As it was announced recently that sales of music in vinyl format had increased for the fifth straight year, Radio 4′s Today Programme last week invited DJ Liz Kershaw and the PRS’s Will Page to try to explain why.
The reasons suggested included:
a) “Authenticity” – a desire to listen to music as it was originally intended
b) Sound quality
c) Information – liner notes and artwork, basically.
d) The desire to own music in artifactual form.
e) “Capitalism getting back at Marxism”
Putting aside the last slightly batshit suggestion from Ms. Kershaw, each of these has its merits but none, for me quite justifies my own love of the pressed plastic form. I have two main reasons for buying records: to connect and to give something back.
As much as I love the plethora of musical opportunity that the likes of Spotify have opened up I am the first to admit that the ease of access to so much music inevitably diminishes the value of one’s relationship with it. Even if you aren’t on the free version of Spotify it’s difficult to feel a connection between what you pay and any music you listen to. If you want to listen to the new Lana Del Rey album you can do so immediately, entirely on a whim and it will cost you, effectively nothing. If you don’t like it, or don’t like it enough, you can interrupt the experience, bail and you don’t ever have to go near it again. Even albums that you love you probably don’t listen to on repeat in the same way you used to when you bought them in units of one, because there’s always something else tempting you to try. I’d be surprised if I listened to even my favourite album of last year as many as fifteen times and that does make me a little sad.
A vinyl LP purchase, on the other hand, is a statement of intent: It says that I will listen to this album several times and I will commit to every listen because, simply, changing the fucking record is a lot more hassle than swiping to the next track on iTunes. Intrinsic to this is an appreciation of artwork and some desire to own music in physical form, but is on its own not enough – I’ve bought some records with dog-ugly covers and I hate CDs and a bedroom cluttered with crap. (Sidenote: that we still say “change the record” when someone is harping on about something makes me very happy.)
The second reason is to do with wanting to support music and a preparedness to pay what I feel it is worth for the pleasure it provides. While it might make it legal to listen to all the music I want, at £10/month my Spotify subscription doesn’t even come close to a full monetary appreciation, or to giving me the sense that I’m not still ripping off the artists. When you know musicians and are aware of how hard it is for even the relatively successful to make a living, this is and should be a . I, on the other hand, am in a grown-up job, earning a reasonable salary and just as I’m now inclined to buy free-range eggs, fair trade chocolate and locally produced cheese – even if all that stuff costs a little more – it’s worth considering the ethical implications of cultural consumption as well.
Of course I’m far from perfect: I only buy maybe a couple of records a month and I tend to buy them from Amazon which is hardly the equivalent of the farmer’s market. But at least I know that, compared to my £10 Spotify sub, a greater proportion of the £10/£15/£20 I spend is going into the pocket of a musician I admire and whose work I particularly appreciate. That means something.
Image by Dan.