LSRadio’s Tom Collier explores the reasons for vinyls continued popularity despite the digitisation of the modern music industry.
The noughties have not been kind to the music industry. Unfortunately my ears are all too often polluted with music which pushes no boundaries except those of my personal sanity. In a time of bafflingly consistent popularity for shows like The X Factor and industry constructed artists such as The Wanted, old British institutions such as HMV and local independent record stores alike are having to fight hard to stay alive in an age where apparently the best way to get hold of new music is to illegally download it, rather than buy a physical copy. Or is it?!
Perhaps surprisingly, 2011 was reported as a six-year high for vinyl record sales in the UK, with 341,000 12” LPs sold last year. I personally contributed to just 5 of the 341,000 12” sales. Clearly then, I am not the only one taken by the format. The question is, why is vinyl so appealing to myself and hundreds of thousands of others when music is so much easier to access (and so much cheaper to acquire) electronically?
Actually, the effort it takes to walk/drive/train to your nearest record store makes the end reward all the sweeter; “the pleasure of pursuit”. If you too have become a sucker for a round cut of polyvinyl chloride then the joys of spending hours hand-picking your way through the scattered organisation of independent record stores will not be lost on you. The thrill of conquest is not however not diminished by the pleasure of pursuit, because when you do find that rare Bowie/Jagger 7” collaboration on a chance visit to a Dutch record store whilst in Amsterdam (as in the case of my equally besotted brother) you then realise why you love vinyl so dearly.
To have and to hold, until death do us part: THIS is the commitment you can make to a physical vinyl. Rather than simply hearing the music, with vinyl you experience the music – not just in the superior audio but in a graphic and physical sense too. Vinyl gives you something a basic download cannot – the album artwork alone tells you so much that a computer or iPod screen cannot. Vinyl should be held, with hours spent poring over it, delivering the attention it deserves. Last year I purchased The Horrors’ ‘Skying’, which featured a beautiful image of the sea and the sky, interrupted only by the embossed shine of the word ‘Skying’ across the middle. This level of thought and love infinitely enhances the appearance and feel of the record. Minor details? Maybe, but for a fan of vinyl these details are what makes the format so attractive. Vinyl feels special.
The speciality and authenticity of vinyl is only now becoming obvious as our disillusionment with the state of the charts instils a responsibility to react against the auto-tuned and manufactured chart heavyweights. This authenticity is a particular draw for the more obsessive musical fans amongst us – when artists such as The Smiths or Radiohead produce gorgeous rarities for Record Store Day, their fan bases will go wild. Indeed, I travelled from my Shropshire hometown all the way to Birmingham and joined a queue of hundreds in order to get what I wanted.
Events like Record Store Day are obviously positive for independent stores; a unique advertisement to those who are usually ignorant to vinyl’s appeal. True, 2011 was a six-year high for vinyl sales, but having said that, RSD 2011 was responsible for thousands of these units thanks to contributions from global acts like New Order, Foo Fighters, and Queen. The top 10 bestselling vinyl records also hints that 2011 may go down as a fluky peak in the ‘vinyl revival’; Adele’s unbelievably popular ’21’ was number 3, while high profile re-issues from Pink Floyd and Nirvana also sold well.
Nevertheless, market experts maintain that vinyl sales look set to remain steady for the foreseeable future, and HMV have even announced that they will be stocking more of the beloved format. Though Liverpool is not shy of independent record shops (Probe/3Beat/The Music Consortium), the news that vinyl looks set to become more accessible to us all will ensure the safety of our ears and the lightness of our wallets for years to come.
by Tom Collier