A cynic might reject the recent explosion in American vinyl sales as a transient fad, as a short-lived parade of spendthrift hipsters getting their anachronistic rocks off. More than that, in this blessed age of sexy tech innovations like iPods and Spotify and Rock Band, to get one’s music from a clumsy crackly unwieldy turntable seems like some kind of blasphemy.
Here to the uninitiated, we explain that counterintuitive shift from digital to analog—four good reasons to go vinyl.
Our musical tastes in the internet age are more schizophrenic than ever. The new platforms for music (e.g. YouTube, Pandora, Spotify) let us instantly jump between disparate songs by different artists, and so we think less in terms of albums and more in terms of songs. But an album is not merely a collection of songs; through track ordering and thematic connections (or, as in concept albums like The Wall or Hospice, even an overarching story arc), the artist creates meaning via the album’s structure. And the turntable format encourages us to appreciate that full-album experience.
Album art, frequently beautiful in its own right (e.g., “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea”) and occasionally iconic (e.g., “Abbey Road”), is almost always intended for the larger canvas provided by record covers. CD inserts and iTunes previews, each a wimpy reproduction of the record cover’s large-scale greatness, inevitably do injustice to the original visual beauty of the album.
The music industry implemented CDs as a standard in the 80s, replacing vinyl, and today we tend to look back on that as an evolutionary progression: more portability (eventually into the infinite, with the advent of CD-reading computers), and none of those irksome crackles and hisses that LPs accumulate from long-term usage. Yet in fact most audiophiles prefer vinyl. Digitization is necessarily a reduction, simplifying sound into discrete pieces of data (“bits”) that a computer can then translate back into sound waves. Analog audio never undergoes this packing-unpacking process and is therefore more pure.
To fight music piracy is to attack an ocean with one’s fists. No matter how hard we may try, it simply will not go away. Buying on the old vinyl format (rather paradoxically) is a more realistic response to the new music landscape. This makes sense in light of the recent vinyl boom: Whereas most of the industry’s profits are shrinking due to internet piracy, vinyl is inherently resistant to online distribution (i.e., is desirable precisely for its tangibility) and therefore vinyl sales are going up. By fostering this vinyl marketplace, we give desperate artists a chance to survive, finally a format to rely on amid flagging digital methods.