As if 2017 wasn’t strange enough, Financial Times has estimated vinyl to become a billion dollar industry for the first time since the 1980s. The sound storage medium has seen a mass increase in sales in the 2010s, with the aid of Record Store Day, vinyl subscription services like Vinyl Me, Please and that ridiculously overpriced record section at Urban Outfitters. But while it might seem like a nostalgic gimmick to get hipsters to pay sixty bucks for a copy of Childish Gambino’s new album, I believe vinyl is the best way to listen to and support great music.
The argument I hear most in favor of vinyl is its warmth. But does “warmth” really even mean anything to the average person? No, but high quality does. In order to take up less space on a computer or phone, digital files are often compressed to lower bitrates, resulting in the recording experiencing data loss. Lossless digital quality is considered to be 1411 kilobytes per second, which is what you hear on your average CD. A typical mp3, the file type most used for streaming, ranges between 96 and 320kbps. All that remains is a fraction of the original recording.
But if vinyl is pressed from a fully analog recording, there’s no bitrate or digital compression involved. You’re just hearing music at its highest possible quality, as if it’s coming directly out of an instrument. However, if the record isn’t cared for and becomes damaged, then the quality decreases. Hey, maybe that’s the upside to streaming, the quality is bad, but it can’t get any worse over time.
Music is an artform, and all art deserves a certain level of attention and respect. Plays and films are typically showcased in quiet, dark theatres. Paintings are hung up in galleries to be observed in person. Books are read thoroughly over the course of many hours. So after all the time musicians spend writing and recording, the engineer spends mixing and mastering, the label spends publicizing and distributing, an album deserves to be listened through in full. Vinyl is the best medium for experiencing a complete album. Vinyl is incredibly high quality, it doesn’t shuffle, fastforwarding requires effort, and you get blown-up album artwork and liner notes to flip through as you listen. Vinyl forces a level of physical engagement with the music, the listener has to put the album on the platter, drop the needle, and flip the record for each side. Perhaps a bit more demanding than playing an album through on Apple Music, but I’m less prone to zone out when listening if I’m putting in some work.
Buying records is hands down the best way to support an independent musician. I know this might come as a shock to a lot of you, but the average musician does not make a lot of money. According to 2016 streaming research by artist rights blog, Trichordist, Spotify paid an average of “$0.00437” per stream, Apple Music paid “$0.00735” and Tidal paid “$0.012502.”
Since it takes thousands of listens just to make ten bucks, a lot of independent musicians have to rely heavier on touring and merch sales rather than making money off their actual music. It can range from about $1500 to $2500 just to press five-hundred records, which is a lot for an independent musician. But if a band can sell all five-hundred on tour at fifteen bucks a pop, that’s $7500, leaving them at least $5000 in profit. In comparison to Spotify, an artist needs to get at least one-million streams. I want my favorite artists to continue making great music, and if I know that’s more likely to happen if they’re financially supported.
In an age where every album ever made is available to stream on your smartphone, it seems counter intuitive to return to vinyl. You can’t carry a record in your pocket, a small collection takes up a large amount of space and it costs way more than ten dollars a month to maintain a collection of your favorite jams. Even if it’s within your financial means, you have to put in a considerable amount of time finding a good setup and searching stores, concerts, and the web for your favorite records.
If you’d rather just listen to a playlist of the Coachella performers over your bluetooth speaker, then don’t let my pretension dissuade you from living your life. However, I can see from the current success of vinyl, that there are a lot of people in the world like me, who want to support musicians and listen to high quality physical music. Maybe it’s just a hip trend that’ll go away again in a few years or maybe vinyl will outlast us all.