great is that? I have young fans all over the world! I hear from new ones all the time who find me on my YouTube channel or on AnalogPlanet. Happy to be called the Pied Piper of vinyl!

Ken Micallef Interviews AnalogPlanet Editor Michael Fremer* | Analog Planet

Dig this interview? Check out the full archives of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interview

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

Since he was a young child growing up on Long Island, NY, Andrew has always loved writing and collecting physical music. Present-day, Andrew is proud to share his love of music with the world through his writing, and the result is nothing short of beautiful: articles and interviews written by a music addict for fellow music addicts. Andrew lives on Long Island and works as a Horticultural Operations Manager by day and runs the Vinyl Writer Music website by night.
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