The vinyl record industry is booming again! Long shuttered production plants are being re-opened and new ones are being built. Indie labels are finding that it takes them up to two months to get an album pressed because the major labels are monopolizing plants capacity with their artists newest releases and classic artists re-issues.
Of course, with newfound popularity comes some pretty hefty prices. At Freeze-Frame Radio we recently bought three Taylor Swift LP’s and paid a whopping $80 for the privilege! To be fair, all three titles were double albums and one of them were a set picture discs.
With modern day songs clocking in anywhere from 4 to 6 minutes on average and the RIAA & NAB recommended sound quality for 33 1/3’rd RPM records being only 20 minutes per side, most current artists have no choice but to spread their current album over four sides of an LP.
For me, and by extension Freeze-Frame Radio, the cycle has come full circle. As a teenager I started out purchasing LP’s until I realized how much more portable & less prone to damage cassette tapes were. In the late 80’s I hopped on the CD bandwagon pretty early & amassed over 5,000 of them.
When the turn of the century came I realized the compact discs days were numbered and converted all of my music to MP3 files, selling the discs, often at prices equal to or higher than I’d paid for them (#winning).
Today I’ve got a collection of nearly 10,000 albums comprising over 350,000 songs on a hard drive that I back up twice. That hard drive is the heart & soul of Freeze-Frame Radio. What I did NOT see coming was a day when everyone could just pay $9.99 a month to have access to practically every song ever created (though I’m proud to say I have quite a few albums that Spotify & Apple music don’t even have). In fact Apple & Amazon are rumored to be phasing out the ability to buy music in digital form. Within the next five years your only option may be to belong to a subscription service, never truly “owning” the music.
In this march away from physical product & music ownership several important parts of the music experience have been lost, potentially forever, to new generations. It’s for these reasons that I’ve started to turn back to the good old vinyl album. In the past two months I’ve collected over 400 of them again, and invested in two good turntables.
So what is it that’s being lost? Well, I’m glad you asked! Let’s break it down…
- Album art. This is easy to dismiss as not being an important aspect of the music, but good album art sets the tone for the music encased behind it. In many cases it provides a glimpse of where an artist was in their career, often it’s just a flat out piece of art worthy of display. We’ve seen it go from 12″ x 12″ on LP’s to 4.75″ x 4.75″ on CD’s down to 1″ x 1″ on iTunes and streaming services.
- Musical context. In the age of iTunes and streaming many artists are starting to just release singles, never placing those songs on an album. Why should they bother? Every time music is pushed forward into a new platform it seems to make it easier to avoid the “non-hit” music. For some casual music fans this is a good thing. But for a true music lover it’s a disaster. Listening to a song in the context of an entire album shows where an artist was musically during that period of their lives & careers. The songs around a song can change a listeners perception of it by setting a tone or making it part of a larger story.
- Sound quality. When CD’s came out they were pitched as the ultimate in sound quality. We were told “this is what the artist meant for you to hear”. It supposedly was equal to what it sounded like in the studio. I think that idea has been mostly debunked. The reality of it is most of us were listening to those CD’s on mediocre quality systems and not benefitting all that much from the sound quality improvements. Furthermore, the CD version often sounds too clean. There’s something to be said for the warmth of a vinyl record, with the occasional pop and crackle. The more I listen to vinyl again the more I’m convinced the sound is actually deeper & richer than any CD I’ve ever owned.
So in the end, it looks like after 30+ years of being an avid music fan the only physical copies of music I’ll own are my new & quickly growing vinyl collection. I’ll always hold onto the MP3’s (I need them for Freeze-Frame after all), but Vinyl is back to being king in my collection.
Fortunately most of my favorite music from the 70’s & 80’s is available on ebay at very reasonable prices. In fact, as I finish this blog post I just received three more boxes that I ordered last week, so I gotta go!
Enjoy the music and please tune into Freeze-Frame Radio! We’ll be sure to remind you of some great song you’ve all but forgotten about!