The Allure of Vinyl Record Albums
Why I Love Vinyl Records
I am not generally someone who gets too attached to material things. I have had periods of nostalgia, when I might have "thought" I would want to keep something, but generally most stuff I acquire eventually gets tossed or finds a quiet corner somewhere to collect dust. I can't say the same, however, about my old album collection.
These were real treasures, which I thumbed through and listened to frequently, and carried with me from home to college and points beyond from one move to the next in a combination of old milk crates and one larger wooden crate whose structural integrity got a little shakier with every new location. Sadly, the compact disc gradually won over vinyl, and when it came time to replace my stereo, I could not find one with a turntable. I kept the albums for a few more years, through a few more moves, but finally decided they were taking up too much space to justify keeping, and I would probably never be able to play them again anyway. So, I sold them at a yard sale, the whole 200 plus, in one lot to one buyer for about 50 bucks. This was in the early 90's.
I immediately regretted it, and have been secretly pining for my old records ever since. Only a few years later, I met someone who did have some old records and a turntable and the old hurt came back in spades as I listened to the familiar syrupy-rich sound of analog in stereo fill up the whole house. I still don't have a turntable, but I have been slowly collecting old LP records here and there anyway. I think I have about 30 or so now. I know I will never get all the ones back I sold (or pretty much gave away) that day, but I'm still happy to see such resurgence in vinyl records.
Now, many music artists are even releasing their new stuff on vinyl! I know why I love old vinyl LP's, but why are so many others - even kids who grew up on iPods - buying vinyl now? I've done a little digging to find out, and the answers are a little surprising to me.
Photo: a couple of albums from my collection - the inside cover from Cat Stevens' Teaser and the Firecat and award winning cover of Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass' Whipped Cream and Other Delights
“LPs generally exhibit a warmer, more nuanced sound than CDs"
Vinyl Gets Its Groove Back - Kristina Dell , Time Magazine, January 2008
Sound Quality - the Record or the Equipment?
I should mention that I suffer from hearing loss, and have had at least some hearing loss for most of my life, so when discussing sound quality, I may not be the best resource. In fact, in the past I thought that it was because of my hearing loss becoming more severe that I have not enjoyed listening to music as much as when I was younger (and when vinyl records ruled): however, now that I know there are many folks who actually prefer the sound of vinyl (analog recordings) over compact disc (recorded digitally), I realize it may have nothing to do with my hearing.
CD's to me, for the most part anyway, seem to have what I would describe as a "tinny" sound. It is not too pronounced, and I would still say the sound quality of a compact disc is very good, but it is different. There is a crispness there that is not on the old LP's. It could also be because I get my music mostly through ear buds these days instead of large speakers - But then again, maybe not. I do not seem to be alone in this thought, which was my first surprise.
In an article on cnet, Steve Guttenberg argues that "analog better communicates music's emotional power." I tend to agree with that, but have to admit my prime analog music listening years also happened to be adolescence, which is a period of one's life pretty packed with passion. This brings me to another reason vinyl records are selling again, which, I admit was not so much of a surprise - Baby Boomers (like me) are trying to reclaim part of our past.
Now that turntables are more readily available, and Baby Boomers are retiring with time on their hands to shop flea markets and yard sales for old records, the genre is in an upward trend. Since I was born at the tail end of the baby boom, I'd say that trend should last at least until I hit retirement age around the mid 2030's. So, if old folks are to blame, that's a good thing if you want to get in the business.
The Needle and the Damage Done
Now it's a good thing?
The sound of silence, at least when it comes to listening to an old LP, is not actually quiet, but a sort of grainy "hum" of the needle as it follows along the album's grooves. This is, apparently one of the draws. Record maker Unified Manufacturing says "romantic, poetic, artistic people love this add-on". That was a shocker to me.
I spent a lot of time and money buying the right kind of record cleaning cloth and fluid, and these little felt sticks that I would swish around the record with a couple of drops of the stuff on it - to keep my records from sounding like that. It was an aggravation. A scratch was - Well, the death of the album to many of us. But now, the very thing that used to get us all rattled is an "attractive add-on". I would say something snarky like "go figure", but I have to admit - now? I love that sound! So, yeah, now that I think about it, I get that.
