Welcome once again to another edition of Breakfast On The Blog. Today we take a look at:
A PHOENIX RISING FROM ITS ASHES – THE VINYL REVOLUTION
As the 1980’s came to a close, the Long Playing record was facing extinction. Its death was predicted in the early 1990s. The large companies closed down their pressing plants and switched to making CDs. Most people quickly embraced the new medium of the CD with open arms. The format of the CD seemed to have so many advantages over the LP; the convenience of a longer playing time, more compact storage, and that wonderful clear digital sound, minus all the clicks and pops and scratches. If you enjoyed listening to classical music you were suddenly in heaven. LPs were becoming the dinosaurs of the recording industry, headed for extinction, their end hastened by the crashing comets of digital sound and playback. And then, the MP3 format, along with the players and easy online access to the songs, exploded like a nuclear bomb and turned the entire industry on its head. And that became, to paraphrase Don McLean, “the day the quality died.” The whole market blossomed. Kids no longer bought albums, they cherry-picked their music song by song and the way music was being heard was abruptly pimped into a wasteland of cheap single songs picked up like streetwalkers on the shady side of town, used a bit and then dumped back into the gutter. Artists jumped on the bandwagon, pumping out a muddle of whiny beat-box songs that served at best the kids’ need of instant gratification.
But the music was here today and gone tomorrow. You no longer owned the music, you rented it. Missing was the artwork, the song texts, something you could put your hands on and hold. Missing was the ritual. You put your i-Pod on shuffle and let the music play you. The old idea of a concept album, where you listened to an LP from beginning to end, where the progression of the songs told a story or took your imagination somewhere, that was gone. The very beauty of the album experience was sacrificed on the altar of MP3 digital convenience. The quality of the musical experience was gone. Just a short while ago it could be said that most people born after 1990 had never played an LP, and in fact, except for cleaning them out of their parent’s attics and garages, most of that generation had never even held a vinyl album. But then someone threw a monkey wrench into the gears of this so called progress. And actually part of it was the progress itself. The technology that gave us digital music now makes vinyl even better without sacrificing the quality of the sound.
Before 2008, vinyl sales were so low Billboard didn’t even publish the numbers. But in the last six years, vinyl sales have tripled; in the first part of 2014, Billboard counted 6.5 million units sold. Alright, currently vinyl makes up only 3.5 percent of overall music sales, but ten years ago the number was only 0.2 percent. Digital downloads and CDs still make up the majority, but sales for those formats are way down. Vinyl records sales are up 745 percent since 2008. The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry reports that global sales of LPs were $171 million in 2012, a 52 percent increase from the year before. And it’s the younger listeners, those 18 to 25, who are the ones doing the buying. And artists are following the trend with most of those acts popular with the younger generation now also releasing vinyl versions of their digital music.
And in the last few years something else has happened. It is best described as a desire to experience an immersion in the musical experience. You don’t have that instant push button gratification with an LP. You put the album on, you have to turn it over and there’s no shuffle button. You are actually involved in playing your music, not just listening to some cheap digital file that lacks the highs and lows due to the compression inherent in the MP3 format. And once you drop the needle you’re enjoying a sound that’s fuller and warmer than anything the digital world has to offer. You are listening to music made by vibrating sound waves, not digital numbers. And believe me, there is a big difference. It’s like the difference between the taste of real chocolate pudding and that instant crap. Kids are discovering the difference. They are discovering the ritual.
Over the last few years about a dozen pressing plants have sprouted up in the United States, along with a few that managed to survive from the first vinyl era, and they say business is so brisk that they are all working to capacity. Vinyl presses all across the country are feeling the strain as the old format makes a comeback with a new generation. Of course there is a limit to how much the vinyl business can expand right now. When it seemed inevitable that CDs would supplant LPs in the 1990’s, the companies that made vinyl presses shifted to making other kinds of machinery. The last new press was built in 1982 and no new ones are being produced at the moment. The cost is simply too high. But that may change if the market really expands.
There are those who say that this idea of a vinyl resurgence isn’t real, citing the fact mentioned above that total LP sales are only 3.5 percent of overall music sales, but then no one is expecting vinyl to replace digital. It’s just nice to see the format making a comeback with new generations who recognize both the quality and the ritual of the vinyl listening experience. And although most of the people of my generation have embraced the new technologies, for us older folks, the quality and the ritual of vinyl never really went away…
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