04/05/2015 Dropping the needle all over again

Posted by Jason.sexton | No Comments on Dropping the needle all over again

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The music industry is forever changed. It all started on the 28th of April, 2003 with emergence of a little service called iTunes. The brain child of Mr Steve Jobs, few at the time could have predicted how this service would fundamentally change the way we consume music.

Hit the skip button forward for 12 years to present day and music streaming sites such as Rdio, Napster, MOG, Rhapsody, Spotfiy, Google Play, Deezer, the iTunes store and now Jay-Z’s recently scaled-up Tidal service look to continue to drive the decline of the physical Compact Disc.

World-wide record store sales don’t lie – like it or not the CD is in big trouble.

Sales fell from 165 million units in 2013 to 140 million units in 2014 – compare this 78.6 billion audio streams in 2014 and you can see where the party is at.

But there’s a curious spin to this trend. That trend is Vinyl. Once thought to be rendered completely dead as the dodo the by the Compact Disc with its “perfect” digital sound, Vinyl continues to make an unlikely, yet remarkable cultural and commercial comeback.

In an era where even digital album download sales (not streaming) are sluggish, Vinyl is on the-grow. In fact the faithful 12-inch had its best year in decades in 2014, selling astonishing 9.2 million units. That’s a 51.8 percent increase over 2013.

Vinyl hasn’t seen sales numbers like that since the early 1990’s!

To be fair, there has always been group of vinyl aficionado’s that have never lost the faith in the first place.

This is underscored by the emergence of Record Store Day.

An event originally created in 2007 when over 700 independent record stores in the United States joined forces to celebrate all things music retailing and the passion for collecting music on physical media.

Now Record Store Day is becoming a popular fixture in Australia with many stores across the nation participating in the event, offering special events, deals, prizes to be won and gigs in store, big support from the major labels such as Sony, Universal, EMI and Warner.


So the wax is back but why?

Some say it’s an element of nostalgia or even dare we say, ‘retro-mania’. Yes, everything that is old, is now new again, again; as contemporary culture searches for a new identity and discovers, well, the past.

Since the early 2000’s we’ve been gripped by this retro phenomena and it shows no sign of slowing. Recycled car designs, fashions, design trends. Old bands make comebacks, re-record with other artists and cultural paraphernalia of the past becomes the must-have black of the new season.

Is the vinyl part of this?

The resurgence of vinyl could be accounted for by a growing sentimentally of days past and a growing indifference (by some) towards all things digital. Are we missing the simple pleasures of those large and fragile discs in cardboard sleeves that manifest a distinctly un-digital crackle when played on the similarly redundant technology of the record player?

Perhaps, but it we don’t think this is the only reason.

The commercial comeback of vinyl is not just about nostalgic longings for days past. One only needs to look at the recent activity of many contemporary artists releasing or re-releasing music on the vinyl format to understand that something else is being rediscovered.

We think we know what it is….be prepared for a shock…people are re-discovering the joy of Hi-Fi listening!

We’ve written about an increasing interest 2-channel Hi-Fi recently and beyond this, it could be argued that vinyl offers something of a certain holy grail characteristic that is some-what lacking in other Hi-Fi formats. That is, a distinct lack of audio perfection. It’s what the audiophiles like to describe as ‘warmth’. The warmth of sound is created due to the unavoidable ‘flaws’ in analogue sound reproduction, due effectively to varying levels of distortion. Some say it makes the performance sound, human.

Another factor that many argue in the favor of Vinyl record is that it’s a more immersive experience because of the way it makes us listen to a recording as a whole.

Compact Disc’s first changed this experience as it gave us the ability to easily skip and shuffle between tracks allowing the first of the ‘playlists’.

Vinyl was different. One does not simply skip tracks on a record – not only is this an inherently risky practice causing potential damage to record and stylus alike – it was very difficult to do it smoothly with one turntable.

As a result the track-by-track experience (as intended by the artists and central to the listening experience of classic LPs such as Dark Side of the Moon) has returned as an important part of the experience.


It will be interesting to see if these the recent emergence of lossless streaming services will be able to capture some this Vinyl magic.

The vinyl renascence has also spurned all manner of new hybrid turntable devices such as the Project Carbon Essential 2 USB that includes a USB ports for digitally recording vinyl albums, crackles and all – not to mention a number of new models of turntables with multiple customization options.

We also can’t discount the possessive quality that intangible downloads or streaming lacks. The problem with a download or stream is that you just don’t own anything. Ok you have the cover art on your iPad but Vinyl Record is also about collecting, just like owning books, it’s an important part of record ownership equation. Just as one gets pleasure from referencing a book from your own library, playing records has an element of behavioral enjoyment, from the opening of the sleeve and the gentle handling of the disc, to the aesthetic qualities of the cover and the inner sleeve designs with its artwork and printed lyrics to the set-up and physical input one has with the turntable. It’s all happening right in front you. It’s tangible, tactile experience – in a world filled with virtual ones and zeros, this is an important escape.

Reality time.
The resurgence of Vinyl is important but we also need to remember this is still very much a tiny audience relative to overall music market in digital sales and there are other barriers namely the physical manufacture of the records themselves. Record presses are in very short supply worldwide – there simply aren’t that many around anymore. In fact according recent reports more than 90% of the raw material required in the manufacturing process are held by one company.

If vinyl is to continue its resurgence it will require significant investment in re-production chain of this physical medium by record companies and seeing as though manner record store outlets are closing prudent decisions on how to distribute future vinyl will need to be taken.

There is no doubt that the vinyl record is back and we look forward to following this back to the future trend with great interest.

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