Today is Record Store Day, when hundreds of independent record shops and thousands of collectors celebrate their love for music and vinyl. The day sees artists and labels release special edition vinyl, along with performances hosted by stores. If you’re not celebrating the occasion, or have been tempted to get into vinyl before, here are some reasons that you may want to get involved with the format as an avid music lover.
Streaming services are an incredible innovation. Tens of millions of songs in the palm of your hand? Yes, please. Obviously, though, you won’t own any of the audio files you stream or save to your library. So that offline playlist you have of guilty pleasures from the 90s and 00s won’t be saved in your phone forever, especially if you cancel your subscription and switch to a new service.
Hard copies of your favourite music will be yours, regardless of what record player you use or which room you set your sound system up in. The downside is that vinyl records, like the now obsolete Compact Disc, can get scratched and damaged. Keep your wax in good condition, though, and you’ll still be able to spin it in 50 years time.
Radio stations, YouTube channels, music blogs and streaming services showcase only the singles and highlights from an artist’s album. As a result, hidden gems can be overlooked in an album, and you’ll miss out on the album experience as a whole. Artists, producers and labels work tirelessly to create a cohesive piece of art that actualises a vision. Two shining examples of an album that’s best-listened to track by track are The Avalanches ‘Since I Left You‘, and Pink Floyd’s classic, ‘Dark Side of the Moon’.
When listening to a record, skipping a track isn’t as easy as tapping a button. Pinpointing the gaps between the tracks can be tricky, and you’ll spend time moving the needle and flipping the disc if you’re playing lots of tracks from different albums. But this isn’t a bad thing. You’ll appreciate the album in its entirety and forge a deeper connection with the music and artist. You may find an entirely new meaning in a song you’ve already listened to hundreds of times.
You may have heard that artists are getting paid less in the streaming era. This is mostly true; according to Music Gateway’s calculator, 1,000,000 streams on Spotify will pay the artist USD 4,000, Tidal pays $12,000, and YouTube pays as little as $1,750. Fans and artists are protesting the amount of royalties being paid out by streaming services, with the US and UK governments recently taking action – US Congress even reached out to Spotify with fears of artists receiving even fewer royalties.
When you purchase an album from a record store, more money is going into independent workers. As a result, record stores will continue to thrive, artists and labels will take a more significant cut, and you’ll get to keep a hard copy of your new album. As an indication of how much money can be made by cutting out streaming services, take a look at Bandcamp Fridays. The platform’s initiative came in response to the pandemic and involves waiving its revenue, so artists and labels take the whole cut from music and merch sales. There have been 12 Bandcamp Fridays in total, and fans have paid $52 million directly to artists.
Digital files aren’t perfect. Files get compressed to easily transfer between devices and across the internet, reducing their depth and nuance. By the time you stream that file, its overall quality has been greatly compromised. Vinyl is analogue. This means that the grooves on a record are written from the original master – the finalised track. Therefore, there’s no digital compression happening to reduce the quality of the signal.
That’s not to say that the signal is perfect, though. There are slight imperfections in records that warp and distort the audio, which is likely what audiophiles are talking about when they mention the “warmth” of vinyl. CDs do a stellar job of reproducing an accurate signal, but vinyl is all about the experience. In fact, according to MusicTech, much of the love for vinyl can be attributed to neuroscience and is often simply perceived as being a higher-quality listen.
Do you remember the first album you bought? Or perhaps the first album you were gifted? Was it a CD, vinyl or iTunes gift card? If it is one of the first two, you’ll probably have an easier job of remembering what the album was. There’s something special about owning and receiving physical copies of music, and it’s undoubtedly lost in the streaming era.
You won’t be able to pass down digital playlists to your children or get your digital audio file signed by your favourite artist. You won’t be able to hang your favourite digital file on the wall because you love the artwork. You won’t see it age alongside you. Having your music in a tangible form makes it real and is a clear expression of your taste. Your friends can come by and peruse your collection to learn what you love and discover new music for themselves. There’s nothing quite like pulling a record out of the sleeve and dropping the needle on it.
It’s true that the internet has the most extensive archive of music ever. But algorithms and recommended tracks often fail to take you out of your comfort zone. Instead, you’re fed artists and genres similar to what you already listen to. Walk into a record store, and you’re faced with genres and artists that you won’t ever hear through algorithmic recommendations. A unique album artwork might pique your interest; you might hear something playing through the store’s speakers that you want to grab; maybe you’ve got to know the owner, and they have something to recommend you.
There are even some independent labels that choose not to put their releases on streaming services, so you’ll have the chance to bag some seriously unique tracks. Plus, there’s plenty of old albums from over fifty years ago that won’t find their way onto streaming services at all. It’s up to you to go out and find them.
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