Why The Whole Music World Should Not Go Digital

image from upload.wikimedia.org Vinyl records have resurged; it is no secret. The bigger question that looms is why have they? Tye L. at The Music Cycle thinks it is because of two factors. First, records produce a sound that is unique to them. They are richer or more natural sounding than their digital counterparts. In addition, they give fans a sense of ownership that files stored on a computer do not. It is a piece of music and it is theirs. The packaging made fans truly appreciate the art that came with their sound. A connection formed between the songs and their visual representation.

The whole music world is going digital and Michael Cuthbertson does not think that it should, because vinyl is still superior to it. Mainly, he argues that the move should not happen because MP3's sound terrible. This is an old argument, but he captures it well. Could the resurgence of vinyl be considered a backlash against the hyper-reality of this digital age? Cuthbertson thinks so. The processes are divergent. Clicking play on your iPod and lowering a needle onto will never be the same. One constitutes music as a moment and the other music as an event.

Perhaps the most interesting part of his critique of digital culture relates to his point that people will gather to watch a movie for several hours but rarely meet to hear thirty minutes of music. It is a bit idealistic. Yet it brings out the notion of a different kind of social gathering, one where everyone leaves their digital devices in the other room and does nothing but listen to music. Surely, the young and the digital will not be lining up for an experience like this anytime soon, but I think we all wish we had more chances to just listen. It is as if some of us forgotten how.

"Digital preserves music the way formaldehyde preserves frogs: it kills it and makes it last forever… Fortunately, the rebirth of non-digital music is here… I believe the resurgence of vinyl is part of a greater backlash against the hyper-reality of this digital age. It’s the difference between clicking a “download torrent” button or going to a store where you can look at real products surrounded by real, likeminded people.

It’s the difference between the randomness of scrolling through menus on a screen and switching the song every minute or sitting down, lowering a needle and experiencing the transcendence of hearing a whole album. It escapes my understanding why people rarely meet to hear 30 minutes of music but will get together and watch a movie for… hours." (Read on.)

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  1. Kyle, as you *definitely* know by now, I’m one to make odd associations between the music industry and the film industry. Which is why it pains me to say that… well, I just don’t see a truth behind Cuthbertson’s argument.
    Don’t get me wrong — I love his conclusion and agree that, somewhere along the line, we fucked up and lost the magic of the album. I’ve also held listening parties for new (and old) awesome music, and know how poorly attended they tend to be.
    But it ain’t comparable to movies. And here’s three reasons why:
    1. Movies offer a “totality of experience.” Say what you will about the escapism and voyages music can offer (and music can offer such experiences), it’s a whole ‘nother story when your entire consciousness is being sucked in through vision, sound, and a limitation of external stimuli.
    2. Movies have a(n unspoken) codified language. Assuming we’re dealing with popular-and/or-indie films vs. popular-and/or-indie music here, the former is a powerhouse when it comes to a common understanding. Anyone can understand what a movie is trying to tell them/show them (on the surface level) without actively engaging with it; the same isn’t at all true for music.
    3. The movie ritual hasn’t been disrupted. This one’s a little weirder to argue — I guess it assumes that there was a semi-unified album-listening ritual to begin with (which, if you admit there wasn’t, causes an even bigger slew of problems to Cuthbertson’s argument). Whether you’re watching a movie in a picture palace in the 1950s/1960s, in a megaplex today, or in the comforts of your own home, the natural thing to do is to turn out the lights and grab some popcorn. The ability to move significantly beyond this ritual when it comes to movies is a pretty new experience, and we won’t know whether the technology breaks the ritual for another couple of years.

  2. Stating that MP3s sound terrible always comes off as an elitist audiophile barb. Sorry, the majority of music listeners don’t hear/notice/care about the loss of quality that comes from the digital encoding process.
    People also make this claim about recording digitally versus recording in analog. Is there a difference? Of course. But it’s really only a major concern to people that want that “warm” analog sound.
    Also, the advent of digital recording has created some interesting side effects. For example, a great deal of new vinyl coming out now are transfers from albums recorded digitally. So the vinyl “warmth” for such recordings is artificial or psychosomatic. The reason people put out vinyl versions of digital recordings is because they know they’ll sell to collectors, not because it’s a better audio experience.
    Cuthbertson’s argument is one to be made for hardcore audiophiles, not the general listener. A 320kbps or V0 MP3 is going to sound natural to most people. The vinyl resurgence is much more about the collectible nature of the album rather than its sound, which is why a lot of these offerings are now packaged with a digital download. While the MP3 is not “better” quality than analog-produced vinyl, that’s no reason to make an argument for one in favor of the other. They appeal to different audiences for different reasons.

  3. I never fell in love with the CD format. too technological, aseptic, there is no magic to it.
    sometimes the artwork of an LP is enough to make it worth owning. CD’s failed at that too.
    I’m not into dance music, but if vinyl is still alive I think we should thank the DJ’s. they helped keeping the market of record players alive.
    it seems that CD’s and CD players are going to disappear sooner than vinyl records. same thing for hard drives, or other technological devices, which are changing continuously and becoming obsolete after a few years. so buying music on vinyl it’s the best long term investment. and now is the best time to do it.

  4. People want to generate computing interaction, economic, and technical reasoning for the resurgence in vinyl. Perhaps these reasons are there someplace in the background. However, this type of analysis is one of the fundamental problems with industry thinking today. The reasons people are actually collecting vinyl are emotional, not merely functional. There is an emotional attachment to the physical artifact (record, package, feel, etc.) and a feeling of cool for cutting a niche behavior. Don’t you know?

  5. Who gives a shit?
    No one would be bothering with vinyl if all the other formats hadn’t been in freefall for the last ten years. It’s a tiny, tiny percentage of the business that will fade away in a heartbeat after the last hipster dufus decides they are sick of lugging it from one Brooklyn or Montreal apartment to another and realizes they have all the music on their mp3 player anyway.
    So tired of the endless cheerleading of vinyl. If going from 0% of the business to 3% is a resurgence and cause for celebration one needs to only take step back to realize how truly fucked the music business is.

  6. “People will gather to watch a movie for several hours but rarely meet to hear thirty minutes of music. … it brings out the notion of a different kind of social gathering, one where everyone leaves their digital devices in the other room and does nothing but listen to music. Surely, the young and the digital will not be lining up for an experience like this anytime soon, but I think we all wish we had more chances to just listen.”
    As a DJ, I am bound to point out that this pretty much describes a good music-led clubnight, and especially the trainspotting fervour of a club night in any tribal (in the widest sense) style of music.
    Also as a DJ, I feel that if people can find a purpose for their music other than lazily collecting P2P downloads, they regain this attachment. It’s easy for me to give you the example of DJs, but isn’t everyone a DJ nowadays? If your purpose is to assemble a coherent collection of music that you can show off to others by DJing it using your laptop and djay (or some other powerful, cheap, consumer-friendly DJing software), your sense of ownership of the music you choose to admit into your iTunes rises substantially.
    If you hear, search for, download, tag, improve (using something like Platinum Notes to add the vinyl warmth and integrate the MP3 with the rest of your collection) and smart playlist a piece of music (and then add cue points, loops and notes to it for performing), I feel at that stage your sense of ownership is healthily high.
    On my blog, http://www.digitaldjtips.com, this desire to regain ownership over an amorphous collection of MP3s in order to play them better to an audience is a recurrent theme among readers.

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