Raves from the Grave?

Kit Denison celebrates the vinyl renaissance. DSCN0488

Words & Photo | Kit Denison

There are few greater joys on this earth than finding a new album that has you hooked from start to finish.  It would appear, however, that I am in a growing minority who opt for purchasing the whole album, in its physical form, rather than cherry-picking the singles online.  Recent statistics might suggest that the album is diminishing in popularity year on year, while its shorter, online cousin has continued to flourish.  Despite the wide availability of free music on the internet, people are seemingly happy to stretch to a 79p download but increasingly less likely to fork out for the album from which it came.

Fortunately, it’s by no means all doom and gloom for the LP.  A quiet revolution is brewing beneath the sea of single download dominance.  The BPI (British Phonographic Industry) reported a mammoth 44% increase in sales of vinyl in 2011 from the previous year, and this figure does not include sales at concerts, which could considerably increase that figure.  Similar trends are taking place in the US, including a particularly healthy year in 2008 when there was an astonishing 90% increase in sales from the previous year.

But we don’t have to rely on damned lies and statistics; the renaissance is clear to see.  In 2011, BBC Radio 6 launched the weekly Vinyl Revival show becoming the world’s only all-vinyl radio show.  Now in its second series, the show attracts well-known names to discuss their collections and share their love for the nostalgic medium and the record stores that stock it.  Speaking of which, the annual Record Store Day was launched in 2007, encouraging music fans nationwide to support their local record store and celebrate their independence.  Many bands contribute to the cause each year by releasing new material and deep cuts on vinyl to be sold exclusively at record stores.  Despite the current economic climate, that has recently seen HMV move in to administration, my local record store (the wonderfully named Raves from the Graves in Somerset) has seen growing sales and even opened up a new store in nearby Bath, which predominately stocks… you guessed it.

A common misconception is that vinyl is predominantly bought by older generations who refuse to relinquish their outdated, cumbersome possessions and embrace modern technology.  Yet a significant contribution to the resurgence of vinyl is from the younger generations, who seek current music as well as classic reissues.  In response, more artists, including lesser-known bands, are producing vinyl pressings of their music, as well as CDs and making musical content available online.  If a band wishes to produce their album on vinyl, they will usually have to order 500 copies so they need to know there will be a demand.

To some however, the return of the vinyl record will seem baffling.  In this Spotify age, where our laptops and phones have become impressively comprehensive jukeboxes, it’s difficult to imagine reverting to a stationary and limited system.  But to what extent are we really focusing on what we listen to when we tune in online?  The internet is a fantastic musical resource but with distractions such as social networking sites, listening often becomes a secondary activity.  Finer details are missed, and what we have experienced is an impression of the music and not the full picture as conceived by the artist.  Conversely, when I sit down to listen to a record, I inevitably make a stronger commitment to absorbing the album.  Perhaps it’s down to this commitment that I find myself enjoying more songs on an album, than when I listen on a digital platform; skipping past songs I hastily decide I don’t like isn’t really an option in this context.  It’s staggering how many of these songs that I initially dislike become long-term favourites.  Or maybe it isn’t; the music that challenges us and makes us think differently is bound to take that bit more of a commitment to get properly acquainted with.

Of course, many people still choose to buy the reliable compact disc (although this number appears to be shrinking).  One clear benefit to the CD is being able to support your favourite artists, and the labels that fostered them, at usually half the expense to your wallet.  New vinyl is quite pricy, (upwards of £15 is to be expected for a new album) true, but many record shops stock both new and second hand vinyl; it can be a bit of a lucky dip but the prospect of stumbling across a gem is all part of the fun.  The CD also ensures you still have a physical copy but also allows you to transfer files to your computer and fancy phone things.  Alas, you cannot simply shove vinyl in to the CD tray of your computer, but if you are fortunate to have a new record player or turntable, it is possible to convert your music to your laptop through the wizardry of USB cables.  Furthermore, a growing number of new releases include a code to allow you to download a free copy of the album too.  Finally, CDs are less susceptible to breakage and wear and tear.  Okay, the humble vinyl can’t really argue its way out of that one, but part of the reason why vinyl is more of collectible item is that you have to take care of it and treat it with respect.  With its larger artwork and booklet, it is something to be cherished and adored.  The benefits to CDs may appear obvious, but vinyl seems to have an answer to those arguments.

And what would a discussion about the pros of vinyl be, without mentioning the warm sound quality and gentle crackle that has been its signature since the beginning.  The sound of a crackling record is a beautiful thing to me, but it’s not why I love it.  I love knowing I’ve supported both the artist I love and the shops that continue to sell the wonderful things; that I’m dedicating some quality time to the music that is an integral part of who I am; the process of removing the record from its beautiful case, carefully placing it on the player, and setting the needle down gently.  You don’t get that with Spotify.


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