Vinyl records are saving music. Pretty bold statement, right?
Well here’s another bold statement: it’s doing it thanks to the web.
That’s right. Vinyl + the internet = fans getting more connected with their favourite artists via a timeless and historic medium that has cultural significance. A precious and hard-to-come-by accomplishment in an age where we can get whatever we want (whenever we want) with our smartphones. That’s part of why it rules. There’s a great article at Create Digital Music that talks about this. Even if we weren’t old enough to sift through a retailer’s records after a Cheap Trick show — hoping and praying that you could find a copy of Cheap Trick at The Budokan — we can certainly relate to the excitement of having a physical memento that enabled us to relive it again and again.
Vinyl has an essence that lends itself to capturing the live experience of any music genre. Vinyl was what hip hop was conceived on — literally — at a block party in Brooklyn. Grand Mixer DXT scratching records with Herbie Hancock at the Grammy Awards in 1983 was unlike anything anyone had ever seen done with music before: scratching records to make new music out of other music.
[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XSxMtDnRS24 100% 350]
Vinyl was the first medium that recorded music was commercially available on and (for most of society’s history of listening to the recorded form) it has been the de facto standard for consuming it. All of this is no simple task for the CD to inherit, because at the end of the day the CD has only simply, conveniently, and perfectly improved on what was already there — much like a robotic version of a real child. The CD was better in many ways but it just didn’t have the soul and aforementioned “coolness” of a vinyl release. That “kitsch”. That “it” factor. That “thing” that puts the image of a vinyl record on a space probe traveling beyond our solar system to communicate to some alien race that the black vinyl disc was what we recorded sound onto. You might be skeptical about what I’m saying. You might think this sounds like something a disgruntled DJ from the seventies might mutter, clutching his vinyl collection close to his chest as he closes his eyes and shakes his head. Disagree all you want. The facts are there. The “thing” that makes music so awesome has been missing from it since the advent and introduction of the compact disc. It’s also missing (in my humble opinion) from a faceless MP3 or iTunes download. Don’t agree? Well you digital audiophiles can shake your heads as much as you want. You can read article, after article, after article, all saying the same thing. Vinyl’s back – and not just as a temporary nostalgic revival.
Let’s be honest. The 90s kind of sucked for the most part for the major label music scene — specifically the end of the decade. It seemed there was a boy band for every hair on your head. Music took a dip with what was clearly a desperate last attempt by the majors to capitalize on the last gasp of a sinking ship. It was all about numbers and artists weren’t developed like they once were. Majors were tinkering with formulas where they were banking on less then 10% of their stable actually turning a profit and it became a total numbers game. The “music” wasn’t important anymore. The A&R guys who had discovered Soundgarden and Nirvana had long disappeared. I remember paying $22 for a new release on some Tuesdays and being so blown away by what was clearly the “single” and so disappointed with the rest of the album — a lot of the time half-finished “filler” songs that sucked. Ugh. Then… Shawn Fanning made Napster and started this whole peer-to-peer file sharing thing. Suddenly music was conveniently available — by track — for free. This got Metallica all up in a ruffle and people began buying less off of store shelves. They weren’t enjoying music any less, they just had options to get it without paying for it… even if they had to do a little “crate digging” (so to speak) on Kazaa or Napster. This gave them the dual benefit of getting what they really wanted while also being able to screw “the man” in the ivory tower. It was if a massive social class action lawsuit was being undertaken in the form of people stealing music and collectively regulating the market as consumers. The size of your digital track collection was now a bragging right, and you’d be damned if you were going to buy another CD for 20 bucks. An element of excitement that had been lost was now back. Next thing you know, bandwidth is increasing and music on the web is catching on big time. As such, the ability to be exposed to lesser-known indie artists became easier. Web sites became easier to make. Tack on a decade, add a dash of social media, and we have a yet unseen level playing field when it comes to the music industry. It’s hard to argue that people aren’t finding “cool” new artists more easily and with increased regularity. We have the web to thank for that.
With all of this happening it’s understandable that vinyl’s enjoying a resurgence in popularity. The essence of vinyl — the experience of discovering, buying, and sharing music — is a social one. The social web’s essence lies in discovering and sharing information.
The way I see it they have more in common than you might realize.
Then there’s the obvious stuff like artwork. It just looks cooler on 7″ foldovers and 12″ jackets that literally dwarf CD booklets. And excuse me, but if I see another digital PDF of packaging bundled with an iTunes download I’m going to lose it. I get my water bill as a PDF, not my liner notes. In an age where we get bombarded with convenient and impersonal ways to enjoy what we like, the vinyl record is an untouchable icon of what we want music to be. Throw in a digital download when you buy wax for increased convenience and you’re offering the best of both worlds. Vinyl’s timing for an encore not only makes sense, it’s exactly what we all needed.