It finally happened. We got rid of our stacks of cassette tapes, then cleared our cars of that ubiquitous folder of CDs, only to have more space on shelving units than ever before. Instead of embracing a new minimalism, the 21st-century audiophile has turned a new leaf: Vinyl sales are at their highest in more than 20 years, even out-performing digital sales.
While audio quality is of great importance to many members of the music community, it is worrying to see the rise of regressive materialism in an art form that has always been a driving force of technology and accessibility.
The Future Sound of London. The New Dance Sound of Detroit. Part of what makes electronic music so special is its history of forward thinking, with synths, lasers and industrial effects having an intrinsically futuristic sound. While a scratched record is a beautifully postmodernist effect to use for a DJ, vinyl was used at a time when discs were the only thing around to jock.
Have we given up on creating digital formats that surpass analog? Are we bookmarking ourselves into the past? Or, is it possible, that digital sales and other changes in the record industry were hurting so much that we needed to get old school to make money again?
I'm not an audio engineer or music prophet, so those questions will probably remain unanswered. However, it is interesting to note that while many older DJs recall the days of taking crates of vinyl with them to gigs with a shake of their head and a smile, we are opting into the inconvenience. But, not every vinyl owner is DJ. What percentage of hip vinyl owner is lugging their collection around, versus leisurely listening from the comfort of their gentrified home?
Vinyl aficionados often comment on how wonderful it is to hold a record and hear the needle touch vinyl. While it can be pleasant to hold a physical copy of a treasured work, salivating over the accoutrement of record players shows a distinct regard for the material aspects of the music listening experience. Record collecting make sense when tracks of choice are "Material Girl" or "Big Pimpin'", but a wise songwriter once said "Music Is The Answer" ... the answer is not that stockpile of sleeves on a mid-century modern credenza.
Digital consumption and streaming are something to be admired about our generation. We no longer desire stacks of CDs in our living rooms, or put our prized possessions on display as conversation pieces or tokens of our taste. There is no ownership of streamed music, there is no showcasing our digital purchases in the living room — we can only share a track by playing it, sending it or sharing the experience.
And then there’s the price. While the arts may be one of the best ways to spend your money, we now have consumers doubling down on digital and vinyl, and who knows what’s next.
For the first time, music was freed from the polyester, shellac and polycarbonate of previous media and was accessible to all, equally. But, it seems home listening may not emulate the egalitarian spirit of a dance floor anytime soon, and collectors of material possessions will find their way to confine even the most forward-thinking musical genres to a technology invented in the 1800s.