11 Jan

Vinyl Records Making a Comeback? Thanks For the Newsflash

Well, Time Magazine has now just noticed that vinyl records are becoming more popular. How very journalistic of them to be so on top of popular culture (sorry for the sarcasm). After reading their article, I really got the idea that Time thinks that the reason vinyl is selling more is that young people think it’s cool. They do provide other explanations too, such as the better sound quality, and the experience of vinyl.

I do agree that things are fads, especially when it comes to something that is ‘retro.’ But don’t sell these teenagers short on their ability to hear when music sounds good, and when it sounds bad. Yes, I’m talking about the iPod. If you listen to an iPod, and don’t think it sounds bad, plug it in to a full range stereo system. You won’t have to listen too hard to realize that the sound has no depth.

Anyway, off my soapbox, and back the Time. Here is what they had to say:

From college dorm rooms to high school sleepovers, an all-but-extinct music medium has been showing up lately. And we don’t mean CDs. Vinyl records, especially the full-length LPs that helped define the golden era of rock in the 1960s and ’70s, are suddenly cool again. Some of the new fans are baby boomers nostalgic for their youth. But to the surprise and delight of music executives, increasing numbers of the iPod generation are also purchasing turntables (or dusting off Dad’s), buying long-playing vinyl records and giving them a spin.

Like the comeback of Puma sneakers or vintage T shirts, vinyl’s resurgence has benefited from its retro-rock aura. Many young listeners discovered LPs after they rifled through their parents’ collections looking for oldies and found that they liked the warmer sound quality of records, the more elaborate album covers and liner notes that come with them, and the experience of putting one on and sharing it with friends, as opposed to plugging in some earbuds and listening alone. “Bad sound on an iPod has had an impact on a lot of people going back to vinyl,” says David MacRunnel, a 15-year-old high school sophomore from Creve Coeur, Mo., who owns more than 1,000 records.

The music industry, hoping to find another revenue source that doesn’t easily lend itself to illegal downloads, has happily jumped on the bandwagon. Contemporary artists like the Killers and Ryan Adams have begun issuing their new releases on vinyl in addition to the CD and MP3 formats. As an extra lure, many labels are including coupons for free audio downloads with their vinyl albums so that Generation Y music fans can get the best of both worlds: high-quality sound at home and iPod portability for the road. Also, vinyl’s different shapes (hearts, triangles) and eye-catching designs (bright colors, sparkles) are created to appeal to a younger audience. While new records sell for about $14, used LPs go for as little as a penny–perfect for a teenager’s budget–or as much as $2,400 for a collectible, autographed copy of Beck’s Steve Threw Up.

Vinyl records are just a small scratch on the surface when it comes to total album sales–only about 0.2%, compared to 10% for digital downloads and 89.7% for CDs, according to Nielsen SoundScan–but these numbers may underrepresent the vinyl trend since they don’t always include sales at smaller indie shops where vinyl does best. Still, 990,000 vinyl albums were sold in 2007, up 15.4% from the 858,000 units bought in 2006. Mike Dreese, CEO of Newbury Comics, a New England chain of independent music retailers that sells LPs and CDs, says his vinyl sales were up 37% last year, and Patrick Amory, general manager of indie label Matador Records, whose artists include Cat Power and the New Pornographers, claims, “We can’t keep up with the demand.”

Big players are starting to take notice too. “It’s not a significant part of our business, but there is enough there for me to take someone and have half their time devoted to making vinyl a real business,” says John Esposito, president and CEO of WEA Corp., the U.S. distribution company of Warner Music Group, which posted a 30% increase in LP sales last year. In October, Amazon.com introduced a vinyl-only store and increased its selection to 150,000 titles across 20 genres. Its biggest sellers? Alternative rock, followed by classic rock albums. “I’m not saying vinyl will become a mainstream format, just like gourmet eating is not going to take over from McDonald’s,” says Michael Fremer, senior contributing editor at Stereophile. “But there is a growing group of people who are going back to a high-resolution format.” Here are some of the reasons they’re doing it and why you might want to consider it:

Sound quality LPs generally exhibit a warmer, more nuanced sound than CDs and digital downloads. MP3 files tend to produce tinnier notes, especially if compressed into a lower-resolution format that pares down the sonic information. “Most things sound better on vinyl, even with the crackles and pops and hisses,” says MacRunnel, the young Missouri record collector.

