The (true) sound of music

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The international media has been reporting about a comeback being made by vinyl long-playing records, which ruled the roost since being invented in 1888 but were replaced by compact discs in the early 1990s.

Online retailer Amazon was quoted as saying that vinyl is its "fastest growing music medium" with sales increasing 745 percent since 2008. It is already up 100 percent this year, the company said.

The news has been welcomed and many hope that LPs, known for their rich, high-quality sound, will no longer be limited to audiophiles but return to the mainstream, restoring music quality, which is compressed to fit digital formats.

A somewhat similar story is also playing out in Vietnam, where some music producers and singers are making efforts to bring back vinyl records.

Last week Giao Huong Xanh (green orchestra) Music and Film Communication Company and Tre (Youth) Production launched a project called "Vietnam Vinyl" to reissue some of Tre's 1990s albums in vinyl.

The 1990s are considered a golden era when the Vietnamese music industry achieved both quality and commercial success.

At the launch the producers said they want to present popular old music in vinyl records to preserve valuable works.

They also hoped this would help bring back musical "sophistication" among the public, especially young people.

The first albums to be released on vinyl are the orchestral Vinh quang Viet Nam (Glorious Vietnam) by composer Tran Manh Hung and his opera singer wife Hong Vy, ballad Mua thu khong tro lai (Fall Nevermore) by late opera singer Le Dung, and Ha Noi mua vang nhung con mua (Hanoi in the no-rain season), a collection of pop songs about the city.

The producers said except for Vinh quang Viet Nam, the rest - much older - were edited and remixed to suit the format, with the production being done in the US.

Each album saw around 500 copies being released for VND900,000 to VND1,240,000 (US$42.6-58.7) apiece.

More albums are set to come out in the next few months.

If they prove popular, new albums would be released in the format, Nguyen Thanh Thuy, founder of Giao Huong Xanh Company, was quoted as saying by The thao & Van hoa (Sport & Culture) newspaper.

She said the LPs are targeted at people who want to have quality products, especially in Vietnamese music.

The response from musicians has been encouraging. Online newspaper VnExpress quoted composer Hung as saying he felt "surprised" and "glad" to know that his album was reissued in vinyl.

Everyone wants music devices that compress sound like CDs and MP3 players so the quality is no longer "standard."

"Our life is getting better, but our enjoyment of music is getting worse. I think the Vietnam Vinyl project is a way to restore the elegance of Vietnam's music."

Composer Quoc Bao said it would "stimulate a return to listening to music in the right manner."

The current popularity of digital music is because of people always being on the move, which is putting paid to "the habit of sitting down and listening to music in a quiet place," he added.

In 2011 singer My Linh released 500 copies of her album Toc ngan Acoustic Mot ngay (Short hair acoustic One day) in vinyl, the first time it was done in a very long time and long after people thought the epitaph had been written for the format.

In June this year, veteran composer Nguyen Dinh Anh, better known as Nguyen Anh 9, released a collection of 10 songs in a vinyl album called Lang le tieng duong cam (Tranquil piano rhythms).

It was followed in August by singer Quang Dung's Tinh ca Pham Duy album of love songs by late composer Pham Duy.

Pricey

A major factor determining the success of the project could be the price.

At up to $59, a vinyl record released by Giao Huong Xanh costs many times the price of music CDs in Vietnam ($1.5-5), which themselves struggle to sell because of widespread piracy.

Amazon offers LPs for as low as $9.99.

Tran Hai Dang, a famous records collector in Hanoi, told online newspaper VietNamNet that a vinyl record imported from abroad costs up to VND1 million ($47.3).

"It is a luxury" to buy vinyl records in Vietnam, he said, adding that a record-player needle, which plays a vital role in sound quality, can cost nearly VND40 million ($1,890).

Gia Dinh Audio advertises turntables for VND9.8-85 million ($463-4,000).

When Nguyen Anh 9's vinyl record was released, songwriter Anh Quan, who was in charge of producing My Linh's Toc ngan Acoustic, had said the market was still "very small."

There were some choosy listeners who wanted vinyl records, but it was not enough to develop a vinyl record industry in Vietnam, he had said.

Even in the US, where the Recording Industry Association of America reported a sales increase of 29 percent last year, LPs account for just 2 percent of the overall market.

Analysts are not convinced Amazon's latest report of a sales spike truly represents the revival of vinyl records in mainstream music.

For instance, an article in The Verge, a US technology website, pointed out that one reason for vinyl's large share of Amazon's music sales is the decline in other formats, with CDs being heading for "obscurity" and downloads hurt by the rise of subscription music services.

"Regardless, vinyl remains the preferred format for a niche group."

Iffy

Vietnam Vinyl is "risky, too risky," Giao Huong Xanh Company's Thuy admitted.

She told The thao & Van hoa that she does not yet see big potential because there are not many vinyl fans now, and it is a really demanding hobby in terms of finance.

But despite all this, they went ahead with the release only to help preserve the quintessence of Vietnamese music and for the sake of nostalgia.

"At least we will achieve our artistic aspirations."

Phan Van An, deputy director of Tre Production, also said they expected "many difficulties, resistance, and ignorance" that the project would probably face.

"Initial losses are unavoidable, but we still believe in the future and importance of values," he said.

Thuy said they made "the best possible preparations" for the project, including a plan to sell a player that can play both CDs and vinyl.

She called on pop singers like Ho Ngoc Ha, My Tam, and Dam Vinh Hung to release vinyl records, saying their fans would be willing to buy the paraphernalia required.

"I believe that vinyl records have stood the test of time and returned, and will become popular instead of remaining exclusive, especially records of Vietnamese music."

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