Photo: Ben Hodgson, Flickr creative commons
What is it about the Sound of Needle in Grooves?
More Good Reasons to Love Vinyl Records
The 15 to 20 minutes it takes for one side of an LP to play is about the right time to take a music listening break. This leads to another reason: listening to vinyl records is an activity all by itself. You cannot do it in the car or on the beach, or carry your whole collection to a friend's. Most visual stimuli from "listening" to an LP comes in the form of watching the hypnotic turn of the record or reading the lyrics and notes that come so beautifully packaged with the record in LP format. This "act" of listening is unique to the vinyl record experience. Another point along this line: this does not so much apply to compact discs, but when you download one song, or buy a single for that matter, you're missing out on the whole piece.
To me, an album is like a story. If you don't buy the whole thing, you're hearing the story out of context. Of course the CD has the whole story, but the side-changing issue with vinyl has its story telling advantages. Some songs flow well: one to the next, others demand a hard stop. That's where to put the last song on a side. That advantage is lost on a CD.
Another reason people buy vinyl records is to use them as a tool to create that unique sound DJ's make when they "scratch". This is a very intricate art based on precise sounds within the music. You just can't create that sound any other way. See more on this on the DJ school video below.
Photo by bildungsr0man flickr creative commons
Disc Jockeys Use Vinyl - for a different kind of sound quality.
Especially used in Hip Hop. This is a surprisingly intricate process!
65 Years and Counting!
How fitting! I am publishing this lens on the exact birthday of vinyl! I swear it's a coincidence.... or, is it?
See this tweet that came up on the feed below:
pilo7 Jun 21, 2013 @ 7:49 pm
RT @marcromboy: Happy birthday vinyl record! Exactly 65 years ago Columbia Records released ...
The Album Covers
Oh, and did I mention the album covers? I mentioned the notes and lyrics, but album art is so much more vivid and exciting on the cover of a LP than any other record medium. CD's are so much smaller that the impact of the artwork is simply lost. One of my coworkers collects vinyl records just because of the artwork. This photo is from one of the four walls full of album art in his office. He says he collects them because he loves music, and "movie posters are too big". He had a turntable but gave it to his son, who, along with many young adults, is part of the new pack of vinyl record collectors.
This was the biggest surprise of all. Young adults are buying both new and old vinyl, for all of the reasons listed above, but I think I have one more theory on that. These kids were basically deprived of the album experience growing up. They probably don't even have a lot of compact discs other than ones they burn themselves, having been able to download everything from the time they were first into music. Now, they realize there are more senses involved in "music" than hearing - that owning the album and holding it in your hands, appreciating the cover, means something too. Records are art. It is part of their social being to be able to "show off" their record collection, and that is not so easy to do if everything is stuck in a file on your computer or handwritten on clear disc covers. The album "collection" is part of the household, and as young people become independent, it fills a void. They get to inject their own soul into their surroundings and share it with all who come by. The albums we own, in some ways, define us.
Photo by me - display of album covers on Crim's office wall. If you're curious where he gets these frames, he says they are available at local craft stores.
More of Crim's Wall
Great Resources on Vinyl Records
- VVN Music: Velvet Underground and Andy Warhol Foundation Settle Their Banana Lawsuit
Velvet Underground - Andy Warhol
- Recreating rare vinyl: an analogue labour of love - video | Music | The Observer
Veteran engineer Sean Davies of the Electric Recording Company talks us through the machines he has lovingly restored
- Why Young Music Fans Buy Vinyl – and the Apps That Can Help Them | Evolver.fm
- Vinyl Gets Its Groove Back - TIME
Flashy new discs and that old cozy sound have got the iPod generation giving LPs a spin
- Why Buy Digitally Recorded Albums On Vinyl? | Music News, Reviews, and Gossip on Idolator.com
If you've picked up an arts section lately, you've probably seen a story with one (or both) of the following theses: Vinyl is making a comeback. If you want great sound, you buy vinyl. The hype is even starting to annoy some label folk, as it calls i
- 6 Reasons Why People are Buying Vinyl Records Again | Let Me See Your Package
Vinyl records are back! Here are possible reasons why people are buying it again.
- Vinyl Record Collecting - the hobby of collecting vinyl albums and singles
Guide to collecting vinyl record albums and singles.
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