Digital On the Defensive: The Revival Of Vinyl Music:

If you shop at Tesco and are a fan of the British “heavy metal band” “Iron Maiden”, you may already have noticed: Their latest release, “The Book Of Souls” went on sale on September 4th in 55 of the supermarket chain’s largest  stores – in a LP (Long-Player) vinyl format.

As Tesco’s music buyer, Michael Mulligan, has pointed out, this follows their year-long experiment to test potential customer demand for record decks. The initial results have been so encouraging that they are now also considering stocking a wide range of vinyl albums.

For the BBC Radio London presenter, Duncan Barkes, writing in the “Daily Express”, this decision by a leading retailer indicates that “records still have a well-deserved place in the nation’s heart”. In his view, downloading a tune from, Spotify, Pandora or other streaming services “gives you nothing to touch or relate to. A vinyl record is something to hold and admire”. Furthermore “the sound has a warmth that no megabyte can match, has greater depth and is made more authentic by the crackles and hiss”. Mario Aguilar of “Gizmodo.com” agrees. He prefers the “physical and emotional involvement” of listening to a vinyl record to the “passive aural experience of CDs or digital”.

In the “Daily Telegraph”, Gennaro Castaldo of the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), has depicted vinyl as “symbolizing the very heart and soul of music, part of the rock-and-roll culture going back to Elvis Presley and the Beatles”. The Scottish DJ and music producer, Keb Barge, told the same newspaper that he “never plays digital music. I hate it all – empty soulless muck”. John Lydon (formerly the lead singer Johnny Rotten with the Sex Pistols”) dislikes “the technological rip-offs that pass for music formats these days” and Nikki Sixx, co-founder of the American band “Motley Crue” considers that CDs can never achieve the true gritty effect that makes a vinyl record sound great”.

Despite an animated debate within the music industry as to whether vinyl is really making a “comeback”, there’s no doubt that that LP sales have increased significantly over the past two years. Data provided by the “Official Charts Company (OCC)” has revealed that purchases of vinyl LP albums so far in 2015 are 69% up on the 1.29 million for same period in 2014. The lowest point was in 2007, when just 205, 292 were bought.

Michael Hann of “The Guardian”, however, considers that the resurgence of vinyl is more “hype” than reality, that it “still remains a ‘niche product’ catering for the older, wealthier rock fan and accounts for just 2% of the UK’s recorded music market”. Most of the albums in the OCC’s “Top Ten” for 2015, notes Hann, feature “heritage rock bands” such as Led Zeppelin (“Physical Graffiti”), Pink Floyd (“The Dark Side Of the Moon”), The Stone Roses and Oasis plus Artic Monkeys (“AM”), Royal Blood and the American drummer & singer Jack White.

Tracks from Noel Gallagher’s “High Flying” album are at numbers 1 & 2 in the OCC’s 2015 vinyl singles chart, followed by David Bowie (“Young Americans”), Mark Ronson (“Uptown Funk”) and Paul McCartney (“Hope For The Future”). Despite the massive percentage increase in vinyl sales over the past five years, concludes Hann, “it’s just a drop in the ocean of music consumption”.

Hann’s “Guardian” colleague, Alexandra Topping, has been somewhat less sceptical. She’s quoted Stephen Godfroy, the director of the “Rough Trade” shop in Nottingham, as asserting that the 49% increase in their vinyl sales has been driven as much by younger listeners “looking for a physical product to complement their digital music collection” as by the older generation indulging in nostalgia.

According to “theweek.com”, many vinyl customers (irrespective of their age) are attracted mainly by the opportunity to acquire “a beautifully packaged artefact”. The record sleeve, observes “Shortlist.com”, was originally designed just as a protective cover, but then “evolved into a space for artistic expression in its own right, very often becoming as important as the music itself”. They cite the “legend” that the cover the album “Blue Monday” by the English rock band “New Orders” was so expensive to make that the label lost money on every copy sold.

Included in Shortlist’s “Fifty Coolest Album Designs Ever Created” are Frank Sinatra’s “In The Small Wee Hours”, James Brown’s “Live At The Apollo” and the Beatles’ “Revolver”.They also describe The Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds”, The Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour” and Cream’s “Fresh Cream” as “great albums with terrible artwork”. The cover of the Beatles “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band” is rated by “wired.com” as “the best album art of all time”.

The “renaissance” of vinyl is presenting a major problem for the few remaining record pressing plants. In January, The Guardian columnist John Harris recounted his visit to the Optimal factory in Robel, Germany, 90 miles north of Berlin: Their record production has more than doubled since 2011, they will press 18 million this year, and all of their machines (two of which were recently brought out of storage) function for 24 hours a day. It’s a similar situation in the USA, where United Record Pressing in Nashville, Tennessee, operates three shifts of production employees in order to keep up with demand.

Meanwhile: Companies such as Maplin Electronics and Ion Audio have started to cater for customers who already have large collections of cassettes & vinyl records, so don’t need to buy any more but want to store their favourite tracks on their PCs, laptops or smartphones. They both now retail turntables and cassette players with USB connections for converting tapes and records to MP3s. The basic price ranges from £49.99 to £69.99 depending on the quality required.

Filed under: Music & Dance | Posted on November 3rd, 2015 by Colin D Gordon

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