Is the resurgence in vinyl records a fad, or is it here to stay?
As everything else moves towards the shared space, the physical and very tangible appeal of those quaint black platters continues its resurgence.
Rob Cannon (Australian Institute of Music), Cameron Schaefer (Vinyl Me, Please), Graham Muir (We Are Unified), Shannon Logan (Jet Black Cat Music), Tim Kelly (Inertia), and Zac Ives (Goner Records) got together to discuss the vinyl revival at Bigsound 2016 and Trevor Jackson sat in on the conversation for Blank GC.
So why the renewed interest in vinyl?
It’s expensive, cumbersome, impractical and flies in the face of all that is digital. Only a few years ago the format was on life support. First it was the compact disc revolution, the “indestructible” medium that could hold so much more music than an LP.
CDs were smaller, more reliable, easier to produce and transport. They could be replicated digitally, so suddenly our entire music collections were available to us on our computers. As CDs sold in ever increasing numbers vinyl pressing plants began to shut down globally with the demand for the records dropping to almost zero.
Then MP3 players arrived so that we could not only our take our digital collections with us, but our playlists as well and soon CDs were headed the same way as LPs – goneski.
Now we have the all-conquering streaming services, who will not only rent you a gazillion songs, they’ll also create playlists for you because we’re all either too busy or too lazy to do it ourselves. Honestly, who has the time these days?
Vinyl just doesn’t make sense, yet it is surviving and indeed thriving, but it was a near death experience.
“Thank God for dance culture. Without it vinyl would probably have died” says Tim Kelly. “Vinyl is a wonderful, textile experience. It’s not only an emotional investment for music lovers, it’s a work of art. Ultimately it comes down to this, do we want our music to be whitegoods or do we want it to be an experience?”
Interestingly Cameron Schaefer became a vinyl devotee though it was never a broadly accepted format in his lifetime. “I grew up with CDs, vinyl was already passe by then and while I initially collected CDs and then later digitised my music library, there was ultimately nothing inspiring about it. No one invites you over to their place to look at their MP3 collection.”
For Zac Ives the personal pursuit eventually became his livelihood. “The thing for me is that even before I started selling vinyl, when I was just an alternative music fan trying to collect it I had to hunt down these smaller labels that were still pressing it. It was only then that I discovered there’s a whole other world out there. People are passionate about vinyl, once they get into it they just can’t get enough”.
And that’s the beauty of the humble LP, it is very much a shared social experience. Shannon Logan says record collections are personal.
“People have an incredible amount of pride in them. People are listening to albums again as an entity and from my perspective of running a record store there’s a real trust between us and our customers. They’re excited about what they’re listening to and they want to share their experiences. It’s an ongoing conversation with our customers.”
Zac Ives concurs. “We’ve always sold more vinyl than any other format. But you’ve got to be honest with your customers – we won’t stock anything in the shop we don’t recommend. It really is about building that relationship with your customers. I don’t care about fads or trends.”
I understand these guys implicitly.
I understand their love for this format.
In my case I grew up with vinyl, then readily cast it aside as CDs became all the rage. CDs were exciting, we were at the forefront of the digital frontier with unlimited potential. But now when I have more choice than ever, when I can have any song I want at the push of a button I suddenly find I want less.
Not less choice and certainly not less music, just better choices when it comes to music. I want quality over quantity from something real and tangible. As I rediscover my record collection the realisation for me is that I missed the warmth of the sound from vinyl and the excitement of being able to share that experience.
In an increasingly impersonalised world it’s those real and tangible experiences we crave more than ever.
Viva la vinyl.