I have given up smoking, well at least that is the excuse I give for my new found addiction, buying vinyl records. I feel that the use of the word ‘addiction’ might be hyperbole, but there is something about vinyl that feels like it is a want, rather than something of a need, especially when I often own copies of many of the albums on CD or am able to stream them. However, there is something about vinyl that has really captured my me.
I remember reading Doug Belshaw’s post a few years ago involving a letter to his future self.
You’re 23 years old now and this is you in 10 years time writing to yourself. I want to give you some advice and general pointers. Having already been you, I know it’s likely that you’ll read this and then forget about it, but I’m going to do it anyway. For better or worse, I’m still as stubborn as you are now.Source: A letter from the future by Doug Belshaw
It is something that has haunted me since, what would I say to my past self that would make a difference today. I think I would probably say would be “don’t give up on your music.”
Saying I “gave up on music” seems strange, it is not that I completely stopped listening to or playing music, rather I feel at some stage in life I stopped engaging with music in a certain way. (Maybe Daniel Levitin might say this is normal, I really should read This is Your Brain on Music.) I have always listened to new and old music alike, but not in the same manner. I also sold a lot of my music equipment – MicroKorg, Roland MC303, audio mixer and reference monitors. In part, I think it reflected a change in life. On the one hand,is not really something I would be inclined to play with sleeping children around, while tinkering with music seemed like an indulgence. In addition to this, concerts and late nights no longer seemed like a priority.
I started buying back my my music equipment. This has included a Arturia MiniFreak, Roland MC101, Roland JX-08, a new mixer and monitors. I also started going to concerts again. With my effort to collect my crumbs, I started being more deliberate with my music listening, intentionally listening to albums and making notes of what I listened to. I also started purchasing some music via Bandcamp. However, I had not really returned to purchasing physical music. A part of this related to the fact that I simply do not get out my DVDs and CDs anymore, I was even challenged about whether I needed them anymore, whether they still ‘sparked joy‘. I do not think that this is anything new, as captured in a post from Rolling Stone from 2018:
As streaming gives the music industry its biggest profits in a decade, the CD business continues to plunge. CD sales have fallen 80 percent in the past decade, from roughly 450 million to 89 million. Since Tesla began manufacturing cars without CD players, other companies like Ford and Toyota have recently followed. Downloads – once seen as the CD’s replacement – have plummeted 58 percent since peaking in 2012, their profits now even smaller than physical sales. Artists have taken note; Bruce Springsteen released his latest box set, The Album Collection Vol. 2, 1987-1996, exclusively on vinyl, with no CD option, unlike 2014’s Vol. 1. “It’s a streaming world and a vinyl world with a quickly diminishing CD,” says Daniel Glass, president of Glassnote Records, indie-label home of Mumford & Sons and Phoenix.Source: The End of Owning Music: How CDs and Downloads Died by Steve Knopper
One impetus to start listening to vinyl came when my dad gave me his record collection. I had always enjoyed trolling through his collection of crates when growing up, finding what felt like the weird and wonderful, whether it be David Bowie, Frank Zappa or early Cure. However, I soon realised that I wanted more than somebody else’s collection, I wanted my own music in the collection.
Over the years I have incidentally purchased some vinyl records, such as Radiohead’s In Rainbows and The King of Limbs, as well as Go-Go Sapien’s Love in Other Dimensions. I had some friends who bought vinyl. However, I never really appreciated them. I think I was caught up in the debate about audio quality, rather than how I actually listened to music. I spent years listening on poor headphones, it seemed a moot point to be arguing about the difference between streaming and vinyl records.
Another other inspiration of sorts has been Jim Groom’s VinylCasts, where he would play vinyl on internet radio. I think this may have planted the seed for vinyl being about more than just audio quality. Associated with this, Damian Cowell spoke a lot about searching for records and his love of listening as a part of his podcast for his album, Only the Shit You Love. Also, Austin Kleon often talks about playing particular records in his studio.
One of the things that is often said about records is how good the artwork is and how this is often lost in a world of streaming.
