Summers In The Breach

Every time I think I'm out, they pull me back in. I've started listening to my records again and I had forgotten how great they sound. I try to avoid being a vinyl snob (and my audiophile chops aren’t strong enough, anyway), but there is a warmth that I don't get from the various bluetooth and streaming devices I have scattered around. I know it can sound hokey to tout the presence that you get with analog, but there's something there that's hard to identify.

Alan Jacobs explains his return to vinyl:

My good friend Rob Miner has a massive collection of LPs, but sometimes reminds me that he’s not a “vinyl fundamentalist.” And he’s not — but plenty of people are. And I have always been annoyed by the language of such fundamentalists: they talk about “warmth” and “presence” and “depth” — What the hell is that all about? Such metaphors have zero meaning to me. I scornfully dismissed all such talk … until I started listening to music on my new turntable.

Jacobs is worried his new passion for records will turn him into that guy. He's finding more and more vinyl that captivates him and compels him in a way music doesn't on other mediums.

There's something in those grooves that 1s and 0s don't completely capture. You don't have to have a super expensive hi-fi setup to notice it. My fairly basic U-Turn Orbit turntable and a pair of Kanto YU3 speakers that came with my 40th birthday prove that point. Yep, I got speakers for my turntable when I turned 40. I'm firmly in vinyl dad territory. I'm not a format fetishist but I value the experience of listening to music enough to prioritize it. Sometimes my son and I will sit in my office and listen to records together, something that we can't do in any of the computers that we use in separate spaces.

Peak vinyl

Even though vinyl sales are up year after year, the music industry is still treating its popularity like a short term fad that will end at any time. They haven't invested in vinyl presses despite more demand than the existing manufacturing infrastructure can effectively support. This has resulted in backlogs for vinyl that can stretch the patience of even the most ardent fan. My mom bought me a MUNYA record for Christmas that I'm hoping to get sometime in April. My wife ordered me a limited edition Roman à Clef record last year that just never came. The label didn't respond when I emailed about it. I had to dispute the charge on my credit card to get a refund.

📈 Data viz via Statista

I've been buying records since before '95, so I can remember those days when there weren't many people who were picking them up. Unfortunately, the rise in popularity has also meant a rise in prices commensurate with that increased popularity. I predicted that in a post on my Livejournal blog back in the early aughts. Specifically, my belief was that vinyl would be a premium experience with a premium price to match while digital distribution drove down the costs of most music. That aligns with the situation in which we have found ourselves.

Supporting artists

Another advantage to occasionally buying vinyl (I'm not rich, so I'm sticking with a reasonable level of frequency) is that I'm supporting the artists in a way that streaming from a major service does not. I have been writing on my blog about Brothertiger, one of my favorite bands, recently. I realized, though, that I had never really financially supported the band in any materially significant way. Sure, I could have bought some of their music through Bandcamp, but when you are getting the same digital artifact you can get for free through a streaming service, buying their music seems more like dropping coins in a tip jar than anything else. With lossless quality becoming the standard on the streaming platforms, buying a digital album on Bandcamp doesn't get you much besides ownership. However, when I saw a new limited edition splatter variant of the Brothertiger album Out of Touch, I was pretty excited. The band gets my financial support and I get something tangible to enjoy.

Buying vinyl supports artists and can also be a good investment. I recently sold a few records that I no longer enjoyed on Discogs and made significantly more than I paid for the records originally. Not only that, but the buyers were really grateful to get their hands on some white whales for which they had scoured the seas. If you don't find yourself listening to a record, though, and you can't sell it for a decent price, you can always buy a record frame and hang it on the wall to enjoy the artwork. The generous size of the format makes it ideal as a decorative element for your listening room. I have IKEA shelves on which I display my records so that I can see some of my favorite covers and still easily pull the album off of the shelf and get a premium listening experience.

Money is still a constraint with this hobby, but I'm glad to buy fewer records and give them more attention.

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Robert Rackley @frostedechoes
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Made with in North Carolina.
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