Fans of vinyl missed a day of record love thanks to the coronavirus, but it’s on again this Saturday.
There’s something different about vinyl, and if you’re a fan, you typically know what it is. The sound has a specific feel, like a warmth as the needle rides through the groove and delivers a sound that tends to cater to mids and lows of the a track, as if it was made for turning up and feeling.
In an inherently digital world, vinyl is a bit of a curious one. Everything we do is digital, but there are things we love about analogue mediums, and it’s rather like books.
A Kindle, Kobo, tablet, or even your phone can do a pretty good job as a book, thanks to the availability of so many titles on the platforms, and the technology inside. Books come with some obvious flaws, such as an inability to self-light the pages, making you need a lamp or a reading light when the environment gets darker or dimly lit, and they add up in weight, too.
While you can walk around with a Kindle holding thousands of books, if you were to do something similar with a real book, you’d likely weigh down your arm, back, and possibly look like someone who hadn’t thought this through.
For so many people, the digital version of a book makes a lot more sense, but there’s still a beautiful romantic notion about real physical books. They come with texture and smell, and for many people who love them, there’s really nothing else like thrusting your nose into the pages of an old book and flicking on through. It’s something an eBook reader can’t recreate, though not for a lack of trying.
There’s a similar feeling for vinyl, which is basically a book-like experience for people who love sound.
Music is easier on a computer, a phone, a tablet, and even a TV. You have streaming and downloads, and you have choices. Lots and lots of choices. Technically the quality offered here can be seen as superior to the analogue, but it doesn’t always offer the same experience.
Don’t get us wrong, we love ourselves some high-res audio, some high quality streaming services, and lately, we’re very much into the Dolby Atmos Music that we can run through the Sonos Arc, but it isn’t the same as loading on an album and getting to the heart of vinyl.
Part of this comes down to a record feeling like it stores the entirety of what the artist intended you to hear and the way it was supposed to be mixed, while the other is the experience behind it. That “warmth” we hear can be translated to the minor movements a record player makes when it wobbles ever so slightly, but it’s an experience that is more physical than merely loading up a track in MP3 or FLAC, or even on Apple Music or Spotify.
Neither one is “better” than the other; they’re just different. It’s rather a lot like comparing a Shiraz and a Cabernet Sauvignon: they can both be great red wines, but they’re also different.
However a love for vinyl can also come from wanting to spend time in the record store, plunging in and seeing if you can spy a gem for your collection. Records are music history trapped in time, and provided they’ve been kept in good condition, finding and unwrapping one is rather a lot like plucking out something you’ve yearned for and yet simultaneously didn’t expect.
It means that as amazing as listening to vinyl is, another part of the vinyl experience is being able to go into a record store and finding something amazing. You can flick through the albums, walking the sleeves with your fingers, flick, flick, flick, and then, there it is.
We do it overseas, and almost every location this journalist has stopped in, you can find him at one point doing that: flick, flick, flick, and voila. Must have.
Record stores are a bit like treasure chests for music collectors, because you can find things that stand out and provide a sampling of history in an encapsulated way, and you may even find recordings that don’t exist in digital. It’s certainly the case in jazz, where you may find a jam session here or there that never made the transition to a digital world at all.
These days, venturing to a record store has been less likely, and even World Record Store Day was put off its regular occurrence in April because of the coronavirus crisis. As the world begins to open up once again, slowly making those strides to normalcy hesitant and steady as it goes, World Record Store Day is back, arriving June 20.
In Australia, over 200 independent music stores take part, and for many, it’s a day to take to your nearest or most loved record store and enjoy the experience with fellow vinyl enthusiasts who share your love of the classic medium, even if you have to do it with a 1.5 metre social distance.
But if you can’t get to a record store, consider just going home and loading up your favourite album on a record player, and then working out what would be best to add to it. While record stores still exist for you to physically go in and find a lost bit of treasure, online record stores are records stores still, and checking out wares online is still partaking in what this day is all about: a love for music in a place that holds it all together.