TRT World visits six record stores in Istanbul, whose owners and staff explain the intricacies and delights of analogue.
“One evening we were listening to Mongolian hip hop that our friend Unver had just discovered as an Asian dude walked in. He said he couldn’t afford the bus fare, and asked us politely if we could give him 1.70 TL ($0.24). We helped him out of course, and just as he was leaving, he heard the music and said it was his music,” Tayfun Aras, the owner of Deform Muzik in Cukurcuma says.
Located in Beyoglu, Deform Muzik has been a local hangout and a place of discovery for many years for locals and international visitors.
“It turns out that this guy is a Mongolian hip hop artist, whose life circumstances and misfortunes had landed him to work at a dry cleaner’s at Tophane district. We hosted him for a few hours, we ate and drank together. I hope you’re doing well, my friend.”
Aras says his shop will remain in Beyoglu despite all the difficulties that the area has experienced.
“Young people moved on to Kadikoy as a result. Still, tourists from foreign lands being able to look at music with a broader spectrum has convinced us that we should stay in Beyoglu. Our shop means something to people who seek new horizons, new worlds, the unthought of. Of course, in order to stay afloat, we also stock popular music.”
Istanbul’s record shop scene is alive and well. We visited six stores, three each in Asia and Europe: Vintage Records (Kadikoy), Can Plak (Kadikoy), Zihni Muzik (Kadikoy), Kontra Plak (Beyoglu), Deform Muzik (Beyoglu), and Opus 3a (Beyoglu).
“If you want to produce records, these days there’s a Turkish company [Nora] that presses LPs,” Malik Avunduk, 54, partner at Vintage Records and cousin of owner and radio host Mete Avunduk says. Avunduk believes that people still buy records to feel a tangible connection to music.
Vintage Records is in Moda, Kadikoy, on the Asian side of Istanbul. It has been at this location since 2011, but goes back to before then. As a primarily second hand store, Avunduk says they’ve been selling 90s British rock records made famous by Mete Avunduk’s radio shows, but because of the pandemic, they haven’t been able to receive much stock from Europe.
As a result, they have been selling more Turkish records these days, whose second hand market can see very high sale prices, but thankfully, there are reissues.
He also mentions that in the late 1970s and 1980s, because of the petrol shortage, many Turkish records were bought and recycled to press new records, so remaining copies are very rare. He gives an example of Siluetler, who were playing rock’n’roll music when people were listening to Selda Bagcan or turku, and nowadays their album may fetch up to 9,000-10,000 TL ($1,270-1411).
Internationally, he points to the Beatles’ White Album, “which was pressed as one million copies, but all were numbered. If you came across one of the first thousand copies, you wouldn’t be able to afford it.”
Can Dincer, 40, of Can Plak says with CDs, you could remove the CD from its case and use it in your car or a carrying case. Then you would lose the case, the booklet, and the CD would become worthless. “Whereas with a record, you listen to it at home, you take it out of its sleeve, you flip it over for side B, put it away in its sleeve when you’re done,” he notes, pointing out the ritualistic aspect of listening to records. “It requires more work, more care.”
Dincer says even though he does get students sometimes in his store, his clients are usually between 30 to 45-year-olds. “Students are limited by their economic status, while our customers make their own money and have paid jobs.”
He thinks there are too many record stores in Istanbul. “I was the fifth or sixth store in Kadikoy when I started my shop five years ago,” he tells TRT World. “Now there are 15-20 stores [in the neighbourhood].” He complains about people selling records via social media without registering with the authorities, not paying tax and operating under a grey market. “I don’t believe there is a need for this many stores,” he says.
He mentions independent Turkish music labels such as Tantana Records, who have pressed Taner Ongur and Ringo Jets, Kod Muzik who have reissued Hardal’s album from the 80s, and Rainbow 45 Records, who have reissued ‘Benimle Oynar Misin?’ by Bulent Ortacgil, and issued albums by Mor ve Otesi, Turkish-French progressive rock band Asia Minor, and Audioban, whose roster includes electronic music maker Anil.
Dincer says Can Plak also plans to start a label after the pandemic, issuing singles and perhaps albums by local amateur bands.
Our last stop on the Asian side is Zihni Muzik, helmed by the venerable Zihni Sahin, a veteran who has been in the music business for decades. Sahin started his shop in Akmar Pasaji, Kadikoy in 1992, but had been selling music for five years before then as a university student, in Beyazit Cinaralti and in front of the Tesvikiye Mosque in Nisantasi.
Sahin offers about 70 to 80 thousand records for sale in his shop and his warehouse. He has online sales and says that overseas collectors interested in adding, say, a Madonna album’s Turkish pressing to their collection, come to him.
Sahin tells TRT World that there is interest in the physical format but that it’s at a minimum. “In album sales, digital format is at 95 percent while physical sales are about 5 percent in the world,” he proposes. But he believes that the interest for the physical format will never cease.
“Records became popular but it was through the concerted efforts of [big music companies such as] Universal, Sony, BMG, Warner Bros and the like who pushed vinyl onto the consuming public,” Sahin says. “In the beginning of the 2000s there were mp3s, the internet [downloads] and CD sales went down. So they decided to polish up vinyl and now vinyl is at a point where even they did not foresee.”
