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Resurgence in vinyl records
The magic of vinyl has worked its way into the hearts of music lovers.
DID we see it coming? Probably not and even the sternest of analogue scribes would not have been able to foretell its recent uprising. But that’s really what’s happening at the moment.
Believe it or not, 20 odd years after it was claimed that the vinyl LP (long play) had passed its use-by-date, records are returning … and in a big way, too.
Nope, we’re not talking about having to scour some dingy storeroom of a former collector, or turning up at thrift shops or second-hand stores to pore over a mouldy selection of titles. We’re talking about brand new records (by present mainstream artistes, even) pressed and shipped to music stores for the current generation.
Just imagine, while we’re so far ahead in the digital domain – even the longevity of the CD has been severely threatened, and downloads continue to be the rage and predominant way of listening to music – the LP record has plotted a course right back into the consciousness of the music listener.
Sure, well-maintained, used records can be found in specialist hi-fi shops but finding the latest titles in regular music stores has been an alien concept. But that might all change soon enough. In fact, you can already find titles at MPH and Tower Records these days.
The rising tide
The global conglomerate Amazon.com – which arguably has the most extensive CD inventory – launched its own LP record inventory last October, increasing its selection to 150,000 titles across 20 genres. It’s obvious there is money to be made here, which is why Amazon has embarked on this venture.
According to Nielsen Soundscan (an information system that tracks sales of music and music video products throughout the United States and Canada), record sales in the US represent a fraction of total album sales at 0.2%, compared to 10% for digital downloads and 89.7% for CDs. These figures could be grossly misinterpreted since LPs’ turnover tends to be greater at smaller indie outlets where they do better than CDs. Even then, a staggering 990,000 vinyl LPs were sold last year, up 15.4% from the 858,000 snapped up in 2006.
The percentage of sales increase of LP records has exceeded that of the CD today with WEA Corp, the American distribution company for Warner Music Group, reporting a 30% increase in LP sales last year. The sale of vinyl records has soared six-fold between 2001 and 2005. Artistes like Arctic Monkeys, the Raconteurs and Pete Doherty now outsell CDs by more than two to one, reports Virgin Megastores.
Apparently, a large population of purchasers include the younger generation, who probably never saw, held or played a record in its heyday. Yup, dusting off Dad’s old record spinner has yielded quite a few thrills.
Sure, audiophiles or listeners a little more serious on the sonic side of things have rarely veered from their analogue allegiance, but this is clearly a time for the converts.
Does this mean the once ubiquitous compact cassette could be the main format once again? Hardly likely, given its finite life span, what with its deteriorating tape oxide and all.
So the question that begs to be asked is, how can a format that was considered inferior to the compact disc’s exquisite digital technology be making waves once again?
The advent of technology has always yielded backlashes. Take, for example, the music-making process: musicians are returning to vintage musical instruments and recording techniques for audio recordings these days. The vinyl revolution is no different and there are sound reasons for this.
Though this may be a hotly debated topic, an LP in good condition sounds warmer and provides greater ambient detail in recordings compared to CDs or digital downloads. It’s also a commonly known fact that MP3 files produce thinner sounds, especially when they are compressed into a lower resolution.
When it comes to artwork, there is just no comparison between what you’d find on a CD sleeve and an LP equivalent. Yes, size does matter. A larger surface naturally means more details on the artwork and some LPs are truly sights to behold.
And compared to downloads, by owning an LP, you get the sense of owning a piece of the artiste – represented by the record, the sleeve and details on the liner notes like the period during which the album was recorded, the musicians involved, the people behind the production, the instruments used, lyrics … minute details to some but indispensable information for the serious music enthusiast.
The vinyl LP has made itself the only one true high definition audio format. Cast a blind eye on the failed and now dead SACD and the “plodding along” DVD-A format.
The great news for new collectors is, unless you favour schmaltzy late 1990s pop, you can pretty much get any title on LP – used or brand new.
Of course, LPs will never win in the “convenience” argument. Records attract dust and grime, will not allow you to skip tracks, and forces a listener to get off his seat to flip sides every 20-odd minutes or so, but the “feel” it imbues is worth it.