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2nd March 2015

Opinion: Space… the vinyl frontier

Stephen Miller considers the appeal of vinyl records against the lack of innovation in the consumption of music today

The other day, I asked my Northern Quarter-dwelling friend if he’d heard the latest hipster joke; he replied “Yes, I have it on vinyl.” Over a million vinyl records were sold in the UK last year, the highest figure since 1996. Yet, for every vinyl record we buy, there will more than likely be someone sat at home wondering how to fit one in a laptop. Now enjoying a resurgence in popularity, vinyl records are no longer seen as antiquated relics of a bygone age. Oh, how the turntables have, well, turned.

It is important to point out that vinyl records make up only a marginal percentage of overall music sales, roughly 3 per cent, yet people are buying more vinyl than they have in previous decades. Why? Is it the experience of ownership? In my particular case, vinyl gives me a physical experience that feels more fulfilling; certainly a more fulfilling physical experience than a CD ever gave me, anyway. Owning a vinyl, much like owning a book, gives you that level of satisfaction that you just can’t get from a CD or a digital source.

Convenience certainly works in favour of the CD, yet for their convenience, they eliminate the interactive element of vinyl. You listen to a side, and then you flip it over. This may not sound the most arduous of tasks, yet it makes the listening experience something in which you are not only emotionally involved, but physically involved as well. There’s also something rather romantic and poetic about the hum of that needle on the record grooves. Add to that the occasional crackling noise, and you have yourself an omnidimensional sound experience to make any music aficionado’s heart melt.

Music brings people together. Record stores are spaces for those who share a similar passion for music, even if it is for different genres. I would choose to go out to buy a record over downloading a file on my computer any day of the week. We, the consumers, should reciprocate the effort put in to making a physical record by making the effort to get it. At least this way, you eliminate the fear of a clandestine virus coming along and draining the entire contents of your iTunes library. With vinyl, your only worry is scratching it, but only if you’re silly enough to treat it like a chew-toy.

The love we have, and have re-found, for vinyl does pose a growing, underlying issue. The music industry, it seems, has hit a brick wall with regards to finding new and innovative ways for us to consume music. Looking backwards to go forwards is no solution. How long until 19th-century wax phonograph cylinders make a comeback? In the pursuit for innovation, the music industry is constantly tripping over itself. Dr. Dre headphones, for example, are a clever marketing opportunity. But, an iPod can’t match the quality of the headphones when you’re listening to an MP3 that has an even worse sound quality than a CD. I’m as happy as anyone that vinyl is on the rise, but the question we should all be asking ourselves is: What’s next?

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