The Revolution Will Not Be Digitalized

There’s a place for digital music files. I have ‘em, my iPod is filled to the brim with them. They’re easy to store, to catalogue, to sort, to play, to back up. They even have the album artwork, such as it now is, that you can blow up to full screen. When I go on long trips in the car, or a plane, I use my iPod. When I’m working out in the yard for extended periods of time my pocket sized music collection comes with me.

Digital music files don’t ‘rot’ over time; there are no jewel cases to crack or cardboard digi-pacs to scuff. Rare music that took years and years of search to locate are now available at the click of a mouse, for pennies compared to what vintage vinyl or that rare CD would set you back. And no matter how much I bitch about it the sound of MP3’s is passable and getting better all the time. My ears are finding it more difficult to tell the difference.

Vinyl’s comeback is interesting to me, especially when you analyze the demographics of who’s actually buying the stuff. Yes, some old throwbacks are buying some of it but it’s actually a very small percentage of the overall. It’s a stone cold fact that the people that were alive during vinyl’s heyday amount for the smallest percentage of vinyl consumers. No, it’s kids in their late teens/early twenty’s and thirty-somethings that are buying the bulk of the product. DJ’s, who kept vinyl alive for decades, have given it up. It’s much cooler, and quite a bit more convenient (and easier on the back) to carry a laptop to a rave versus 12 milk crates and 2 turntables. So why are ‘the kids’ (God I hate that I’m old enough now to call them that!) turning their back on their own technology? I recently read that it is that very inconvenience that is one of the main reasons. They like the bulk, they like the routine of keeping the record stored and clean, turning it over and playing it one side at a time. There’s that, and then there’s the fact that most of this demographic likes ALBUMS as opposed to singles, or individual songs. Then you have the hi-fi enthusiast, or audiophile, who swears that the sound of wax (analog) is far superior to anything digital. They cite scientific studies that state the human ear enjoys music more when it’s in this ancient format; the difference between margarine and butter”, to cop a phrase from some blog on the subject I read recently.

I like vinyl, but my reasons are purely nostalgic, because I don’t even own a turntable, haven’t for decades. It’s also cost prohibitive for me at the moment to start a new collection. Vinyl records are now $20+ each, as opposed to when I was growing up when you could get one for under a tenner. How about used vinyl, you ask? Sure, if you can find me a store within 100 miles that has the type of stuff I want. Let me save you the trouble: there aren’t any.

I still have a few records but their value to me now is purely aesthetic; my chosen physical format since the late ‘80’s has been CD’s, and that’s where I’ll stay. I do love a lot of what MP3’s have to offer, too, as I mention above, and will continue to embrace the technology while I await the next inevitable format (your music collection stored as an auricular implant, perhaps?). There’s room for everyone, that’s the bottom line. I dig the fact people are embracing vinyl, and albums as an art form, truly I do. Will it last? Anyone’s guess, but I hope it does. Music will carry on, in whatever format people want. The music industry (whatever that morphs into) and their marketing firms will see to that.