Spinning into vogue: the resurgence of vinyl

20 June 2011

Written by: Suzannah Macbeth

Your mother listened to them. Your grandmother listened to them and even your great-grandmother would probably have listened to them.

I’m talking about vinyl records. You know, the big black round thing that spins round and round, playing ‘old school’ music.

If you’re a Gen Y baby, then you’re probably thinking that this article is simply a waste of time. Why would I write about something that is so ancient? What relevance does vinyl have in the 21st century?

In this case, the saying ‘what is old comes new again’ definitely applies.  It seems that vinyl records have well and truly spun back into town.

In 2010, the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) released statistics showing that the popularity of CDs had plummeted, with 23.5 million discs sold, a decline of 16 per cent since 2009.

In contrast to declining CD sales, a recent study by Nielsen SoundScan reveals that 2010 was the top year for vinyl record sales since 1991, with 2.8 million units sold, compared with 1.8 million in 2008.

Once consigned to the dustbin of history by CDs, vinyl is fighting back, and vintage is in.

Major record labels and artists such as Franz Ferdinand, Madonna, Amy Winehouse and Vampire Weekend have released vinyl records in recent years.

International artists aren’t the only ones getting in on the act. DJs are beginning to reject digital mixes and are instead incorporating the old groovy sound of vinyl into their set.

The Lincoln Journal Star in the United States spoke with US DJs Foster and Flotree about their opinion on vinyl records. Like me, these two DJs believe vinyl records not only provide an alternative sound, but also offer a ‘history lesson’ that’s embedded within the music, insisting, ‘there are so many records made, that it’s never ending.’

Until recently, I thought that online music stores within Australia were dominated by digital download sales. However, this isn’t the case. There are a number of online companies that only sell newly released vinyl records.

General Distributers, an Australian affiliated company, offers DJs 12-inch vinyl records, including new releases and promotional copies. Joining them is Sydney-based Oz Music Online, who offer vinyl classics as well as new products from independent distributors.

Nobody can dispute that digital music downloading has become exceedingly popular in recent years, as there have been over ten billion songs downloaded from the iTunes store alone. But despite its overwhelming popularity, digital downloads will never replace the feel of having a hard copy CD or vinyl record in your hand.

Despite the ease with which digital music can be downloaded and stored, MP3s files are just data that exist only inside a computer, hard drive or iPod, meaning that it’s easily deleted or replaced.

This is not the case with vinyl records.

It’s no secret that the analogue music emitted from a vinyl record is a less distorted, natural sound that more accurately captures the feeling of the original recording. Digital music, particularly compressed MP3 music, is stripped of this feeling and sounds more artificial.

Earlier this year, Seismic Records storeowner Stuart Smith spoke to The Independent about the resurgence of vinyl. Specialising in the music genre drum and bass, he shares my opinion that a vinyl record offers so much more than the standard MP3. He insisted that many people, including youth, are beginning to ‘turn their back on MP3s’.

Although 21st century music fans still widely prefer lesser quality MP3 recordings that have lower fidelity, vinyl records will, on the other hand, always possess unique characteristics to help you find a truer sound.

Whether you love classical, rock or R&B, or are just an all round music lover, vinyl has well and truly spun back into vogue.

Gianna Dalla-Vecchia is a second year Bachelor of Media Studies student at La Trobe University. Walk through her blog to discover life’s promenade or follow her on twitter @promenadewithme