Music is increasingly a digital phenomenon. We consume it either on our iPods and MP3 players, or through streaming services. For many of us, myself included, we feel we couldn’t live without this instant access to millions of songs at our fingertips. Yet while this has certainly expanded the scope of music available, it has come at the cost of cheapening music and making it even more disposable than previously.
Vinyl seemingly died a death after the CD appeared on the market in the 1980s. Almost everyone embraced the new mantra that digital is better. But vinyl is back and bigger than ever – last week vinyl sales in the UK reached £2.4m, compared to £2.1m in digital sales. But this is not some hipster fad, a nostalgic experiment about the good times gone – vinyl is a far better way to listen to music.
For starters, the quality of music on vinyl is better. Without getting too bogged down in the science of it all, MP3s and other forms of digital music compress their sound, meaning that the full quality is lost. Vinyl on the other hand gives you better quality sound and a higher frequency range, meaning you truly experience the music as the artist wanted you to. Provided you have a good turntable and take care of your records, there is no reason that this will deteriorate over time.
But more importantly than the science is the way we listen to music. MP3 and streaming in particular has created a new generation of music listeners who treat each track as disposable. We don’t even own it anymore; we just play it through some lifeless computer screen or an app on our phone. Because of this we lack a true connection with the music, the consequence of moving from physical to digital. Everyone can remember the first CD they bought, but does anyone remember the first album they streamed? Even if they can, does it really seem that special?
The routine of vinyl is what makes it so special. The artwork on the gatefold, taking the record out of the sleeve, cleaning it, placing it on the turntable and dropping the needle all contribute to the experience. Our modern music habits have made us passive listeners, whilst with vinyl you listen actively to the music and appreciate the work in its entirety, as the artist intended. Anyone who has sat down and listened to music this way can testify that this is the case.
It is unlikely that my argument will convince those who seem only to listen to whatever is in the charts. For many of these people, music is just something you listen to in order to be on trend, dumping it as soon as the next thing comes along and never making a real connection between artist and listener. This is fine if music is not really of any importance to you. But for anyone who wants it to be more than something you listen to in a club or on the go, vinyl is the perfect solution. It asks us to treat music with the respect it deserves and give it our undivided attention and in return it takes us back to what music should be about – the experience and the memories it creates.