Why are more people buying vinyl? Iím not entirely sure, to be honest with you, but Iím damn glad that they are. It should be examined as to why the interest in vinyl declined in the first place. People stopped buying vinyl because of convenience. Media became smaller, so it was easier to transport, collect, and enjoy. The cassette, the compact disc, the mp3. All these formats had their part to play in slowly pushing vinyl out of the picture. While it has not been completely eliminated, and in recent years has seen somewhat of a resurgence, vinyl is no longer the dominant format by any stretch of the imagination.
We live in an age where instant gratification is the status quo. This music industry is a shining example of this. Not only do people believe that they have the right to illegally download music, but they also have the tenacity to complain when an album has yet to leak or if the leak is of inferior quality. There is a disconnect on all levels; between fan and artist, artist and label, label and fan, etc. The rocky, misunderstood, and often exploitive relationship is far more common than the understanding and sincere one. Perhaps it is business, perhaps it is human nature. Itís probably both. So when you take the desire for convenience and instant gratification and mix in the desires of all parties involved you get an absolute disaster. The cassette gave way to the CD, the CD gave way to digital media, and digital media has opened the door for blatant theft that is somehow justified in the minds of those who choose to take that path. But this isnít a piece about music piracy. This is about why decades after being nearly irrelevant for decades, large circular pieces of wax with grooves cut into them to reproduce music are coming back, and coming back in a big way.
The optimist in me wants to say that more people are again realizing that music is much more than just an ďaccessory,Ē as it has been regarded for numerous years now. I gave a fairly lengthy examination of this devolution in my article ďThe Scene Is Dead, Long Live The Scene,Ē but letís take another look at it. Is there any sort of specific or spectacular catalyst for bringing vinyl back? I am inclined to say no. As mentioned, vinyl never completely went away. I would say that the small group of people (small in comparison to individuals who do not purchase vinyl) who kept that passion for records managed to spread their influence after numerous years of staying faithful to the format. This did not happen overnight, so, how did it happen? As Hemingway wrote in The Sun Also Rises, ďGradually, then suddenly.Ē It has been a slow process over the years from those people who found value in the record for whatever reason. Something kept them hanging on and interested when they could have easily jumped ship in favor of something more convenient and often less expensive. So what exactly was it that persuaded them to stay on board when the rest of the world decided to move on and embrace the future?
In early 2011, I decided to start a record label that dealt exclusively with vinyl releases. I am but one individual in a world of seven people, but Iíll tell you why I did what I did, and why I love vinyl. A discussion came up regarding whether or not a certain album would ever be released on wax. I was a huge fan of the album in question, so I had a personal interest from the start. At the basis of all this is a passion for music. Iím not talking turn on the radio and enjoy what Top 40 bullshit is playing kind of liking music. I mean really having a love and an interest in the music that has been the soundtrack to your life. To be so invested in a song or an album, that ten years later it still takes you back and lights that little fire inside of you, just like it did when you first heard it. For me, and for a lot of these people, having a record on vinyl is the opportunity to preserve something you love in a long lasting format. Itís not just a record. Itís a memento. Itís a keepsake. Itís a part of who you have become since music has meant so much to you. You canít get that with a digital download. A compact disc is such a cold and heartless product, why would you want to keep that around? I donít even buy CDs anymore. Just not worth it.
Anyways, the problem was that all of these people, be they teenagers or nearly thirty years old, even though they all loved that music, they were dependent on somebody else to give it to them. At the end of the day, they are still a consumer, albeit one with more legitimate interest in the music than a casual fan. That was my ďfinal strawĒ moment, and I decided to start my own label to do what I could to fill in the gaps that for whatever reason had not been filled. If something I loved and wanted to keep around to appreciate wasnít available on vinyl, I would do what I could to change that. If it didnít work out, at least I was not a hapless consumer sitting around hoping that one day the record would just show up. I care, so I try. As a fan, it was not only what I wanted to do, but something I felt I had a responsibility to do. Sure, itís easy to criticize and complain. Itís even easier to do nothing. But when you have the chance to make things happen, to shake things up, especially regarding something you care so much about, I feel that your role in everything changes. Youíre not just a fan. Youíre not just a consumer. You not only owe it to yourself because you want the record or because you want the band to succeed, you owe it to all the other people who feel the same way but canít do what you can. Thatís what it takes to keep something like vinyl alive and well. Itís not easy and itís not always the safest path to take. It doesnít matter. When that passion is there, you have to take that risk.
Listening to a record on vinyl is much more of a process and experience than listening to something digitally or on a CD. This is the reason for the shift toward convenience and instant gratification. Everyone has a computer. Everyone is online. Once that album leak hits the Internet, a few clicks and there you are listening to it in all of its 160kbps transcode glory through your shitty laptop speakers or iPod earbuds. A lot of people enjoy the art that comes with a record, and I believe thatís an important part of the overall experience. A lot of people say the sound of a record is better than that of a CD, which may or may not be true depending on how the record was created and what sort of system you are listening on. Still, I feel like the heart and soul of what makes vinyl so special is something beyond these tangible aspects, as nice as they may be.
I am not a casual listener. I would even dare to say that I donít listen to music for fun. I listen to music to feel. Tin can speakers and piss poor quality wonít do it for me. I deserve better, and so does the artist who poured their heart out into the record you just stole and are now listening to on a setup so terrible that it actually makes Phil Spector glad to be in prison. And yeah, I get it. Youíre teenagers. Youíre poor college kids. Youíre starving artists. The economy sucks. Of course you canít afford some glorious audio setup. The fact is, you donít need that. You need some basics, and then you need to *gasp* buy a physical record. Youíre done. Plug it in, put it on, enjoy. Are you telling me you canít cut back on the Coors Light or the shitty fast food or the fashionista handbags enough to buy yourself a turntable, receiver, and speakers? If you are, thatís because you just donít care. Go listen to your compressed AAC files, disregard everything Iíve said, and carry on with your life. In the grand scheme of it all, thatís what really matters; whether or not you as an individual care enough about not only having something for yourself that is actually of value, but also to support the artist that you say youíre a huge fan of. You can always buy a turntable. You canít always find a copy of a rare record. You canít more music from a band that has broken up because even though everyone claimed to love them, not enough actually supported them. I donít expect everyone to start their own label. I donít expect everyone to spend all their disposable income on music. I do believe that people could do more. A lot more. Buying vinyl is a part of that, but itís also the tip of a really complex and misunderstood iceberg called The Music Industry. The point is do what you can, while you can. If you really love the music, prove it. Stop making excuses. The record industry and the music community do not exist in a vacuum. The decisions you make actually do matter, and they impact more individuals than just yourself. If you would rather give your money to Philip Morris, British Petroleum, McDonaldís, or Monsanto that is your choice. Just be quiet when a band breaks up or when ten years down the road you canít find the music you love.
And please, please, please, stop buying songs from iTunes. I know most 13 year old girls are totally okay with listening to Justin Bieber through the overpriced Dre Beats headphones daddyís credit card got them, but that doesnít mean you have to fall into that trap as well. I donít expect a worldwide revolution against the current popular formats, and surprisingly, I do believe that digital has a time and a place. Steve Jobs and company do not need, nor deserve, anymore of your money or the money that should be going to the artist. Go look up how much Apple takes from an iTunes purchase, and then look up the recent profits that Apple announced. It speaks for itself. These people donít care about music.
Support bands. Support labels. Support physical media.