Ever since vinyl began its re-introduction into the mainstream, the war of digital music vs. analog has waged more than ever. While there are plenty of articles arguing sound quality, the real question is just which format is superior and therefore more beneficial to the consumer and more profitable to those who manufacture and supply it. Of course Get It On Vinyl has written all kind of articles surrounding these issues, but the arguments and continue onto which format is superior overall.
Maybe it’s time we stop trying to sway opinions and just accept the truth. The future is not just vinyl. The future is not just digital. The future is quite possibly the best and most exciting time for physical music that we have seen yet.
Now before you clog our email box about the percentages of physical music sales, consider this. Vinyl records would not be having a resurgence without digital music. In fact, vinyl just might owe its survival, popularity, and future too digital.
Now, we haven’t lost our minds. Get It On Vinyl has been outspoken for years against different aspects and negative impact that digital music has had on the physical music market. Most importantly, we have spoken out against the “digital standard;” the idea that digital music is the only way to listen, enjoy, and purchase music. Our view hasn’t changed.
While there has always been plenty of love for the vinyl format, the numbers do not lie. In 1993, near the peak of CD sales, vinyl record sold fewer than half a million units. While the LP withstood the cassette age, it did not stand a chance against the portability, and eventual sound quality of CD’s. Had the digital download never came to be, would vinyl record have survived? Probably not. Other than the high end, extremely low pressing audiophile market, vinyl would likely have met its inevitable end.
However digital robbed consumers of the one thing they didn’t realize they had with CD’s. The tangible experience with their music. Any lover of music knows the effect it can have on all the senses. A good song brings back a long forgotten memory, and we are reminded of all our senses of that moment. No doubt many collectors have admired their album jackets, handed down from their older siblings or parents, revisiting and making new memories. And unlike the next random repeat on a playlist, taking an album off the shelf rekindles those memories and emotions.
It is this tangible connection that has been lost in the digital generation. This is why the vinyl “comeback” is greatest among 18-24-year-old adults. Growing up with digital as the platform for their art has left a void that can only be filled with the genuine articles. Perhaps that is why vinyl records, the most authentic physical music format, has found such a new found audience. This hasn’t gone un-noticed by the industry. RIAA Senior Vice President of Strategic Data (which is a bad ass title by the way) said in a recent statement to CNBC, “”In an increasingly digital age, vinyl records can provide a deeper, tactile connection to music that resonates with some of the biggest fans.”
This physical connection is essential and existent in all art forms, not just music. It’s why an oil painting is more beautiful when we can see the brush strokes, why we like the rough edges of sculpted bronze, and why we love to see the grooves in our records.
Will the trend continue? Well that is the million-dollar question. What we do know is that for the most part, we are on the right track. Labels are pressing most releases on wax, new pressing machines are helping supply meet demand, and we are seeing real craftsmanship being put into pressing quality records with great artwork. Most even come with that great digital download card, so we can experience the best of both worlds.
In addition to the tangible fulfillment, digital certainly has helped drive discovery of new music. Yes, we prefer our musical recommendations to come from a record store clerk, but it’s hard to argue that the vast amount of both digital music and the number of ways to discover it hasn’t played a major role in the vinyl resurgence. From independent bands launching Kickstarter campaigns, to small independent labels selling out limited edition 7-inches from their basement, digital music has helped push people onto the vinyl bandwagon. With band entire catalogs available on YouTube and Spotify, one can discover previous work and side projects, in hopes that the listener will be willing to part with a few dollars to enjoy in the offline world. While we certainly have our disagreements with this practice, there is no denying it helps grow an audience.
It is time to stop trying to compare the vinyl and digital formats. The quality debate may rage on, but there is no denying the future just might be a mutual co-existence that nobody saw coming. When we can get past that and enjoy the best of each format, we can get back to what really matters; the music.