When I think of vinyl records, I am instantly reminded of my youth and of listening to The Beatles on my dad’s wood-paneled stereo receiver. Now, almost two decades later, audio technology and the digital revolution have completely transformed the music industry. From cds to mp3s and streaming music services, the age of analog music is progressively being replaced by a digital era. In fact, with even the Beatles finally making their digital debut on iTunes this past May, it would seem that vinyls, along with 8 tracks and tapes, are a thing-of-the-past. Nevertheless, talk to any indie music collector or audiophile and you might be surprised to learn that these music fans believe vinyl is set to re-enter mainstream music…and they may not be wrong. In fact, as counterintuitive as it would seem in this age of ipods and digital downloads, vinyl sales are actually on the rise. According to a recent report by Nielsen News, since the beginning of 2011 vinyl sales have actually risen by 37% as compared to the same period in 2010. With pressing plants increasing production of vinyl records, I can’t help but wonder where the demand for these records is coming from. With big labels and major music organizations like RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) resistant to the idea of a resurgence of vinyl, can anyone really agree on what the future holds in store for vinyl and the vinyl music culture? An investigation of the music industry reveals a gamut of opinions to this and the never-ending debate on the supposed superiority of vinyl to digital music.
Without a doubt, any vinyl purist will tell you that vinyls will be around years to come because the audio quality of a record trumps that of a CD or any other digital medium. In case you’re wondering, there are two reasons for vinyl’s supposed sonic superiority. Firstly, mastering houses generally compress the audio on CDs in order to make the sound as loud as possible; however unlike with CDs, the audio on vinyls cannot be compressed to those extremes. So despite the fact that CDs can have a wider dynamic range, LPs will generally have a more subtle sound to them. The second reason for vinyl’s superiority is that regardless of the sampling rate, digital recordings can never capture the complete sound wave present in an analog groove. For both of these two reasons, vinyl offer can offer a richer, warmer and more nuanced sound than CDS, and it’s often argued that cds and other digital mediums will never be able to reach the sound quality of vinyl. Nonetheless, modern-day music listeners and even most djs are predominantly choosing digital music over vinyl. Why is that? Most notably, the major appeal behind digital music is accessibility and portability. With the massive proliferation of ipods and other digital music player devices it appears that despite the fact that a record can sound better than digital mediums likes cds and mp3s, portability is so important to consumers today that we are ready to forfeit better sound quality for the benefit of being able to bring our music with us everywhere.
Nevertheless, we’re still seeing vinyl sales increase and it seems likely that those sales are driven by the fact that records provide an element of tangibility that digital music can never offer. Many people in the music industry that will tell you that for many, including the artists, “vinyl is the true version of the release…the size and presence of the artwork, the division into sides, the better sound quality, [and] above all the involvement and work the listener has to put in, all make it the format of choice for people who really care about music.” Although big labels are resistant to the idea of a vinyl comeback, many vinyl record companies are staying competitive by recognizing the unique needs of music fans living in the 21st century. In catering to consumers’ desires for easy accessibility and portability of their music, many record labels are now including download codes in their record packaging which music fans can use to download MP3 versions of the songs. With many of the major record labels now including these download codes, is it possible that vinyl will not only survive in this digital age, but actually rival other digital formats such as cds and streaming music sites? Only time will tell. Speaking for myself however, vinyl records just don’t fit into my lifestyle. While I do miss the old days of flipping through cd inlets filled with album lyrics and artwork, as an avid music listener whose ipod is never more than a purse pocket or a jacket zipper away from me, digital music is the only way for me to experience music in the way which really moves me: on-the-go music pumping out the perpetual soundtrack to my life.