Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Lost and Found: The Vinyl Revival

by Dom Baker

It’s been a fairly recent venture of mine, but I’ve already fallen in love.  After managing to persuade my father to drag his old record deck and mammoth collection of LPs and singles out of the loft, around half way through last year, I’ve become somewhat obsessed with starting a record collection of my own.  Despite being a very expensive hobby to pursue (I only own a handful of singles and three albums), records themselves fascinate me. I can tell that my Dad feels very strongly attached to some of his records, such as ‘For Everyman’ by Jackson Browne.  My desire to listen to vinyl sprang from seemingly nowhere, and flicking past his countless Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin albums, it got me thinking. My father and I both share this interest, yet most of the past few decades have been dominated by the CD, the MP3 player, and now the iPod.  Incidentally, having watched a BBC documentary titled ‘The Joy of the Single’, I was delighted to learn that ‘The Vinyl Revival’ is a real concept. Since 2006 record sales have been picking up across the US and Europe, with the global trade value of Gramophone Records, commonly known as vinyl, having trebled – now standing at around $200 million. So what happened to vinyl?

The gramophone record was pioneered and developed during the latter half of the 19th century.  In 1887, Thomas Edison invented the phonograph, capable of both recording and reproducing sounds, by using a stylus and a tinfoil sheet wrapped around a cylinder.  He improved on this a decade later by replacing his previous tin-foil sheet with a hollow wax cylinder. The Gramophone was developed by Emile Berliner in the US, using the first sort of records as we know them today, in the form of 5 inch discs. These early inventions laid the foundations upon which many adaptations were made. Different sizes of disc, running speeds and recording methods were all tried and tested, but it was Columbia Records and RCA Victor that made the biggest impacts during the 1940s. Using a new lightweight and durable plastic, Columbia released the 12 inch LP in 1948, running at 33 rpm, and RCA released the 7 inch Single in 1949, running at 45 rpm. These two formats dominated the world of entertainment, as the single, with short length tracks and a changing mechanism, was perfect for radio transcriptions, and both could be played at home.  Vinyl was incredibly popular, as shown by the success of record shops during the 20th century, and their status as social hubs. Sound quality and technical improvements were made over the years, until the introduction of the Compact Disc in 1982. CDs developed very quickly, and for many people the optical recording of CDs was preferable to their acoustic counterparts, which suffered from surface noise and scratches that lead to skips or cracks in the music.

Some 24 years later, in 2006, vinyl started to come back into fashion.  Whilst certainly most of today’s vinyl buyers are those who were around to experience records in their heyday, an online poll showed that one third of today’s enthusiasts are younger than 35, and 15% are, like me, under the age of 24. Over 700,000 records were sold in the UK during 2013, and with so much appeal it’s easy to see why. What I personally love about owning, and playing records, is the realness of it. Whilst I can pull my iPod out at anytime and put on a song, holding the record, placing it onto the turntable and listening to the crackle, in anticipation of the music, and then the music itself, is magical. You feel like you own a piece of the artist, not just an electronic file. I also love the sound of vinyl; it’s richer and deeper, and more rewarding to listen to. Another reason that I’ve taken to buying records is the artwork, especially on albums. The sleeves are huge, and the pictures seem immense: vibrant, interesting and easily worthy of putting on display (most often in a particularly pretentious manner). 

In accordance with this resurgence, there are now many more indie record shops, personal favourites of mine being Helterskelter in Chichester, and Southsea Pie & Vinyl, stocking big new releases, like AM from the Arctic Monkeys, to  new smaller releases such as Atlas by Real Estate.  Interestingly, whilst record sales have started increasing again, CD sales are dropping. This means that whilst record stores are becoming ever more popular, music chains are being forced to shut up shop; HMV closed 80 stores down last year.

Finally, I have so much admiration for the bands that record their music onto vinyl, and have taken back vinyl for themselves.  I’m now making a conscious effort not just to listen to my favourite bands on Spotify anymore, but buy their records as well, and so far it’s proving completely and utterly worth it. I’m looking forward now to Record Store Day, a yearly convention on the third Saturday of April that celebrates independent record stores, bringing together vast collections of records that are happily bought in the thousands – last year 68,936 records were sold. For the time being however, I’ll listen to one of my favourite Christmas presents – Fade Away by the Californian duo Best Coast.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome article. Do you realise what starts as a hobby can turn into a life long obsession?



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