Tuesday, 5 August 2008

The Long-Player Goodbye

This recently published book, is doing the literary rounds with the tag line pushing it as "The history of the album from the invention of vinyl and the LP to its revival in our i-pod age"

I haven't actually read it yet, so this can't be thought of as a review, not that this minor aberration stops many a reviewer, but I thought it's premise sounds interesting enough to us 'vinylophiles' that it's worth a mention.

There have been a spate of articles on the current state of records, as a format. The two prevailing arguments tend to be of the 'let's mourn the passing of this dead format' or more recently 'vinyl's not dead! let's all celebrate the revival of this format' variety. Neither of these assessments are particularly accurate. Vinyl is not a dead format, in the way let's say 8track, mini-disc or audio cassettes can be described as so. People, like myself, were still purchasing music on vinyl, throughout the Nineties, when the majority of music fans were persuaded to buy Cd's. Dance music D.Js also helped keep the faint beating heart of vinyl sales ticking over, during this era.

A common misconception, is that we're vinyl revivalists, who are on some sort of nostalgia trip, i.e we're wilfully disregarding other 'superior' formats, due to an obstinate Luddite mindset. The truth is that, analogue records provide a better sound experience, which is superior to the digital Cd sound, even with all the crackles and pops. I admit, that Cd's have an advantage over it's predecessor, in storage and convenience, but let's not perpetuate the myth that Cd's are virtually indestructible, as we were led to believe. Anyone who has cut their finger trying to get to the inserts of those crappy plastic jewel cases, which promptly crack and break, can testify to the inherent design flaws of a CD. Records provide a more satisfying visual and tactile experience, and when packaged with proper love, care and attention to detail, they become beautiful artifacts in themselves. I draw to your attention, Johnny Flynn's recently released 'A Larum' album, as a prime example.

Records have survived, despite the best efforts of the music industry, to give it the last rites. In fact, sales are booming, admittedly from a low base, but none the less, it's lasting appeal is recognised by music fans of all age groups. The competition between formats, is not between Cd's and vinyl, but between Cd's and Mp3's. This invisible format, made up of bits and bites, has blown Cd's sails out of the water, it's convenience, mobility and user friendlyness, makes Cd's redundant. Mp3's have also revolutionised people's listening habits, as they take charge of how they consume a product. A single song can be cherry picked from an artist's catalogue, freeing the consumer, from the insistence of the creator, to follow a set list of songs, this can be shuffled into a mix of thousands of other tunes, all catering exactly to the owner's taste. Whether or not it's progress to disregard an artist's concept of a collection of tunes, is another debate. Most importantly of all for the consumer, they can access an almost limitless choice of tunes, from the comfort and convenience of their computer. The need to physically go into a shop again is bypassed. The need to pay money again is often also bypassed, but again, that's a discussion for another day. Mp3's have trounced the CD and the music industry is only just coming to terms with this, after sticking their heads in the sand for a good few years, but at least they are still in the business loop. The retailers are out on a limb and are heading for oblivion.

This brings me back full circle, to what got me thinking about this whole scenario. I was in one of the U.K's leading music/entertainment outlets this week, browsing through their pitifully small section of vinyl, trying to remember the last time, I had experienced this shop, when it was busy. It got me thinking about supply and demand, they weren't supplying me the shopping experience I desired, I still enjoy browsing in record stores and I had money that I was ready to spend, however they weren't providing the product I was demanding: vinyl.

I prefer to buy my vinyl from a shop, rather than risk receiving it through our postal system and all the inherent possibilities of damage this can entail. I want to buy something solid and tangible and I'm keen on picking up newly released singles/albums. Whilst observing a teenager sift through the box of singles, in the fruitless search of the latest hot tune, I reflected that I'm not alone in this desire, nor is it an age thing. I believe the trend for some of the i-pod generation is to listen to all their music in the Mp3 format, but search out favoured tracks on vinyl, with the intent to store them in pristine condition as an artifact, there is also a small but significant resurgence of interest from sections of this age group, in record collecting as a whole, so let's not dismiss this desire of mine, as the last gasps of a dinosaur. We both left the shop empty handed, I would have been delighted to hand over money, for something like a vinyl/mp3 combo deal. O.K the profits margins might be negligible, but it turns over money and gets consumers into their premises. Who knows what else I might have spotted, if I carried on browsing, perhaps some DVDs, which have taken over the prime space on the shop floor. By the way, selling DVDs is a short term solution to shifting units, as these will be all soon be piped directly into our homes, on demand. So I left, not knowing whether I'd bother to return, the retailer had failed to recognise growing trends and as we all know, if you can't adapt quickly enough in business, you will fail. The death of vinyl has been greatly exaggerated, but not I fear, the end of the record store.

Jon Savage reviews the book here..
http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/aug/02/music

It was also reviewed in The Observer...
http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/jul/20/music

and The Indie have covered it..
http://www.independent.co.uk/book%20review

so have The Daily Mail, but I'll never link to that rag!

Wanna buy it? Amazon U.K are pushing it for under a tenner..
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Long-player-Goodbye-Vinyl-Changed-World/dp/0340934107

1 comment:

David - Separated By Motorways said...

good little read, and nice to see you refusing to link to the Daily Mail!