But Sahin warns that this is a temporary trend: “It may continue like this for a while, but it will eventually decline. We can foresee this because we’ve seen many people who had enthusiastically started collecting sell their collection and equipment 2-3 years down the line.”
“Collecting vinyl is not easy because it is expensive. How can a student buy records? You need to make 20-30 thousand TL a month and set aside 2-3 thousand TL [to regularly add to your collection].”
Sahin points out that collecting records has become a luxury, which is a disadvantage to collecting in the physical format. He also says that LP production in Turkey is careless, with misprints (same song appearing on both sides of one album, for example, and another song missing) or misleading information (‘40 Songs from 40 Years’ anthology not containing 40 songs on vinyl but CD only).
Sahin laments the lack of a state policy regarding Turkish music. He believes that the geography is filled with different types of music whose richness could be shared with the world, but says that with promotional efforts coming from record labels only, the results are disappointing. He wishes Turkish music were as popular as K-pop, for example.
Still, Sahin believes that the physical format will never die: “It has dwindled down to as low as it can go, maybe it can go a bit lower, not just in Turkey but in the world, but it will continue on [despite all the factors contributing to its decline].”
Okan Aydin from Kontra Plak (a play on words, meaning plywood) in Galatasaray, Beyoglu, has been selling records for almost nine years. He says people still prefer to listen to music on vinyl despite the digital accessibility of mp3s and streaming platforms like Spotify, because of audio quality.
“This is a long subject to discuss,” Aydin, 47, says, “but if you’re listening to a well-recorded album on a quality sound system, the pleasure is incomparable.” He adds that “you wouldn’t buy another CD of the same album, but if you’re a vinyl collector, you might buy one in a better condition, with different cover art, or the original pressing.”
He also points out that vinyl requires “what may be perceived as ‘additional burdens’” such as “dusting, cleaning, changing the needle every so often, putting it back in its sleeve so it doesn’t get scratched etc.”
He says that an album communicates with you the way that digital doesn’t: “I sometimes listen to digital at work, too. But it may continue on to a different album by the same artist, or similar songs by different artists. Records are not like that. When side A is over, you notice the silence and you go over to change to side B; it tells you ‘come change me’. When it produces pops and crackles, it tells you to ‘come dust me off’.” According to Aydin, vinyl offers a richer listening experience because of these aspects and more.
He says the record industry in Turkey suffers from a distribution problem, with many titles not finding shelf space because there are only a handful of distribution companies. He also says vinyl in Turkey has a “pricing problem”, and lastly adds that there are people who sell online just for profit, “which takes away from the pleasures of vinyl”.
A title becomes valuable “based on many factors,” Aydin says. “It needs to be rare and popular, and in good condition. Or for example it could be a limited edition vinyl release of a CD from the 1990s at a later date.”
Aydin stocks experimental, electronic, subgenres of jazz, world music, modern classical music, as well as all-time bestsellers classic rock and Turkish music. He sells both second hand and new records, and is working on his store’s website during the pandemic.
Tansu Ozyurt, 40, works at Opus3a, a record store that only sells brand new records. He has been in the music business for 22 years. He used to work at the famed - now shuttered - Lale Plak right out of high school, and has been working at A.K. Muzik since 2006. Opus 3a, established in 2010, is a subsidiary of A.K. Muzik, a distributor, album label and representative of many international labels.
“With Opus3a [in Cihangir, Beyoglu], we went back to retail. When I first started working, late 1990s early 2000s, there were no records to speak of, locally or internationally. A few international companies were pressing electronic or alternative music. They helped vinyl survive, in addition to audiophiles, who were sensitive about the music they listened to, investing in good audio systems and records to go with them.”
Saying that vinyl survived as a niche product, Ozyurt adds that some factories in Europe never went out of vinyl production, thanks to these labels and listeners. “They didn’t lose the know-how. In Turkey, the know-how died. Odeon, which was owned by the Grunberg family in Turkey, used to have a press, which they sold for scrap.”
A.K. Muzik has been importing and distributing music from labels such as Speakers Corner in Germany, a boutique company that produces AAA (analog master, analog transfer, analog pressing) music.
“We used to work with just 200-250 different titles altogether when I first started at A.K. Muzik,” Ozyurt says. “When we first opened Opus 3a in 2010, we had 20 shelves for records. One shelf would hold 50-60 records. We didn’t have 1000 different varieties of vinyl. None of them were Turkish pressings or had anything to do with Turkish companies.”
Ozyurt says there used to be semi-pirated pressings and “very niche” labels, as well as some idealist Turkish bands who had pressed singles or albums overseas. Nowadays, he contrasts, there are a thousand Turkish albums on vinyl, perhaps some out of print, but nevertheless still many more than ten years ago. “As for overseas, it’s an ocean.”
Ozyurt disagrees with CDs being out: “CD sales may have declined, but vinyl isn’t mainstream yet,” he says. “Vinyl is still expensive, CDs are cheaper, there is a steep difference especially in the local market.”
For Ozyurt, the claim that vinyl’s resurgence was “hipster fashion” is unfounded.
“There are 18-19 year olds who are buying popular music, just as there are 50-60 year olds fixing their turntables and coming into the store to stock up on albums. There is a wide range of people seeking music, and that’s what’s beautiful about it.”