I don’t know about you, but I got rid of a very large part of my LP collection. Not only have I reduced it by about 80%, I’m still currently planning to go even further and to only keep a fraction of what I once had in my possession. Basically, I have decided to keep those recordings that are not available at all in digital format or those that are only available in grossly inferior quality. I still can’t sleep all to well because of past and present decisions, but as a discerning consumer, I think one is able to really collect CDs of excellent quality. It takes time, it takes patience and you need quite the thick hide, but it’s possible.
Interestingly enough, I have – as a teacher – noticed that a larger group of my students is beginning to enter the analog domain that I have pretty much decided to leave. For a while, this had me baffled, but I soon realized that the collecting of “old-fashioned” LPs was not so much an investment into superior quality (which ii often was and is), but more of a lifestyle if not also political statement. And it seems as if there is someone who has gone out there to prove that this assumption is correct.
David Hayes, PhD candidate at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto, has released some interesting research results that basically state that teenagers are turning towards vinyl to resist corporate control, the taste-makers of the music industry.
It is not surprising that the people interviewed were attracted by the same things that attracted us way back when, “the visual appeal of LP jackets and the act of scouring shops and conventions for hard-to-find releases.” Despite the fact that today I do the same when it comes to my CD collection, which is often lacking those two or three irritatingly elusive collector’s editions, I fondly remember hitting flea markets, yard sales and similar events in order to purposefully stumble upon some overlooked gem, like an old Blue Note pressing with the right code in the dead wax. It happened often enough, but today things have gotten a whole lot more complicated for vinyl lovers as the supply cannot in any way satisfy the current demand (eBay bidding wars prove that again and again) and because new pressings are often inferior to the originals – even when they are 180gr (or better) limited print ings. To get a spankin’ new and decently silent pressing, one has to shell out quite a bit of dough. In short, collecting vinyl has become expensive.
Two points outlined in Hayes’ findings caught my eye.
Firstly, the teenagers interviewed “[…] overwhelmingly insisted that the sound quality of LPs was superior to that of modern formats and characterized LPs and the artists of the past as more authentic than the barrage of youth-oriented music being aggressively marketed at them today.”
Secondly, “[…] it was the physical interaction required by an LP – the need to gently place a needle on a record, to flip the record and to care for it – that really engaged his subjects. Indeed, he says, their ‘active involvement in negotiating the pops, skips and crackles endemic to most second-hand records’ was essential to the experience and lent the music an air of authenticity.”
Yep. Whereas most of us old geeks can relate to the haptic qualities mentioned, the other points are much more astonishing. It appears that a larger number of young people sees vinyl as a way of not only distancing themselves from the overly aggressive marketing ploys so abundant in our modern corporate world, but also from the faceless, lifeless and “here today, gone tomorrow” type of music that I and many of you have begun to visciously hate these past years (or even decades).
I’m not even going to get into the old thesis that Nirvana killed rock music and that every clone since then has been shoveling ample amounts of sand onto the grave – after all, there’s a whole slew of interesting independent artists that are worth both your money and attention – or that the mangers of major labels support their “discoveries” only one week beyond the phase in which they make tons of money for them. This latter point is also grossly exaggerated, especially if you consider some biographies of once great jazz or rock musicians who disappeared into virtual oblivion (meaning, they were dropped like hot potatoes) once their appeal had somewhat faded.
I don’t buy into the theory that everyone in the corporate music world is bad (although I certainly like to think and say that at times), but I do think the percentage of those squandering money on over-hyped and short-lived artists has grown tremendously. It may be a sign of our times that also music management only has an attention span (and solidarity span) of a few measly weeks and the staying power of a fruit fly.
On that note, Hayes’ findings are encouraging.
Hayes argues that an affection for vinyl is liberating for these young people and helps them mark themselves as different from their peers as they reject the music industry’s attempts to define what’s popular and to regulate format. Their preferences are a form of resistance: ‘Through their retrogressive tastes and practices, these youth effectively disrupt the music industry’s efforts to define and regulate their consumer identities.’
If this is the case, there’s hope yet that we might one day see the music industry rethink its policies. I’m doubtful, especially when I see the way mostly younger people are agressively pursued in regard to the downloading and copying of protected material at the moment, but my hope is that the combined power of the oldtimers (who have decided to abstain from purchasing copy-protected and in other ways marred releases or reissues) and the growing number of teenagers resisting corporate pressure by turning to vinyl and other formats will lead to a realignment in the music industry.
Let’s dream on …