Brisbane’s iconic Record Mart
New contributor Angus Coleman looks at what’s driving the revival of vinyl and what does it means for your iPod?
The so-called “vinyl revival” is at no risk of slowing down, with the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) releasing its annual figures for 2014 recently showing that vinyl record album sales are up 127% in the past 12 months.
In a music industry that in the past decade has been dominated by the invention of the iPod and the rise of digital music, more and more contemporary artists are releasing their albums on vinyl.
In the past year alone the Black Keys, Mumford and Sons and Blur are just a few of the big names who have released albums on vinyl alongside CD and MP3 releases.
Jack White, singer-songwriter and former front man of the White Stripes, is one of vinyl records’ biggest supporters and his own record label Third Man Records has warmly embraced the old-school format.
“Vinyl is the real deal; I’ve always felt like, until you buy the vinyl record, you don’t really own the album. And it’s not just me or a little pet thing or some kind of retro romantic thing from the past. It is still alive”, White said in a recent interview with NPR radio in the United States.
And it is not just the big international music players getting into the vinyl game either. Local indie artists such as Oh Mercy, Xavier Rudd and British India all getting in on the act.
Events such as Record Store Day, which was established in 2007 and is held in thousands of independent record stores across the world promotes live music and vinyl records and have been key to the revival.
But to the vinyl uninitiated like me this all seems a bit puzzling; why in the age of iPod, iTunes and wireless headphones are people turning back the clock and rushing back to a format that many had thought had seen its heyday decades earlier?
I’m a big music lover yet I don’t own a single vinyl record or let alone a record player to play on one.
My parents owned a large collection vinyl records, but they were packed away and banished to the darkest corners of the garage long ago, alongside the old VHS player and broken Macintosh computer.
I grew up with CDs and then quickly embraced the digital age, I love iTunes and the convenience that it provides, but I have always been curious about vinyl and with this sudden resurgence I was keen to hear what all the fuss was about.
The Record Exchange in Brisbane is one of the largest record stores in Australia and is almost a throwback to another era itself with vinyl filling the shelves and even spilling on to the floor.
It has experienced a great increase in business in the past decade or so due to the renewed interest in records, with more and more of the younger generations coming through the door and buying music on vinyl.
Richard Hart from the Record Exchange is a self-confessed vinyl fanatic. He loves seeing the younger generation coming in and experiencing music on vinyl and enjoying the benefits you just won’t get from a CD or digital download.
“Definitely first and foremost for music lovers there is the sound element, with vinyl records being analogue they have a different sound to them, a richer and warmer sound that you just don’t get with digital music formats”.
The Record Exchange in Brisbane.
But he also believes a big part of it is that people actually like something they can hold in their hands and enjoy.
“I think a lot of people like to be able to hold their purchase and actually get something physical for their money, also with the majority of vintage records they are worth a lot of money and there is the big collection and investment aspect to it as well”, he explains.
Matt Gillett, 25, is one of the increasing number of young music lovers spending their hard earned cash on LPs instead of MP3s.
He agrees that emotion and experience plays a massive part in his reason for buying records.
“Yeah definitely nostalgia for me is a big thing on why I buy records. My parents have a huge old vinyl collection and would still play them a lot back when I was a kid. A lot of really classic stuff such as Pink Floyd and the Beatles, those kinds of bands, and that’s where I got my love for vinyl from.”
But he is also honest when it comes to admitting there is definitely a big “cool” factor to it all as well.
“Vinyl is cooler, for sure, yeah, and that’s one of the reasons I enjoy it. I love the feeling of holding a record and the look of the big album art you get from a record sleeve. There is definitely that fashion aspect of it and yeah I have been called a bit of a wanker and music snob by a few mates because I am always going on about it”, he says with a laugh.
But looking cool is only part of it as Matt is also a big believer as so many other vinyl fans that believes music simply sounds better on records than it does on CD or as MP3s.
“I’ve gotten into lots of disagreements about this and people can argue that digital music is just as good but I don’t buy it, to me just vinyl sounds better, end of story”, he says.
And it is this belief that vinyl sounds better that keeps popping up.
So I thought it was time I found out for myself and I went and dragged out the dusty box of records and record player from the dark corner of my parents’ garage.
As I struggled to assemble the ancient Marantz record player, my father watching on tells me with a mix of sentimental pride and wistfulness; “I bought that in 1982 in Dandenong back before I met your mother”.
I open up the box of records and pull out an assortment of rock and roll classics: Cold Chisel, U2 and Bob Dylan to name just a few.
I pick up the 1983 Dylan classic Infidels, an album I been listening to heavily for the past few months on my iTunes.
I take it out of the record sleeve and put it on the platter, place the needle and sit back and listen.
And I can start to see where the vinyl fans are coming from, it definitely sounds different from an MP3, I wouldn’t go so far as to say better but it had a richer, more authentic feel to it.
But is that enough for people to ditch their iTunes to the computer recycle bin and turn solely to vinyl? I think not.
And Richard at the Record Exchange agrees.
“As much as I do love vinyl and I love to see people enjoy it, it does have its limitations. People today want their music portable and in their pocket, so I don’t think we’ll see iTunes disappearing anytime soon that’s for sure”.