Vinyl: The Return of the Format

I've been hearing for a while in the newspapers and popular media that vinyl is back from the dead. Sales of the 66-year-old format have been steadily rising over the past nine years, but last year saw an explosion in which vinyl sales doubled what they were in 2012. The 780,000 LPs shifted in 2013 meant that sales were the greatest since 1997.

                                      My lovely Verdi record player and the amazing Jean Michel Jarre 'Oxygene' album

Recently I got a record player for Christmas, it is a Verdi record player and I love it! My wife and I were walking around Totnes, Devon on Christmas Eve and were walking past a retro shop called 'Narnia' and there it was, playing some old jazz record... it was love at first sight. My wife bought it for me there and then as she knew I'd wanted one for a little while. We then spent the next couple of hours scouring the charity shops for old records and came back with quite a haul for next to no money, we bought 'Tubular Bells' by Mike Oldfield and 'Journey to the Centre of the Earth' by Rick Wakeman amongst others.

'                                Narnia' in Totnes, Devon is a treasure trove of items from a bygone era.... I love it!

As the weeks have gone by I've been thinking about my interest in getting a record player. I'd always wanted one as my father had an all-in-one music system, the kind that was popular in the 90's. It played CDs, cassettes and records but I had never seen the record player used. I didn't know how they worked. Of course I knew the general principle of the record spinning and the arm going across and the needle dropping but that was the extent of my knowledge. My local library, Barking library, had an impressive number of vinyls but I had never really ventured there, it was an alien world to me.

When I went to France with friends in 1998 I bought a couple of Jean Michel Jarre albums, 'Oxygene' and 'Revolutions'. I already had them on CD but liked the big covers so bought them as an art piece for my already busy room. When I got home all excited about playing these records my dad told me that the needle on the record player was broken and so I couldn't play the records, disappointed the records sat near my bed gathering dust, Jarre's face looking out at me from the cover of his 'Revolutions' album for years. My interest in records was fleeting and I forgot about the whole thing, until recently.

                                                      The cover for 'Revolutions'... Jarre stared at me for years!

On Christmas dad my wife looked through her parents old record and a wave  of nostalgia overtook her as she found 'The Wombles- Remember You're A Womble' record. She remembered listening to the record incessantly in her childhood. Putting the record on felt special, like a ritual- it's was an emotional connection which pressing play on a digital device didn't have. That special connection of holding a record, carefully pulling out the vinyl, blowing off the dust and putting the arm across. We put the record on and the living room was filled with music of such fullness and richness, we danced and laughed and her sister came along and danced with us.

Henry Rollins (an American musician, writer, journalist, publisher, actor, radio host, spoken word artist, and activist) said,

Sitting in a room, alone, listening to a CD is to be lonely. Sitting in a room alone with an LP crackling away... is enjoying the sublime state of solitude

When I read this I didn't understand what he meant but as time has gone by it all makes much more sense. The pull of vinyl is obvious: a fuller, more raw and warmer sound compared to the inferior compressed quality of most MP3s (higher bitrates improve the sound immensely); the physical nature of the product as a collector’s piece, with its sleeve notes and large cover art, in opposition to an impersonal click on the computer.

Contrary to popular belief vinyl is not the preserve of stuffy middle class audiophiles, rather it is a wide demographic. Many young fans are buying vinyl not for the sound quality but rather the vinyl’s artistic value. Many young fans do not own a turntable but since most vinyl releases also come with a code to download the album digitally, there is the option to collect them as artworks, which shows commitment to supporting music and connecting more closely with an artist or bands work, while listening to the music digitally. There are two parallel markets for the format. Crate diggers are music enthusiasts, first and foremost, seeking out rarities and limited editions. First-hand vinyl is now the preserve of well-to-do audiophiles (it is they who are pushing the value of the market up) and hardcore fans who want everything a band puts out, including a vinyl version of their bands latest album.

                                                      Vinyl is rising in popularity after a drop on the mid-noughties

                                                      Vinyl is rising in popularity after a drop on the mid-noughties

The reason vinyl appeals to me and especially at the moment is that as an early adopter of new technology, I feel record collections are very personal. Cicero said,

''A room without books is like a body without a soul,''

and I feel the same could be said for music. With vinyl I find myself actually listening rather than just hearing, I have to dedicate time to sit down and listen rather than just pop on my mp3 player and letting the music wash over me. I have over 10,000 albums in mp3 format (I went traveling through Asia a few years ago and went to the numerous outlets which give you albums, movies and e-books at next to no price) but there are only a few that I actually listen to, mostly it's just muzak, background noise to keep me occupied on my commute.

I don't want to sound like a hi-fi bore, but I just wanted to share my new experience of sitting down and actively listening to music. I love the different sounds I can hear from the records compared to the CD. There are notes I notice in vinyl that I don't hear in CDs that I have heard hundred of times. Vinyl is here to stay not because they sounds better (they might but the jury is still out on that one), but because they serve a purpose; a tangible way to connect with the music in an increasingly digital age.

BPI and BRIT Awards Chief Executive Geoff Taylor said,
“The LP is back in the groove. We’re witnessing a renaissance for records – they’re no longer retromania and are becoming the format of choice for more and more music fans.  This year has been a treat for vinyl aficionados with releases from Daft Punk, David Bowie, Arctic Monkeys and Black Sabbath.  

“Whilst sales only account for a small percentage of the overall market, vinyl sales are growing fast as a new generation discovers the magic of 12 inch artwork, liner notes and the unique sound of analogue records, often accompanied by a download code for mp3s...the vinyl revival looks set to continue."

I for one am glad that this once endangered format is still here, and with Record Store Day held across the world long may it continue. 

What do you think about vinyl? Share your thoughts below!