Album extras Large album covers with imaginative graphics, pullout photos (some even have full-size posters tucked in the sleeve) and liner notes are a big draw for young fans. “Alternative rock used to have 16-page booklets and album sleeves, but with iTunes there isn’t anything collectible to show I own a piece of this artist,” says Dreese of Newbury Comics. In a nod to modern technology, albums known as picture discs come with an image of the band or artist printed on the vinyl. “People who are used to CDs see the artwork and the colored vinyl, and they think it’s really cool,” says Jordan Yates, 15, a Nashville-based vinyl enthusiast. Some LP releases even come with bonus tracks not on the CD version, giving customers added value.

Social experience Crowding around a record player to listen to a new album with friends, discussing the foldout photos, even getting up to flip over a record makes vinyl a more socially interactive way to enjoy music. “As far as a communal experience, like with family and friends, it feels better to listen to vinyl,” says Jason Bini, 24, a recent graduate of Fordham University. “It’s definitely more social.”

Yes, I know that my blog is new, and someone might make the argument that I’m doing it because it’s popular, but I’ve had my vinyl for years, and I’ve bought vinyl for years. My dad had vinyl records. He had quite a different selection than I do though, although I have many of his. The Maynard Ferguson MF Horn I talked about before, for example. He also had a lot of gospel quartets, which just aren’t my thing. I can appreciate the singing and the harmonies, but it’s just not my thing.

So back on topic again. Records have been popular for years. I used to go to a shop ten years ago where all he sold were vinyl records.

I don’t think records ever became NOT popular. What happened is that CD’s came along, although they didn’t sound as good as vinyl, they didn’t sound bad. Now that we have MP3’s, and those can vary a whole lot in quality, people are realizing that they just don’t sound good.

What do you think? Are people today trying to be cool by buying vinyl LP’s, or do they really think that they sound better than MP3’s?

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5 Responses to “Vinyl Records Making a Comeback? Thanks For the Newsflash”

  1. Zamana Says:

    The Industry is pull the vinyl back just because this will stop the illegal downloading.

    B U T… soon you’ll see people offering digital vinyl rip on the pirate bay…

    Regards.

  2. Ben Says:

    I agree that some of the vinyl is to try to stop downloading, but I also really believe that there are people out there who like to listen to a better format. MP3’s ripped from vinyl are still MP3’s. I have ripped some of my vinyl, and it still doesn’t sound as good as the actual record.

  3. Ben Says:

    Actually, people have been ripping vinyl to MP3 for a long time. That’s not really the point. Those of us who love vinyl don’t want a digital rip of it, we want the real thing. You can never download vinyl.

  4. Adam Says:

    Well, at my age vinyl started being replaced when i was around 5 or 6, however i had my older brothers 70’s and 80’s stuff on vinyl and compared with the same album on cd, to me its no contest that vinyl offers a much richer sound, i prefer to listen to music on vinyl, cds are much too “crisp” and the remasters sound terrible compared to the original vinyl. I have now ripped all my lps to my pc and they sound so much better than the cd rip..

  5. Joe Says:

    From a sound quality perspective, I think this is all subjective. Proper mastering makes all the difference in the world. Personally I think a well mastered CD (check out the stuff from DCC, Audio Fidelity, or MoFi) is ALWAYS better than equivalent vinyl if you have good playback equipment. Hi-res digital 24/96 and above is essentially master tape quality.

    The “crispness” IMO is a reflection of the resolution capability, not something to be treated with contempt.

    There will always be vinyl (“analog is better!”) supporters and I’m sure the big companies are happy in perpetuating this. A few bucks in vinyl is better than no bucks at all.

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