Will The Music Industry Pin Its Hopes On Vinyl Records (Or Player Piano Rolls)?

Oct 29th, 2007 // 7 Comments

rcadog.gifWired thinks that vinyl is about to “re-enter the mainstream, or at least become a major tributary” thanks to the “uniformly optimistic picture of the vinyl market” in the “vital indie and DJ scenes.” So why is this trend set to rock retailers across the country? Oh wait, it’s because vinyl sounds better, right?

Portability is no longer any reason to stick with CDs, and neither is audio quality. Although vinyl purists are ripe for parody, they’re right about one thing: Records can sound better than CDs.

Although CDs have a wider dynamic range, mastering houses are often encouraged to compress the audio on CDs to make it as loud as possible: It’s the so-called loudness war. Since the audio on vinyl can’t be compressed to such extremes, records generally offer a more nuanced sound.

Okay, so there’s no way we want to have that argument again. But even leaving aside vinyl’s renowned ear-pleasing qualities, you may wonder exactly what part of the “mainstream” we’re talking about here, as there’s not a lot of evidence on Wired‘s part to support the contention that vinyl is set to “hasten the long-predicted death of the CD” any time soon, at least among the hundreds of thousands of people who still (occasionally) fork out for piece of physical music. It’s hard to imagine all those folks buying High School Musical 2 or a Rod Stewart standards CD suddenly switching to LPs.

Even within the indie world–already home to a healthy number of non-audiophile vinyl fans with a longstanding attachment to the format–vinyl’s sales uptick, while certainly a relief for indie labels, needs to be looked at in contrast with the sharp drop in CD sales among a younger demographic in the same fanbase. (Dance fans have generally had no other choice than buying vinyl, though that’s changed somewhat with the rise of MP3 vendors like Bleep.com.) It’s doubtful that new vinyl buyers will somehow outpace (or even out) the number of CD buyers the industry is losing, even in the indie sector. A spike in turntable-owning New Pornographers fans or semi-pro DJs isn’t necessarily the best indicator of a viable trend, though it may be a sneak peek at future definitions of what will constitute the “mainsteam,” at least when it comes to buying non-digital music.

Vinyl Could Be Final Nail In CDs Coffin [Wired]

  1. Cam/ron

    The vinyl purists are still a cult and I doubt that they’ll make a dent in the “mainstream” anytime soon. There is a generation of teens and tweens who never played a record before, turntables require more care and maintainence than a lot of people want, and vinyl prices seem to be jacking up. I got into vinyl during the mid-90s when most indie label LPs were no more than nine bucks, now many indies are releasing albums in double and triple disc sets or “audiophile” 180-gram discs that costs 17 bucks or more.

  2. iantenna

    working for a company that releases reissues on both cd and lp i can state for a fact that we have shipped more vinyl this year than cds. of course, we’re the kind of company that’s happy with sales of 2-3k pieces and i don’t really see vinyl releases going platinum anytime soon. also, we get way more popular titles on vinyl than cd.

    so, i guess i don’t really have a point, other than there are still plenty of nerds out there (myself, of course, included) buying vinyl. which is about the only point wired can state for a fact either.

    that said, i wouldn’t be surprised if, in a few years, the only physical format a lot of titles are released on is lp.

  3. Chris Molanphy

    Vinyl can sound better — on a good turntable, with a quality cartridge and a clean needle. I know, duh! But that’s not what 90% of vinyl listeners decades ago were using.

    This is what audiophiles and vinyl nerds forget in this debate. Yes, yes, your vinyl system sounds better than CD, no doubt. But a CD played on a $30 discman routed through a Radio Shack patch cord sounds better than the average living-room turntable of yore, hands down.

    I’m tired of having this debate, not because the vinyl proponents don’t have a point, but because they forget about how nine-tenths of the known world listens to music. Hint: not in a “clean room” or on quality gear.

  4. Cam/ron

    @dennisobell:
    I get a kick out of the vinyl-obsessed audiophiles who blow so much $$$ in stereo gear and neglect the fact that most of a record’s sound quality is beyond their control (i.e. how well the recording was engineered and mastered). A poorly engineered record will sound lousy no matter what.

  5. Stafford

    My reasons for buying vinyl are one part utilitarian and two parts sentimental. I know the arguments that it sounds better, and in some cases thats true, but not my main reason. On the one hand there have long been singles and 7″ that I wanted that just weren’t coming out on CD. Dance, punk and general electronic music has long stood by the format, and my music purchasing habits have stayed in line with that. But the biggest reason I like it is a very simple one, a reason that seems to get lost in audiophile debates amongst lovers and haters: quite simple, for some, myself included, it just feels good having records around. Getting up and flipping to the other side, searching through large stacks in stores are both, in a weird way, meditative activities for me. My parents had their collection as well, so that adds a layer of nostalgia in there too. Also, there are some old psych and funk albums that you’re just not going get on CD. While I like the pops, cracks, and uncompressed sound they have, its never really been about that for me.

  6. KinetiQ

    My obsession with vinyl started when I decided I wanted to learn how to spin, and since then I’ve found deal after amazing deal digging through old crates in independent music stores on the cheap. Yeah, sure, I could go download a copy of Donovan’s “Mellow Yellow” … or I could pop by a couple stores and get a copy for a buck or two. And holding a record sleeve in your hand – by Jove, it’s like recapturing that adolescent magic without having to put stupid posters on the wall or draw band logos on your Trapper Keeper.

    I doubt we’ll see a major resurgence though because, seriously, who wants to buy two copies of an album? Portability has repeatedly proven to be one of the most important criteria in a medium – hell, people actually used 8-tracks!

    What advantages does vinyl have to offer the average (moron) consumer? Romanticized notions of nostalgia, fidelity, “that vinyl warmth”? I don’t see it happening.

    Honestly though, the fewer people also rustling through the $1 “new wave” bins means better finds for me, so, uh, yeah, stay away from vinyl, it’s bad news, I swear….

  7. G3K

    Releasing musical in the analog format is, in a strangely modern sense, its own sort of DRM. Not that you can’t rip it with relative ease, it’s just that pristine, perfect copies of all those exclusive vinyl-only remixes are quite hard to find outside of, you know, OiNK :-(

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