I know you’ve seen this before. A band that you like announces a new album release, and in the promotion push, the band says you can find their album on iTunes or Spotify, “or better yet, pick up a copy on vinyl.”
That vinyl is often a limited pressing, and the cost is higher than digital. It takes a while to arrive in the mail, and once it gets to your house, it takes up space. At every step, there seems to be an indication that a vinyl record is at least special in contrast to the digital files, if not superior. So what’s “better” about vinyl?
Don’t worry, I’m not going to write the same thing that’s been written a hundred times since vinyl record sales started surging worldwide in 2006. You’ll get no Seinfeldian “What’s the deal with vinyl?” here.
And some of the details of vinyl technology are so mind-numbing and tweaky that it will probably give most of you a headache or make you turn the page. I’ll spare you the techno babble.
What I want to put out there is a perspective: A vinyl record is a precious thing. Precious things seem to be dwindling in our increasingly hasty culture. A vinyl record has a longer lifespan than most of the fleeting stuff we buy these days, fidget spinners being a ready example.
With streaming services’ algorithms working overtime to expose listeners to new music every week, our binge culture is starting to have the effect of disconnecting us from bands and albums.
Strange, I know. The whole intention is to connect us to new music. But as I try to think of all the new artists’ names I learned in the last month, I realize I’ve forgotten most of them. If I didn’t have their songs saved in my streaming app, I might never experience their music again.
In contrast, here I am, looking at my stack of records in my living room, and I’m being hit with all these great memories. Vinyl is expensive and requires serious storage space, so my records were generally chosen with great care. Right now, I’m remembering the person who gave me this record and the concert where I got that other one signed.
Playing an album is filled with ritual and procedure. You can’t do it when you’re on the treadmill; you must bring your whole self to the experience. You listen to a record when you’re able to make space to fully appreciate it.
Picture Gollum clutching the ring and whispering about his “Precioussss” — can you imagine anything that would make a band happier than knowing that the fruit of their years-long efforts are being admired with similar feeling?
Earlier this year, I wrote about records being mastered differently than digital files, as their limited dynamic range can’t handle modern pop’s maximized sound. The dials need to be drawn back for vinyl a bit, which is always good for the music.
My friend, occasional jam partner and local mega-talented multi-instrumentalist Ted Thacker (The Red Tack) told me that the vinyl mastering session for his amazing 2017 album “Knight of the Sorrowful Face” brought tears to his eyes in a way that didn’t happen in the digital mastering. To Ted, there’s nothing better than the vinyl.
To artists, vinyl is precious. So when your favorite band says “better yet,” you should listen.