*Originally posted to my other blog.
Let’s go back to February 8, 2007. It was my 14th birthday and my present changed my daily musical intake.
An iPod Nano.
I had been hauling around a portable CD player and a disc or two in the years leading up to the small and sleek black piece of technology I named Vlad. The CD player was bothersome; it skipped if you bumped it while doing homework and stalled when you tried to skip songs.
Switching over to a digital format was one of my greatest choices. Let’s skip back to 2015 with my beloved iPod Touch and the iTunes providing me with the at least 100 songs a day I play. Goodbye to 12 song CDs and hello to 2213 songs-and-counting iPod named Markus.
Which is why the latest trend in music is making me scratch my head.
Vinyl, which is temperamental and cumbersome yet cool to have, collecting is on the rise. Damaging a vinyl is as easy as pulling it out of the sleeve and they collect dust like a magnet collects metal shards. A spike in vinyl sales and a drop in digital album sales are puzzling but it offers up the question of generation, trend and statement all in one.
Perhaps we can blame this rise in vinyl sales on enthusiasm over Record Store Day and artists choosing to release special edition “RSD” albums the third Saturday in April every year since 2007. Dearborn Music, a music store offering a 20 percent off discount during Record Store Day and opens an hour earlier than normal Saturdays, had people lining up the night before as early as 8:30pm to get first dibs on their vinyl wish list.
One of the biggest draws I’ve discovered is along the lines of being the elitist approach to music collecting. It’s more impressive to say, “This is my record collection” rather than, “Here’s my iTunes Library.” Many of the vinyl albums I’ve encountered, new releases and popular used albums, are sold on Amazon.com within the range of $15-$40 versus digital albums on iTunes within the range of $7.99 to $14.99. There are the outliers of those ranges as there are with anything but the basic point remains digital copies are cheaper and go with you anywhere on your mobile devices. You won’t see many people carrying around a record player and a case holding a few vinyls on a college campus as Wayne State University student Hope Crenshaw points out, “You can’t really bring a record player to school.”
Dr. Karen McDevitt, a Wayne State University professor in communication and media theory, says there is “furniture” element to vinyl because turntables take up a significant amount of space and the vinyl needs to be stored in some form of shelving. McDevitt compared vinyl to a Pandora bracelet stating you collect vinyl like you collect charms and seek to show off you can afford to do so.
Digital formats, which include and are not limited to MP3 players, Internet radio, services such as Spotify, Soundcloud, Pandora and the classic iTunes, have paved the way for music to be ready at our fingertips. So why did Nielsen’s 2014 report show digital album sales take a -9.4 percent hit while LP/vinyl sales jumped +51.8 percent from 2013 to 2014?
In April, Nielsen released a report of billboard’s top selling vinyl records. One would think the list would be heavy with artists from before the eighties but instead only four represent a time before the 2000s.
What is not shocking is The Beatles 1969 release Abbey Road occupying the top slot with 172,000 records but the number two spot goes to an album released roughly a week shy of forty years later. Mumford and Sons 2009 release Sigh No More leads modern music’s vinyl sales with 110,000. The list of ten albums also includes Jack White’s Lazaretto (2014), Bon Iver’s For Emma Forever Ago (2007), Arctic Monkey’s AM (2013), Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon (1973), Bob Marley & The Walkers Legend (1984), Lana Del Rey’s Born to Die (2012), Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue (1959) and the Black Keys’ Brothers (2010).
One of the largest draws digital offers to consumers is the independence from the songs you don’t want to hear on each album. Why buy a vinyl copy of Jack White’s Blunderbuss if you’re only interested in the track “Sixteen Saltines?” On iTunes, you can choose to buy the entire album for $10.99 when you can buy the track you’re after for $1.29 instead?
After talking with friends, family and acquaintances on the subject I’ve come to the conclusion there is no clear winner of the format battle. Calling vinyl a threat to digital is extreme but the rise is undeniable. People willing to pay for a vinyl will do so just as people seeking a convenient device or streaming service will continue to support digital.
A favorite music related quote comes from Jojo, a character in Julie Taymor’s Across the Universe (2007), “Music’s the only thing that makes sense anymore, man. You play it loud enough, it keeps the demons at bay.” No matter what side of the vinyl versus digital battle you find yourself on at the end of the day you’re still supporting the musicians and artists that create the music you are purchasing and streaming.