Album artwork today has a comparatively minimal role. It no longer serves as the focal point of an artist’s release, instead, it is one part in a much broader visual whole. Creating consistency between an artist’s social media posts, press photos, tour posters and any other visual elements serves the same purpose that album artwork once did: to build a world around an artist and contextualise their music for the listener. However, I can’t help lamenting what we might have lost. If less people are looking at album artworks, less resources will be allocated to them, and less people will put effort into them.Source: The Lost Art of Album Artwork by Max Bloom
This is something that Damian Cowell discussed in regards to Roger Dean’s design for Osibisa.
Covers are often references as being the stimulus for purchasing a record. (This is something that my dad said that did.) For me though, this side of things is an added bonus. Of course covers look better blown up, but it is not what draws me to an album. (Although, I did spot Methyl Ethel’s Triage while flicking because it is such a unique cover.) Other than a handful of occasions (The Fauves Driveway Heart Attack and High Pass Filter’s Nice Coordinated Outfit), I have not bought a record without having already listened to it a number of times first.
When I buy a record, I do not necessarily want surprises. Even though I can connect my headphones to my turntable, I usually listen while doing things, therefore it is a very public medium. I am more inclined to listen to a range of music online, but when it has reached vinyl, it feels like a statement of intent., Ed Droste discussed how it usually takes five listens to form a judgment on an album. My purchases can therefore be understood as a confirmation of my judgment. (Ironically, Droste felt that growing up with vinyl and being unable to skip helped with that judgement process.)
A strange thing I like about listening to vinyl is that it forces you to listen to a whole album. I like this constraint. There is no skipping and no pauses. If I have to stop an album for some reason, then it means I need to start that side all over again. In a world where being interrupted has become standard, missing a part of an album makes this more concrete. (I have actually taken the album approach to long drives. Instead of worrying about playlists and/or individual tracks, I have started queuing albums, one after another.)
Here is a list of my vinyl purchases so far:
- Methyl Ethel – Oh Inhuman Spectacle
- Methyl Ethel – Triage
- Methyl Ethel – Are you Haunted?
- The Panics – Cruel Guards
- Sarah Blasko – Depth of Field
- Massive Attack – Blue Lines
- Portishead – Dummy
- Portishead – Portishead
- Jeff Buckley – Grace
- The Avalanches’ – We Will Always Love You
- DIANA – Familiar Touch
- Joseph Shabason – Anne EP
- Beach House – Teen Dream
- Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
- The Fauves – Driveway Heart Attack
- Damian Cowell’s Disco Machine – Only the Shit You Love
- Client Liaison – Divine Intervention
- Montaigne – Complex
- Washington – Batflowers
- Kimbra – A Reckoning
- Kate Bush – Hounds of Love
- Depeche Mode – Violator
- Radiohead – OK Computer OKNOTOK
- High Pass Filter – Nice Coordinated Outfit
- Tortoise – Standards
- Autechre – Tri Repetae
- Boards of Canada – Geogaddi
- Lorde – Pure Heroine
- Lorde – Melodrama
- Taylor Swift – 1989
- Tame Impala – The Slow Rush
I must admit, I have not started buying vinyl that maybe scratched to have on the shelf. I know some buy some albums just to have them in their collection, whether they are playable or not. I am also circumspect about buying expensive second hand records or expensive records in general. For example, I saw a used copy of The Triffids’ Born Sandy Devotion for near on $100. Although I love the album, I feel there needs to be a limit. (I am not buying four versions of the same record for four album covers.) I have bought many of my records when on sale and would rather have three different albums than one really expensive one. (If Jamie Lidell is right in his desire to purchase and play an original Can record, then I might be wrong about listening to original recordings. However, for now I will live with that.) I also prefer albums that a single records. I accept that some albums are actually quite long, but there are others that end up with on a couple of tracks on each side, which just seems frustrating. Oh, then there are albums like Boards of Canada’s Geogaddi which is three records.
As always, comments welcome. Oh, and I only used giving up smoking as a reference. I find it interesting the idea that if I had given up smoking that it would be somehow justified.
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