Vinyl Scratchings [#20]

Yes, I am one of those irritating people that have decided to resurrect an audio format that, by all rights, should be long extinct. And, further yes, I’m also now going to complain about my irrational decision and why the industry is ruining it. Have you got the rage and sighs out? Okay, let’s continue.

First of all, because it’s likely the number one question any vinyl ‘enthusiast’ (I am not a fan of that term) gets asked, why do I buy vinyl? Well, it isn’t because of ‘superior’ sound quality. I don’t have the time, or money, to become an audiophile. No, honestly, it’s because I like collecting stuff and I like music. Vinyl collections are just more attractive to me than CD collections, although I have quite a large one of those too, and I find no joy in having a large digital media collection at all. Plus, the audio industry was forever changed the moment Spotify launched. I have subscriptions to both Spotify Premium and Amazon Music, which combined account for over 90% of my music listening habits. I no longer have any need to buy music.

Still, sometimes, I want to buy music. Most of the time it’s so I can support a specific artist; the rest of the time it’s because a given record has some personal significance to me. As a result, my vinyl collection is not full of one-time release, special edition recordings from bands you’ve never heard of. It’s largely main stream, best selling albums from the likes of Linkin Park, Muse and the Killers. Still, because I’m part of the ‘digital generation’, a lot of these records are the first time I’ve owned some of my, personally, favourite and most influential music. As a result, I want these purchases to be special; I look at them as more than just ‘buying an album’ but as recognition of an album or artist that means something to me.

Yet, despite the enduring revival of the format, it seems that the prestige of vinyl is being forgotten. Most modern releases are a simple sleeve, with identical cover art to the CD (often not even at increased resolution), and nothing more. The records of the 70’s and 80’s delighted consumers with multi-hinge fold outs, ornate lyrics sheets, in depth leaflets about the album, artist, designers and everyone inbetween. Cover art was detailed and extravagant, with the entire package often being pain staking lay designed. Vinyl records felt special, rewarding your purchase with a product that somehow felt more than just an album. Conversely, modern CD albums tend to contain more of these features than the vinyl issue does.

This mass market reaction is predictable but should, theoretically, be matched in step by a shift in cost. However, far from making vinyl records cheaper, it seems that the resurgence of interest in the format has increased the expected RRP. As vinyl has become cool and collectable again, the price, particularly of sought after albums (even reissues), has steadily risen.

The result is a market where vinyl records now feel less special whilst costing more. There are some benefits to the mass market, such as the inclusion of digital download codes with vinyl purchases, but even these are hit and miss with little thought. A recent selection of albums I’ve bought contained a download code that had already expired (Sir Sly), a code with no corresponding website (Watsky) and a digital download given at lower than CD quality compression (Glitch Mob). Vinyl albums, especially ones that hold their value, tend to have long shelf lives, tend to be bought by people who have a decent understanding of audio quality and are largely purchased by fans of that artist. None of those interactions made me feel like my purchase mattered to the bands involved. They left a bitter taste in the mouth.

There are those that do get it, though. Cat Power’s Sun is a fantastic example of a vinyl that rewards the consumer. It comes with both a CD and digital download code (amazing) and the specially designed insert sleeves include lyrics, credits, interesting information and much more. Plus, it looks great and sounds amazing, making the purchase so much more special. Also, Florence & The Machine Lungs which has a proper bi-fold sleeve and some stunning album art. Ironically, both cost much less than other, rather disappointing vinyls. Hopefully artists will begin to take pride in the way their art is presented again as they used to.

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