05 Feb

Why Have Records Outlasted CD’s, and Will Last Longer Than MP3’s

This made me laugh, because, yes. People who listen to records and claim that they are better than CD’s maybe are snobs. (From the website of DePaul University.)

Ever since Napster came onto the scene in the late 90s, the music industry has been in a state of limbo, finding it hard to cope with the rapidly changing modes of the entertainment world and the people who take advantage of it.

The popularity and repercussions of the first Napster program made it an icon in the computer and entertainment fields, but these days, there so many programs that facilitate the same practice of online file-sharing that downloading music from the Internet is the norm.

This fact is a growing problem for the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which claims that more than half of all college students illegally download music and movie media content. In addition, a recent poll in the Los Angeles Times revealed that almost 70 percent of teenagers believe it’s OK to copy a compact disc they purchased before passing that copy onto a friend. These stats seem to say that the CD is more useful as a wall decoration than for listening to your favorite band, and the act of going out and buying one is seen as quaint and backward to us tech-savvy youths. I would agree—nobody misses Coconuts or Sam Goody (remember when they started selling tons of Korn gear to try and make up for low sales? Bah!)—but sometimes I feel like something’s missing when all my music is magically jammed inside a tiny rectangle with buttons.

With all of that said, I would trade my iPod for a flawless vinyl collection any day of the week, and I know there are plenty of people out there who would gladly do the same. Call me old-fashioned, but I often daydream about wall-to-wall milk crates jam-packed with dusty jazz tunes, rock gems and classical masterpieces. Every time I see a set of enormous, retro-ass speakers in an alley, I fantasize about how I could lug them home and blast CSNY’s “Déjà vu” over and over until the landlord comes to kick the door down. But what is it about vinyl that has allowed it to survive (and possibly outlive) the reign of the cassette tape, the compact disc and the almighty Internet? It’s got to be more than kitsch, people; sane individuals do not spend thousands of dollars just to have a bunch of big, bulky records stacked up around their living rooms, right? Right.

I think there is just something more personal and visceral about listening to a record; the physical action of setting the needle down just right is incredibly satisfying once mastered, and you don’t get to hear the whole album unless you get up and turn the thing over. These actions establish a stronger connection between the music and the listener because unlike dragging-and-dropping a playlist in iTunes, the listener must become familiar with the album as a cohesive whole—from the slight sound impurities and jumps to the grooves themselves. These, along with every other idiosyncrasy associated with actively listening to an album on vinyl, make the record-listening experience entirely unique.

Some might say that CDs offer the same sort of satisfaction, but I disagree because CDs are much less fragile than vinyl. A flawless record is something to be fiercely protected, and even coveted, because the sound comes out somewhere in between a re-mastered, touched-up CD and a gritty live show, and can easily be destroyed if one isn’t careful. In other words (and not to sound like a lame music snob), the sound of a record is like no other because it is complex and distorted, yet somehow more organic and pure.

Since compact disc sales are going steadily into the toilet with each “Billboard top 100” list that comes out, I think it’s time for more people to start looking to vinyl to quench their musical thirst. Aside from the cool factor (because you’re way cooler if you are into vinyl, trust me), the benefits of buying records significantly outweigh those of CD purchasing.

For one thing, if you’re looking for vintage hits, then acquiring them often involves a trip to a dusty resale shop or someone’s garage sale—and that has ‘adventure’ written all over it. Then, once you decide on your tunes, the cost is significantly lower than the average price of a CD, which is around 13 bucks, according to the RIAA Web site. After that, you get to display your records in a milk crate (preferably stolen, but found is OK) and explore the many nuances of your new-found musical treasure. Finally, when you start to get really into it, you can invite your record-snob friends over and have listening parties. Now, doesn’t that sound more interesting than popping in your damn white headphones and absentmindedly hitting “play”?

One thing that I think is important about the whole listening more to a record than a CD or MP3, is that many times you have to listen for imperfections, because they could get worse. For example, I was listening to Blood, Sweat & Tears one night, and I fell asleep. When I woke up, the record was still moving, but it had gotten stuck and created a deep groove. I still haven’t forgiven myself, even after 13 years. This is one of the reasons people say records are no good, but I say it’s why they are good. You have to listen. In listening you hear the music.

With the multi disc changer, then even more so with the iPod, music became a soundtrack. It became background music. We hear it, but we don’t listen to it. Vinyl LP’s force you to listen to the music. This, I believe, is the underlying reason that most record ‘snobs’ like their records.

We like the music.

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5 Responses to “Why Have Records Outlasted CD’s, and Will Last Longer Than MP3’s”

  1. Sandi Conner Says:

    Wow, I thought I was the only vinyl junkie left! I have over 1,000 lps and probably 800 or so 45’s that I still blast on the stereo. A good place to find vinyl is out of California – Vinyl Vendors. Rock on!

  2. Ben Says:

    No, your definitely not the only one out there. Although, without the internet, we might be alone. None of my friends listen to records, I’m the only freak. But it is nice to know that out there in internetland, there are other people who love records as much as I do.

  3. Ted Says:

    The other thing to consider is the ridiculous “loudness war” going on in the CD world. CDs are mastered at increasingly high normalization levels these days, effectively destroying the depth of the sound. I would take a 1,000 vinyl records over 1,000 CDs any day.

    None of my friends listen to records either, but no matter. That just means less competition at the used record store and garage sale.

    One more thing, you will notice that there is a budding resurgence of vinyl. Bands like Radiohead and others are now issuing LPs in addition to CD versions of their albums. Concurrently, I do think more and more people are realizing the benefits of vinyl, in terms of a listening “experience,” as opposed to the comparatively dullness of a CD and/or MP3.

  4. Ben Says:

    Yes, CD’s are mastered at the highest level possible, but this means that not only is the overall CD louder, but the instruments and the vocals are all being brought to the same level, so that there is less definition than there used to be.

    Listen to something like Steely Dan, then something from today, and you will hear a big difference in the clarity of each instrument.

    The side effects of this is that when these high volume recordings are compressed even further into MP3’s, they distort. If you have songs that have a lot of distortion, this is one of the reasons.


  5. Jon Snow Says:

    I’ve actually had a lot of CDs I owned as a teen die or end up skipping etc… I see no value in paying for mp3 files, as they are often crap quality, and so, I’ve turned to Vinyl, where I know I get quality, long lasting life, and great sound, as well as beautiful artwork, and a physical copy in which I never have to worry what to do if my hard drive dies or itunes ceases to exist and said hard drive dies, uh-oh. I just spent 170 bucks at a Record Fair in Halifax NS, there were tens of thousands of records under one roof. Got myself 26 records (29, as 3 were double LP’s), that works out to under 7 bucks each, cheaper than mp3s, or cds, and better value, at least in my opinion based on my experiences with Cassettes, CDs, Mp3’s, and of course Vinyl. Many bands are in fact releasing copies of their new albums on Vinyl, which is great. I hope this is a continued trend :)

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