Thoughts on The Rise of Vinyl

Written by on January 12, 2014

If you’re a fan of independent music in pretty much any genre, from punk to metal to indie-pop to noise, you’ve seen firsthand the resurgence of vinyl releases in the past few years. From the early 1990’s when CD’s took over until 2007, vinyl album sales for the country covered around 1 million a year. But in 2008 it doubled to over 2 million. Apparently 2013 saw the biggest vinyl sales numbers since they started counting at 6 million. (They being Statista, who started counting in 1991 when formats were going all kinds of ways at once – cassette tapes and CD’s and vinyl all fighting for space on record store shelves). Here’s The Article

Statista Graph

If you read the article this links to; it talks about fans getting into vinyl for two main reasons: “warmer sound” and “big cool collectible packaging and artwork.” I agree. But that’s not the biggest reason for me and for others I’ve talked to about this.
The biggest reason: the non-digital formats force you to pay more attention. You are in a much better state of mind to experience the music and appreciate it through physical ritual. At this point I can imagine some of you saying “what the hell do you mean?” Let me start by describing the way some people, myself included, listen to digital music.
Worst case scenario – you’re listening to a bad-quality (like 128k) mp3 on laptop computer speakers while doing something else … like reading status updates or doing homework or eating lunch or whatever – possibly all 4 at once. The music sounds somewhere between horrid and tinny. Even in a much-better-case scenario, you’re listening to a decent-quality digital file blasted loudly in a car stereo or some nice headphones or some home speaker system that probably cost around $100 or so, and is being interrupted by Pandora commercials, pings of Facebook updates or text messages, or 1000 other digital audio distractions that go beep. Even in this scenario where the music sounds good – it doesn’t sound great.
Vinyl is played by enthusiasts. We spent way more than $100 on our home stereo system. Probably the speakers alone cost more than that. But regardless of how much money was or wasn’t spent (thrift stores these days are overflowing with amazing quality home stereo equipment for painfully good prices … hint hint) on the system … the very fact that you are listening on a home stereo to vinyl means you have gone through a ritual:
You’ve taken out the vinyl, cleaned it or at least brushed it, carefully placed the needle, and now are listening to songs in the order intended by the artist with less distractions. Maybe (heavens to mergatroid) you’ve even turned your phone to ‘do-not-disturb’ or (sweet Odin’s beard!) actually tuned that digital leash off for a bit. And you’re listening. Actually listening. Even if only in cheap headphones hooked up to a $15 thrift-store receiver, you’re giving the music your full attention. And that makes the music so much more meaningful. For someone who really cares about music – this is what it’s all about. Want to listen to the second half of the album? Go through that ritual again! Looking at big artwork the band wanted to to look at doesn’t hurt either.
Now is it possible to get that experience with digital files? Absolutely. An uncompressed .wav or .aiff will sound AMAZING going through good speakers or good headphones. Even a good mp3 (like 320k) can sound really really good. But what are the chances you’re listening at home with no distractions to an uncompressed digital file? Not great.
Want to get into vinyl on the cheap? Here’s one of hundreds of articles out there on that.
And like I said – get your audio receiver and speakers at a thrift store if you’re starting out. $50 should get you an entire system that sounds surprisingly good. Easily 10 times better than the junk a big box retailer sells new for more dough.
Are you not an audio-inclined person? I bet you have a friend who is. Trust me, as one of those people, we LOVE it when friends ask us to help them hook up or shop for their sound systems.

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