What Is That Black Disc, Grandma?
Remember when it was way cool to show all your friends the latest release on CD, and I mean show them? Those shiny aluminum discs were the wave of the future: no skips, pops, crackles, distortion, just plain music.
If you had a CD player and a few CDs in 1984, you were considered affluent and a techno-geek or at least a progressive audio fanatic. The world fell in love with the CD format. It was small and portable and could take a lot of abuse; something the vinyl record could not. It could hold about twice as much music as a record and was infinitely smaller. It would come to dominate the sales of all recorded music in the eighties and nineties taking over where the cassette tape left off. The CD was considered state of the art and the logical successor to vinyl.
The advance of the computer revolution brought a new kind of music format to the forefront: MP3s. Music made up of ones and zeros, it was easy to download music off the net and store these files on your computer and transfer them to an MP3 player.
They made listening to music on the go an easy proposition. Portability was the bottom line. Want music to listen to in a credit card-sized player while on the ski slope? MP3s were able to do that. Look at the popularity of the ubiquitous iPod.
People on the go and in the know had to have one not only as a listening experience but also as a status symbol. If you have an iPod, you are up to date and affluent and show the world you have embraced technology.
The iPod has also become the bourgeois music playback format of these times. MP3s are versatile, portable, and convenient. MP3 download sites have become the McDonald’s of the audio world: cheap soulless sound quality with no regard to taste and lots of empty calories. Years ago the audio industry buried the vinyl record to never, they thought, be resurrected.
They were wrong.
The vinyl record has come back with a vengeance. Sales of records have increased an appreciable amount in the last few years. Why is this? A few of the reason are:
1) Sound quality: The vinyl record analog medium captures every nuance of the recording, not partially sampled like Cd’s which don’t capture the complete sound wave. Amongst all those squiggly grooves in a record lies the full waveform of the original recorded music. Everything, warts and all, was recorded with full whole-wave fidelity.
2) Packaging: The twelve-inch record jacket is infinitely easier to read than CD liner notes. You don’t need a magnifying glass to read the lyrics. MP3, have no liner notes at all, so try guessing where and when it was recorded, all the musician’s names, etc.
3) Nostalgia: The vinyl record transports you to a more innocent and slower paced time when your friends would come over to really listen to the music and pass the jacket around. There was a ritual involved in opening a new sealed copy and holding the record in your hand and putting it on the turntable.
With more and more new recordings being issued on vinyl, the record industry has recognized the comeback of this medium.
Sales of turntables are up and not just D.J. back-scratching turntables, either. People are more interested now in quality and not quantity. There is now time in many people’s homes for sitting down and really listening to the music and not just as a background soundtrack to the commute to work. More music is being appreciated for its sonic qualities and musicianship.
Who knows what lurks in the wings as the next music medium? The CD is dead and MP3s are on the way out. There will always be a place for portable music because it’s convenient, but as any music fanatic knows, the good stuff is always going to be in the glorious grooves of a vinyl record.
Collecting Vinyl Records
There are a lot of reasons people collect vinyl records. Some like the sound quality of monophonic and stereophonic sound, saying it is more true to the original recording than the crisp digital versions available.
Others are interested in their monetary value, as some rare or particularly noteworthy albums or singles can be worth a pretty penny. Nostalgia is also a key factor. Many records are in and of themselves a childhood memory, and some album covers are more artistic and recognizable than the music they house.
LPs vs. 45s
Long-playing records, or LPs, are probably what you think of first when considering records. Revolving at 33rpms (revolutions per minute), LPs hold multiple songs, either by one artist or, in the case of compilations and soundtracks, a variety of artists. They are large, about twelve inches in diameter, and come with both a protective inner sleeve and artistic paperboard outer cover.
Smaller and holding one or two songs, 45s are named for their RPMs. The sides of the records are designated A and B. Many a hit has made radio play because a disc jockey flipped over to the B-side. Covers are a combination of inner and outer sleeves, with the pictures on the paper. Old jukeboxes were the homes of thousands of 45s until the advent of Compact Discs.
If your space is limited, try picking up some 45s to start your collection. They are easy to find and usually quite inexpensive. Prices will be higher if the original record sleeve is still intact, but if not, don’t sweat it. They are easy to store in a box with paper separating the records so they do not rub or scratch each other.
Proper care and maintenance of your records will keep your collection enjoyable for years to come. A few suggestions:
1) Cleaning Albums. Eyeglass cleaner and a soft, lint-free cloth are perfect for removing grime and dust from the record itself. Clean with the grooves, moving in a circle, not from inner to outer edge.
2) Protecting Covers. If the album cover is smooth and shiny, you can use spray furniture polish, and a cloth to clean and polish to like-new condition. Spray onto the cloth, not the cover. Don’t use on paper covers, as it could destroy them.
3) Storage. Plain record sleeves and paperboard covers are available for purchase from online paper supply and record stores. Many also provide storage and mailing boxes for all record sizes.
A final note: It has been recommended that curved or bent arm turntables are better for records than the more plentiful straight-arm turntables. The bend in the arm relieves some of the needle pressure in the grooves, prolonging the life of the records.
Reasons Why Vinyl Records Are Becoming More Popular
In a world where digital is becoming increasingly considered ‘better’, vinyl records are becoming more popular. Here are a few insights as to why this renaissance is occurring.
It’s an intimate experience…
There is no point arguing that listening to music on vinyl isn’t harder than listening to an iPod or on your computer. It is quite a bit more challenging. However, fans of vinyl consider it worth it.
Many are of the opinion that having to be extremely careful as to not scratch the record, flipping the record over halfway through an album, and not being able to easily listen to one specific track without listening to the entire record makes the music more meaningful. It becomes something that they work for. Also, listeners can sit and watch how the music they are hearing is being produced.
They can see the stylus run the grooves of the record and in a sense “see” the music as they hear it.
It’s obviously not a problem for the majority of music fans, as is apparent by immense popularity of iTunes and mp3 players, but fans of vinyl appreciate the entire package of an album. They want their money to not only be spent on audio, but also on a great big 12X12 inch display with liner notes that list, in detail, every musician and every detail about where and when the album was recorded. It’s a much different experience to buy a physical record (even a CD) and to have a tangible copy of the art form you purchased than to buy digital files that you click on to hear.
I can’t tell you that no matter what, vinyl sounds better than digital music. That is not necessarily true. It takes a lot of money to have a stereo system that plays vinyl records so well that it sounds better than a high quality digital file.
However, I will say that the sound quality is different. It has a bit more texture or life to it. My dad always told me that the pops and hisses of old vinyl records added an energy to the music that just couldn’t be replicated digitally. Not everyone will agree with that, but it’s hard to argue that vinyl doesn’t have a different sound quality to it than digital music.