Why I’ve Stopped Buying Vinyl
I’m not sure why it’s taken me this long seeing as I’ve been writing about the demise of the CD for years in this space. It’s the sentimental connection, I suppose, and it’s hard to accept the fact that something you spent a crapload of money on is now essentially worthless. I thinned my collection out to a few hundred CDs a couple of years back, even though by that time I hadn’t touched a single CD more than a couple of times a year. I still don’t touch them, ever, and when faced with a large swath of free time and another pending apartment move, I decided to say fuck it: this is the end.
I’m currently in the process of ripping everything to 320kbps MP3, a process which itself seems mostly futile: I listen to everything on Spotify these days anyway. I’ll keep a few CDs as tokens, mementos if you will: some of the first ones I ever owned, discs in which I’m personally thanked in the liner notes (which is like 3 ever, lol) or which I worked on during my label days, and CDs my friends put out. All of this will occupy a foot or two of a shelf vs. the crates and crates I currently have, and I still will probably never touch them.
Going through this purging process got me thinking: is vinyl that much different?
Vinyl has been a boon to the record industry of late. By all accounts, this is a great thing: the vinyl explosion has kept the recording industry alive (at least in part) during a period of much uncertainty, turmoil and declining revenue. Sales have been on the rise since 2007 and jumped 38% in 2014 alone.
But that growth doesn’t seem sustainable. The shift is away from physical media, not towards it, and any spike in any physical sector of music is likely to just that — a spike. Temporary, fleeting.
I was on board the vinyl train initially, too. The retro appeal is undeniable, as is the fun factor of holding such a large item in your hands in an era where everything is infinitesimally small. Used records could be had at bargain bin prices (literally) from garage sales and second hand stores across the world, and buying new ones on the same format seemed like a logical extension. I remember being incredibly excited to acquire Animals as Leaders’ self-titled debut on vinyl a couple years after its release, and similarly geeked to own Cave In’s Jupiter — one of my favorite albums of all time — on such a big format. The audio quality may be a reason for some, but I’m not convinced that factor moved the needle for most fans who have been buying vinyl en masse these past few years: it’s all about having something big that looks cool and is a souvenir and token of appreciation for a band you love.
And therein lies the problem. After the excitement wears off, what you’re left with is precisely that: a souvenir. Something that sits on a shelf. Completely unused. Essentially no different from that snow globe your Grandma Sadie brought you from a Florida airport gift shop when she came up to visit. Tell me you listen to the vinyl every single time instead of MP3s or Spotify and I’ll call you a liar, because you don’t. Sure, whipping out that vinyl on a drunken night with a few close friends can be a fun, bonding experience, but this behavior is not in line with how most people listen to music these days, even those who buy lots of vinyl. Be honest with yourself: you listen to the digital version more often than you do the physical one.
Here’s a picture of the shelf on which vinyl is stored at the Vince Division of the MetalSucks Mansion:
Other items on this shelf include the following:
- My “Rookie of the Year” trophy from Little League in 1994 (I had a killer year, but advanced Sabermetrics show that my BABIP was unsustainable)
- My college philosophy textbooks I can’t bring myself to get rid of (these are good forever!)
- A wooden duck Axl gave me because he knows I love ducks and his mom was getting rid of it
- Lonely Planet tour books from Japan, Maine and Prague that maybe some day we’ll give a friend that’s visiting any of those places
- A vintage book of Mad Libs that we hope to whip out at a party some time for laughs, but keep forgetting about
- A candalabra from my Great Aunt Florence’s apartment
- A vase I was given as a wedding gift that has never been used but we feel bad giving it away
- A shofar, given to us by the rabbi that married my wife and I.
An eccentric list of items, to be sure, but hardly one that defines utility. And this is where I choose to keep hundreds of records acquired over years of collecting. Music that I love, no less, and went out of my way to purchase! They’re relegated to the “random shit” shelf because I never fucking touch them. Why would I bother when the entire history of recorded music is on Spotify (or your music streaming service of choice), and can be streamed to any set of speakers in my entire apartment from a small, handheld device I keep in my pocket all the fucking time??
It’s tough to admit something you own is worthless when you’ve any kind of sentimental attachment to it. And it’s doubly difficult when you’ve spent a lot of money on it. But them’s the breaks.
I’d love to tell myself it’s worth keeping these things around, and try to do so often — that somehow having THE THING TO HOLD makes the experience better, that the artwork is cool, that I’m supporting the industry or the band, that vinyl sounds great — but I’m finally admitting to myself that none of that fucking matters. It’s pointless. I’m just as happy when I press play on my phone and those sweet, sweet tones pour out of speakers.
When you get down to it, vinyl really isn’t that much different than a CD. It just happens to be trendy at the moment.
And yes, I know some folks still buy CDs. This defies logic on a level I can’t even comprehend.
Don’t take all this as me rooting against vinyl, or worse, egging on the decline of the recording industry. It’s not that. It’s great that vinyl has helped the industry stay alive during a tough time, but it’s just a temporary solution that can’t possibly last, like all the shale oil and gas wells that went belly up last year when the price of oil came back to earth from its artificially inflated highs. I want nothing more than to see a healthy recording industry, but health cannot be accomplished by relying on trends (especially retro ones!) that are sure to bust. Instead, record companies should be looking to the future by beefing up everything in their online portfolio. Which, to be fair, many are. If I worked at a label and saw that people were demanding it, damn right I’d press up vinyl for my releases. As long as the time, money and effort spent doing that didn’t detract from my other efforts, and it’s hard to believe that it wouldn’t.
So that’s it. I’m done with vinyl. It was fun while it lasted. In the meantime I’ll be brainstorming ways I can fill that shelf with other useless crap I can’t bering myself to get rid of. Anyone in the market for some 15-year-old philosophy textbooks?