The Spirituality of Vinyl

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Art and life co-habitate, informing, imitating, and enriching each other constantly. Each week in Better Living Through Music, RFT Music writer Ryan Wasoba explores this symbiotic relationship.

Record Store Day has passed, that noble annual event that gets music enthusiasts out of computer chairs and into physical buildings where albums live. Some people bought CDs, some probably picked up a cassette or two, but the bulk of exclusive releases tailored to Record Store Day were, and will likely continue to be in future years, actual vinyl records.

I consider myself a middle-of-the-road record collector. I prefer to buy vinyl but I am not always certain why. My turntable is set up in a less than convenient location in my house to actually listen to music. My record needle is currently broken, and I have yet to order a replacement. When the player is functional, less than one percent of my music absorption is accomplished by listening to vinyl. Hardly any records I own are rare or valuable. My collection is hiding in my closet and as I age I am less internally satisfied about knowing that, "I have THAT album on vinyl."

Sales of vinyl records are up something like 5,000 percent each year (an approximation). There's a standard catalog of party line explanations to this upsurge. People like the big artwork. People prefer the warm sound of the vinyl record. Both theories are technically legitimate, but each has its holes. Few folks have their turntables set up with a high quality stereo for maximum audio fidelity, and the big artwork angle is usually a reflection of one's desire to show off their bounty.

The true appeal of vinyl is romantic, and all attempts to quantify one's love for the format by logical means are futile. Vinyl is a care-intensive format. It is expensive and difficult to produce. The upfront costs and overwhelming order forms are frightening enough to scare off the half-hearted. Musicians only press vinyl if they mean it. Everybody from Paul McCartney to your little nephew's AC/DC cover band can write a song, record it on an iPhone and toss it on the Internet the same day. You don't impulsively press vinyl. Nobody wakes up next to a 7" with their name on the label and thinks "Oh shit, what did I do last night?"

Given this intentionality, there is something spiritually satisfying about vinyl. It's a subtle way of saying you care. As the buyer, you pledge your allegiance to the album by accepting its inconvenience. It takes up space, it is difficult to actually listen to, it requires specific storage conditions. As the maker, you silently announce that your work is important to you -- at least enough to put your artistic vision ahead of your financial security.

Music increasingly conforms to our lifestyles, and each technological advance requires less effort from the listener. Deep inside, we don't want music to be convenient, at least those among us who integrate our lives and our music. We want to submit ourselves to the artform. Vinyl gives us that opportunity in some small way. We buy records, make records, sell records, love records to embrace the impracticality of music.

Like a golden cross necklace or miniature Buddha shrine, it is not the physical specimen of the vinyl record that enriches us but the intangible ideas it represents: permanence, devotion. Those bulky, archaic discs lining our shelves can be an inspiration to live our lives as if they will one day be be pressed to vinyl.


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13 comments
Evan Sult
Evan Sult

There's so much to love about vinyl, up to and including the space that it takes up in my home and, therefore my life. Vinyl and books mark a physical place in my life, unlike digital files. They make themselves known, flipping through on my way to another album, and they represent so many different selves lived in the past. 

The only comment I don't know about is: "the big artwork angle is usually a reflection of one's desire to show off their bounty." Maybe, but for me the big artwork isn't a status thing—it's at least as important a difference as the audio difference between records and CDs. Letting my eyes wander over the cover of "Westing (by Musket & Sextant)" or "Black Byrd," getting a load of the pictures while absently reading up on the credits, I just get more pleasure from full-scale artwork. The fact that 12" artwork also announces itself from the shelf is a happy side effect, not the primary attraction. I hear records better because I can look at them so much more closely. The art completes the mystery of the sound.

Terrycart
Terrycart

Great article, I can feel that the article writer is really a music fan.

vaultovinyl
vaultovinyl

What pisses me off is when CD's came onto the scene around mid-late 80's, new releases on LP were $8.98-$9.98 and 45's were $1.98. Today, CD's still cost about the same as they did then yet LP's are two to three times the price and 45's are even more than that. The young hipsters just getting into records now don't even have any idea what they missed. I would hate to think I was trying to build a collection today paying the ridiculous prices they pay for some of these old records. They pressed these things into the millions. They're not that rare. Do your homework before you overpay for records, kids. Also, I can buy a whole new cartridge for $25, not just the needle. It's not gonna buy you a Pickering XSV5000 or a Stanton 681EEE but it'll get you going again.

Stlcityrocker
Stlcityrocker

Does anyoneknow a good source (other than Alpha Tech with their $50 bence fee) forrecalibrating direct drive turntables (both Technics - circa 1978 and1989)?

For thoserecords you just don't care for anymore, the "Shaun of the Dead" movie has an interestingsuggested use (watch thru' 40 seconds): http://www.metacafe.com/watch/...

{you might not want to watch if you are sensitive to zombie violence, or if you are a fanof Sade or Dire Straits}

My bestimpulsive vinyl purchase (based on the cover) - "Colourbox" (nowbeing issued on a 4 cd set, weird).

Strangestimpulsive vinyl purchase – last week’s “Abba’s Greatest Hits” (the firstversion from ’75 or so, with the classic gatefold sleeve). Seeking to restore thefirst record I ever bought to my collection, I forgot to read the label due tomy haste, and I got home to find that “Voulez Vous” was inside. I guess it wasworth the $1 for a good cause.

Bonding overvinyl. Only one visitor to my house, who hailed from Scotland, has ever shownan interest in browsing my collection. He was able to identify a Runrig album,pressed on heavy grade (for the time) vinyl, as having been among the earliestpressings that were stored in a friend’s house prior to distribution to theshops. Spiritual connection? I would say so.

Best valueRecord Store Day purchase: Los Lobos still shrink wrapped for $1.80.

Mic
Mic

Well put.

FatLip
FatLip

another great thing about vinyl...it's delicious

Pro
Pro

Go get a replacement needle for like $25 at Vintage Vinyl and support the local businesses

Tical
Tical

yo i'm feelin the fuck outta this

Francis
Francis

Most old LPs were pressed hastily on crappy vinyl and sold for $6.99 or whatever. The few "audiophile" LPs were rare, pressed and produced with much more care, and thus more expensive.Normal practice today is to produce high-quality 180-gram LPs, often including extra tracks and download codes. Spreading the tracks over two LPs instead of one to improve the sound quality is common.Yes, this is obviously more expensive to the buyer, but there is corresponding value.I only buy vinyl from artists I really care about.  

mark seaforth
mark seaforth

 Young hipsters today would rather overpay for vinyl then listen to your free blowhard advice.At least the vinyl is enjoyable; you are not.

Kelsey W.
Kelsey W.

 You took the words right out of my mouth.

Dr. Flatulence
Dr. Flatulence

Most "young hipsters" today who are spending money on vinyl are laughingly playing them on a cheap or middle of the road turntable with crappy speakers, and have no clue how to get audiophile sound. LPs, as the article points out, really take an incredibly expensive and high end system to sound good, and 98% of the people out there who buy LPs have the equivalent of a KMart sound system. That is the great irony.

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