Is vinyl still a viable format or as obsolete as pager technology in the age of smart phones?

Categories: Split Decision

Vinyl Isn't Dead, But It's Definitely Dated

Why is vinyl dead? It's not dead. It's dated. It's that grungy old dot-matrix printer in the back of the warehouse. It's that old guy in accounting that hasn't been fired yet because he gives out Hershey Kiss candies to all the women. It's the nostalgic remains of the past that we all really wish we wanted to hold onto, but just can't find a good reason to.

You realize eventually that vinyl will go the way of the music box, and just become a null and void dust-collecting object on some coffee table at your grandmother's house, right? If you haven't made this realization yet, maybe you should recognize how and why music keeps changing, and why vinyl records are merely used for the hipster at large, or the DJ who is unwilling to let go of the past.

First, take into consideration how music is sold nowadays: Digitally. Nearly all music is now downloaded, transferred to a thumb drive, and transported to wherever it will be played. Even the most high-end turntables have thumb drives now because companies know that nobody likes lugging a box of records around. Back to the digital age: It's time to catch up with the times.

Let's take a look at how music is sold now, and how music has been sold in the past. With the birth of vinyl, came a need to outsource your music supply to someone else whose company will most definitely turn a profit on your tireless work. When tapes came into play, artists could record their own tracks, crank out a mix-tape, and sell it for whatever price they thought their work was worth.

Then CDs came out, and musicians started bending over and taking a stiff one from record companies offering to press and distribute their albums. Then we have the lovely era of digital music. This era allowed artists to create their own music, distribute it for free, or at whatever cost they determined, to their adorning fans.

Entire catalogues of music are now available for free on the internet, or they can be bought from the artist. Either way, this money goes straight to the artist, instead of some distributing company looking to turn a huge profit on a minute service that they can afford to provide. It's scary really.

One of the biggest arguments by music buffs unwilling to change is that vinyl sounds better. As this is an obvious myth that is only debatable under the circumstances that you like lower quality sounding music, the best retort is that: No, it does not sound better. One truth is that it sounds different. It is mastered different.

The sounds are layered differently. The way the data is read and transferred is very different. In no way, however, does vinyl sound better. With technology evolving faster than we can make music these days, it is a completely ignorant statement to argue that vinyl sounds better. This is the equivalent of saying VHS movies are higher quality than DVD presses -- it's not true.

For the true hip-hop heads and nostalgic hipsters out there, it makes sense why vinyl is still used: The scratching is unmatched, and the "experience" is impossible to fake. Since vinyl records literally scratch on a needle, there is almost no way to completely emulate that sound, and that skill -- massive kudos to all the DJs still using vinyl, but that doesn't mean it's better, or even needed. It's a technique used by a dying field of artists who want nothing more than to hold onto something because society and "The Man," are telling them not to.

In order for music to continue evolving at this rate, we must embrace the change and see where it can take us. Sure, there are lots of reasons to for companies to press records, but those reasons are selfish and directly related to the profit hungry corporate ass-bags who are trying to sell things to make rent/mortgage/car payments.

Picasso didn't have a distribution company for his work, why should Pretty Lights? The smart artists are the ones creating their music and doing what they want with it. If, at any point, a musician is getting into the field to make it big, well, sorry, we can call out the fakers from a mile away (looking at you, LMFAO).

If vinyl isn't dead, it's certainly about to croak. Embrace the change, ignore the hipsters, and go download some music. Who knows? The next step might be hologram music platforms that play directly in front of you. We would just need those old vinyl pressing plants to create such technology.

-- Britt Chester

Follow Backbeat on Twitter: @westword_music

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I feel like this article was meant to be posted in 2009. Is anyone still having this conversation?

Jason Mitchell
Jason Mitchell

"Even the most high-end turntables have thumb drives now" Really? Last time I checked, Ion doesn't make high-end turntables. I find this entire argument to be pretty pointless anyway. All of us guys who still love vinyl also have an iPod or have MP3's on their phone. Surely I'm not the only one who converted a record in my collection to an MP3 so I can have it with me in my car. Technology is a good thing, so is a naturally captured sound wave.

Tweek Geek dot com
Tweek Geek dot com

The problem is not only digital music compressed in the mp3 playback file format, the modern mastering process itself has literally sucked the life out of the music before it is converted to a lossy mp3. Visit YouTube and search for "loudness wars", it is the best illustration of what the latest mastering techniques taught to engineers have done to the quality of the music in the last 20 + years. I agree that crappy recorded music won't sound any better on vinyl than it does digitally. But, get a well recorded album and compare it to the CD on a system capable of reproducing the differences and I would bet many would prefer the vinyl version. Digital is getting better, and as bandwidth and storage continue to get cheaper, the need for mp3's as a music playback format will slowly be replaced by BETTER than CD quality downloadable music files. 

Prime Soul
Prime Soul

Something else that doesn't come up too often is the fact that most of your friends' ipod libraries are nearly the same. Because the vast majority of folks don't have much interest in seeking out new music unless it can be easily shoved in their face via pandora or something, they just end up "stealing" their music from people who actually care enough to collect things they like. This is why most people I know don't have a unique ipod selection, it's just a combination of five other people's libraries. Gone are the days of personalized mix tapes. Since you have to buy records piece by piece (which are usually pricey investment, too) people's record collections are usually quite reflective of their personal taste. With downloads being so accessible, you no longer get the awesome experience of going to a friend's house and discovering how their distinct taste differs from everyone else's. A giant page of (usually grossly mislabeled and disorganized) text to scroll through just isn't as appealing to me as flipping through albums.

Prime Soul
Prime Soul

At the risk of sounding biased, the pro-vinyl writer just seemed to know more about the subject than the pro-digital writer. Saying vinyl "in no way" sounds better is just simply wrong. Here's the best, most concise explanation on the subject that I've ever heard: Vinyl can reproduce sound from the purest source possible; a wave. Digital files reproduce sound with a bunch of dots for a laser to read - trying to imitate the 'look' of a wave. Now, modern technology can get those dots pretty darn close together, but scientifically, those gaps in between are always going to be present. 

wax snob
wax snob

If vinyl is so dated, why did record sales grow 100% in 2011?


 They already have better than CD quality music files it's called 24/96 FLAC.

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