Music Media and the Vinyl Revival
Erin McAuliffe | Wednesday, November 18, 2015
In this day of aesthetic appraisal, the way you choose to consume music is a decision as consuming as what music to consume.
Last week Pitchfork delved into the different mediums. The article, “What Your Music Format Says About You,” had a seemingly Buzzfeed-esque quiz title, but unfortunately I was not met with a conclusive “You Are A Cassette Casanova” result at the end. Perhaps this is because as we adopt new ways to listen, the old ways stick around and rear their heads in palpable, nostalgic temptation. (I have my pink clickwheel iPod mini stashed away in a drawer in my room for when it inevitably becomes understatedly cool.)
The article came at an important time in my music consumption: after thwarting seemingly superfluous impulses to get into the vinyl game for years, I purchased my first record. Granted I have had a few lapses where I’ve purchased oh-my-God-I-think-this-is-important-and-here-it-is-for-two-dollars-in-this-thrift-store-bucket albums, but each time I purchased the record with the intention to gift it one of my more committed to the craft, turntable-wielding friends.
However, when I saw a “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album in the basement of a London vintage store, I grabbed it and headed to the cash register. I fully intended to keep the record for myself, even though I still had no concrete plans to invest in the technology needed to play it. It was a purchase more about the object itself: I wanted to hold and display what I already had access to through intangible means.
Carrie Brownstein, of Sleater-Kinney and “Portlandia,” hit on this desire in her recent memoir, “Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl.” She also addressed the idea during her book tour which, fittingly, stopped at London record store Rough Trade. “The seeking was tactile, the process of discovery more arduous but also highly interactive.”
It was the tactile seeking ideal and the search in general that led to my impulsive, arguably impractical, purchase. The idea of a musical search done outside of the Google bar is enticing. My fingertips sometimes crave to furiously flip through records instead of facilely flitting over laptop keys. A serendipitous result of such an endeavor is more rewarding than any new music entering my headphones on Monday mornings via the algorithmic Spotify Discover Weekly feature.
With artists like Beach House releasing velvet sleeves for their vinyls while Jack White’s “Lazaretto” featured a holographic angel, records are being pursued for material reasons as much as for quality. The 2007 launch of Record Store Day attends to consumers’ nostalgic interests.
The recent Pitchfork article raised cassettes as the nostalgic medium we might turn to next. Their low cost and association with mixtape culture provide for a viable argument, however, cassettes are bereft of the quality and aesthetic appeal that are so inherent to vinyl revival. However, artists like Courtney Barnett and Foals released their latest albums on the medium, with Foals releasing cassettes ahead of their album release as a means to garner hype while, hopefully, keeping the contents off the Internet.
And how could we forget CDs, the musical medium that served as our generation’s first gateway into sound? While reminiscing on my somewhat meager CD collection, I realized that any CDs I have purchased in recent years were bought for immediate insertion into my very unfortunately AUX-less car’s stereo or to stand in solidarity in support of my favorite artists. However, when not in my car I solely listen to the digital uploads of said CDs. In the same way, most vinyls come with digital downloads, providing a mobile alternative to the aesthetically appealing but cumbersome investment.
With the overwhelming amount of music currently accessible, it is necessary to both take advantage of the options afforded, while tailoring the listening experience to your own tastes. You might feel like scouring SoundCloud for obscure EDM one day, hunting through your local thrift store’s record bins the next and then pre-ordering the new Beyonce album on iTunes. So do. We are not limited in what we listen to, so why should we be limited in how we choose to listen to it?