The Associated Press reported recently (confirming what I had known for a time) that the reports of vinyl’s demise may be exaggerated. But while music purists may be rejoicing, it’s important to keep a few things in perspective. True, shipments of LPs in the U.S. increased just over 36% from 2006 to 2007; but vinyl still accounted for less than a blip on the radar in terms of overall market percentage (CDs shipped more than 500 million units in ’07 compared to 1.9 million for LPs and vinyl singles combined).
And the overall trend is still down – LPs haven’t shipped more than 2 million units since 2001, and that’s unlikely to change anytime soon. Not that you’d guess from the tone of the article, which seems to infer that vinyl is poised for a major comeback. That being said, it pleases me to no end to see even modest increases in vinyl sales.
Those of you raised on CDs and .mp3s may be wondering what the big deal about vinyl is. Isn’t it a pain in the ass to store them and keep them in good shape? Don’t all those pops and clicks get annoying? Doesn’t it suck that you can’t play them in your car?
The answers are yes, yes, and yes. In fact, all that stuff is part of the appeal. While I can’t deny how great it is to have thousands of songs at my fingertips thanks to my iPod, it oftentimes becomes more about playing music than listening to music. Listening to a record (for me anyway) is as much about the experience as it is the music. I didn’t realize that when I was playing them as a youth (I am old enough to remember still buying new records, mind you), probably because that feeling was more internalized.
I’d even go so far as to say that really listening to a record is a ritual. First you decide what you want to hear (this is an important decision because of the time commitment I mentioned earlier); then you prepare the album if necessary, and finally you sit back and begin. But there’s more to it – don’t forget the album art and/or liner notes, which can add a whole ‘nother level of interest.
I spent countless hours of my young life repeating this ritual over and over, until certain albums became ingrained into my very consciousness. There was rarely any skipping around, and I took the time to absorb every note, every drum fill, and every word of every song. That, sadly, rarely happens anymore. Due to the ease with which I can acquire and store new music (again, not complaining here), an album almost has to blow me out of the water right away to earn more than one or two plays the first week.
And now for some disclosure – having long ago purged my entire collection in favor of CDs, I started rebuilding it about 5-6 years ago. I bought a decent turntable and even got all sorts of fancy cleaning fluids and implements. And I have to say that when I actually took the time to prepare and play a record, it was a very rewarding experience.
The thing is, I eventually started doing it less and less, until I finally stopped entirely. I still have that turntable (minus a power cord that was lost during my last move) and those records, but it’s been relegated to the basement and now serves to stop one of my tables from floating away unexpectedly. So once again, the experience of vinyl lost out to convenience.
That’s not to say I’ve given up entirely. I will get around to hooking the turntable back up so I can once again experience the thrill of listening to classics like Innervisions or Abbey Road as they were meant to be heard. Pops, clicks, and all.