Thursday, June 04, 2009

Final Vinyl - please

So Jack White thinks vinyl is going to save music, does he? Well as someone who was buying music before he was born (first single: Popcorn by Hot Butter, bought 2nd hand from a market in 1971, first album The Sweet’s Biggest Hits) I have plenty of history with vinyl. I spent my college years moving from one shared house to another, carefully packing my precious collection of records and cassettes in crates and lovingly transporting them to each new location. A collection which, with regular investment on an extremely limited budget, slowly grew to be something I was proud of at the time - a couple of hundred albums(!). So I think I know enough about it to list some of the down sides of Jack’s plan:

- Vinyl is heavy. Schlepping crates around is a pain and can easily result in damage to your back or to the records themselves
- Vinyl is fragile – albums can warp due to heat, due to their own weight or due to pressure during storage, and scratches can mysteriously appear on irreplaceable items.
- Album covers are vulnerable to damp and mould
- Music on vinyl is not exactly portable, you have to play it on specialized equipment in a specific location
- Vinyl offers a maximum of 25 minutes continuous music

Given my nomadic lifestyle at the time, the arrival of Walkmans and ghetto blasters in the early 80s already made me favour cassettes over vinyl for portability. But when CDs exploded in the late 80s, their low size, weight and fragility made them the perfect replacement of vinyl, and I stopped buying vinyl altogether. Then in the mid-90s, affordable PCs with CD-rom burners came along which made it possible to make perfect copies of audio CDs, and a worthy successor to the audio cassette had arrived. Suddenly you could make perfect copies of any CDs you could borrow off your friends or from a library. Finally, around the turn of the millennium, decent quality MP3 formats and software showed up, which allowed you to make your own compilations, and upload and download music.

Thanks to all these post-vinyl innovations, I and millions of people like me now have music collections running into the thousands of albums, rather than hundreds. We have discovered artists we would never have heard of and go to more concerts than ever – I, for example, went to 16 gigs and 2 festivals in the 3-year period 1996 - 1998, compared to 33 gigs and 6 festivals in 2006 - 2008.

Vinyl will never return to the mainstream. Vinyl is for music snobs with deep pockets. Vinyl is a fad. There’s another format for music which is also gaining a lot of popularity at the moment, and for which I foresee a much rosier future - on-demand streaming services such as Spotify. If I were Jack White, I would try to switch bandwagons as quickly and quietly as I could, before the vinyl fad passes and he's left looking rather foolish…


Kev said...

With Jack's ex getting remarried recently, maybe he's jealous and wants some attention again? The dance scene a few years ago seemed to repopularise vinyl, plus the hi-fi psuedes as you said.

In my case the only point of vinyl is so I can transfer my albums to MP3 format with one of those nice USB record decks and stick them on the HDD & iPod, 'cos the bastards won't release most of them in modern formats.

Mike said...

I don't know enough about this to agree with Elbuho's premise but I know that vinyl records in nice sleeves are history; and it's a pity. They were the equivalent of good books on a handsome bookcase.

The main issue is that the piper, like the writer, should be paid and our lack of integrity on this matter gives me much cause for concern. I for one enjoy buying my music more than getting it for free and feeling guilty because of it.

elbuho said...

That's why the Spotify model is a viable one - it generates income from online advertising and premium subscriptions, and pays the artist royalties for each play.