You only need to look at your social media feeds to see more and more music listeners are hot on vinyl right now. It’s a thing of excitement and enthusiasm. Amy posts a photo of her newly set-up turntable in her living room. Steve shows you all his limited-edition 12” vinyl re-issue by Band X, straight from the courier. Kerry’s IGTV video shows her grinning like a loon as she spins an old Nineties 7” single from the cover of the NME that she’s rediscovered in her mum’s attic. There’s something special about vinyl, and we love it too.
Does vinyl sound better? You know the answer. It has a warmer sound, with more richness and depth. Digital music is compressed to fit on whatever it’s being stored on, so there’s a noticeable loss of sound. There’s also a tendency for bands to mix digital music loud to compete with other songs that it is being played before or after. It starts loud, carries on loud and ends loud. There’s more dynamic range with vinyl, so you’ll hear the subtle changes in volume. You’ll also hear better clarity of bass, middle and treble. It’s a far more authentic, real and human sound, rather than the music being translated by machine into a series of zeros and ones. Compared to its digital sister, with vinyl, there is literally more music there.
Beyond the actual sound, the attraction is that a vinyl recording is a tangible object, a sizable piece of plastic that carries music, wrapped in a two square foot canvas of imagery. A ‘record’ has gravitas, it occupies space. It’s no surprise that vinyl lovers’ houses are also crammed with books. For them, the format is as important as the content, and they are inseparable from each other. The song lyrics, the pictures, the details of songs, and who did what on each song are points of interest. Knowing the producer of a record might open your ears to other music they have worked on. You find out that Elliot Smith recorded mainly at home. It’s an experience that goes far beyond the sounds in your ears.
When listening to an album or EP digitally, the songs can be played in any order, put on a playlist or some tracks might even be deleted by the listener. With vinyl, an artist creates a program with a beginning, a middle and an end; songs are ordered to tell a story, a narrative, with the dynamics of each song also playing a part. The format encourages you, the listener, to embrace this journey and experience, and to listen to the album from start to finish. You get the whole story.
Taking notes from visual artists, it’s pretty common now for artists to release vinyl as limited editions. This means that you can be one of the few owners of a particular recording, which feels much more personal. As many artists sell vinyl direct to the listener, it helps to create a real meaningful bond between them. And this is surely the essence of what music is. Long live vinyl!