The Fate of Vinyl Records in the Digital Age

vinyl records

Listening to “Don’t Stop Believin'” on vinyl or hearing it on an MP3 player is comparable to viewing an original Paul Gauguin painting in a museum to seeing a cheap reprint in a mall. The closer you get to an original work of art the easier it is to appreciate its brilliance, whether its by seeing the brush strokes or hearing the background noise. A re-generation of any work of art, regardless of the medium, will not exact the same emotional response as the original piece. The pops and hum audible on most vinyl records may signify inferior recording technology to some, but to others the imperfections actually conjure a more pristine sound which is virtually unattainable by any modern recording methods.

Analog and Digital Recording

In digital recording a signal is converted into a series of binary numbers. This sequence of numbers then goes through a digital-to-analog converter before the sound is reproduced. Throughout this process the signal is clarified or enhanced in an effort to produce a higher quality sound, causing some data to be lost and other data altered to make up for it. This is why some digital recordings have a stark or harshly crisp sound, especially evident in the higher frequencies like the cymbals, vocals or drums.

With analog recording there is no need to convert the signal to another format, and therefore no data is lost. Vinyl records sound “warm” because the grooves hold more original musical data, and the stylus (needle) vibrates in a way most similar to the sound waves produced when the music was first recorded. When the data recorded on vinyl is amplified through the analog output on a record player it provides the closest reproduction of the original performance.

Vinyl Artwork

A hand held device housing thousands of songs may be more convenient than building shelves on every wall in order to accommodate countless records or CD’s, but lugging around milk crates full of albums does have its rewards.

The incredible artwork displayed on album covers is half the allure to collecting. The cross over between visual art and music is an important artistic medium and no other format provides a better canvas than vinyl album covers. Many artists, old and new, recognize the importance of conserving this art form and often have a hand in cover art. Bands like Aerosmith, Radiohead and Pearl Jam have re-released their catalog on vinyl and helped design the record jacket.

The Changing Music Scene

Music used to come as a package, but those days are fleeting. Sgt. Pepper’s was not a collection of catchy singles cleverly placed amid musical filler, it was a sound experiment with a theme, and the pictures and lyric sheets included were integral in conveying the Beatles artistic state. While there are still bands out there that have a message and utilize the unique aesthetic form of a vinyl record to express it, most are out to capitalize on their short lived popularity by releasing singles via digital downloading.

The problem is not the integrity of bands or the greedy nature of record labels, after all they are simply giving us what we want. The blame for the erosion of any artistic endeavor falls directly on us, the people who take less and less time to appreciate the art and music made available to us.

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