They were invented in 1888 and haven’t changed much since the late 1950s. Vinyl records have outlived the 8-track and the cassette tape. The CD was supposed to kill off vinyl once and for all, but with the prevalence of Mp3s, downloading and iPods, it looks like the CD’s days may be numbered… But vinyl soldiers on.
To the casual listener, vinyl might lack some of the crispness and clarity of a CD and maybe there’s some scratches or static. Maybe the record skips. In a world where people take their music everywhere, it’s hard to take a record anywhere. But for some music fans, records are still king.
Jimmy Kwan works at Beatnick, a new-and-used record store on St. Denis. “They always say it’s warmer, it’s analogue. Also with a vinyl you get to play with an actual physical – I don’t know how to say – art. A piece of art. Vinyl’s actually a piece of art,” said Kwan. “Especially back in the ’60s and ’70s, they really put a lot of attention to covers,” said Kwan.
Kwan thinks that some of this attention has been lost. But he still prefers to get new music on vinyl. “You get to actually hold it in your hands. Sure you have to flip the sides, but that’s part of the appreciation of vinyl.”
Steve Musil, who works at Sound Central, a record store off Mount Royal, said vinyl sounds better because it was made in the pre-digital age. “It definitely keeps that low end for me and I think for most vinyl lovers it’s something more tangible. I don’t go for the whole digital compression,” he said. “It loses the sound. It’s not how it was meant to be.maybe some people prefer that sound, but it’s just not for me.”
Their limitations are part of their charm, and portability is sacrificed for the joy of having something real in your hands. Vinyl fans have a love of the sound and a longing for the good old days of music, before digital came on the scene.
Nick Kozub plays in the band Shout Out Out Out Out, a six-piece, electro rock band from Edmonton that plays primarily DJ-friendly electronic dance music, but with a full band. He’s also a DJ and vinyl lover. He says that because analogue rolls off the extreme highs and lows, this can cover up imperfections in the music making the sound better. He has a theory for why analogue might sound better. “I’ve been told, and I don’t know if this is true, but the sound from the speakers playing the music causes more vibration in the needles which adds more overtones.”
Like many vinyl fans, Kozub got his first exposure to vinyl as a teenager buying punk rock seven-inches. While many styles of music have moved away from vinyl, it has retained a special place in punk rock. Many bands have continuted to put out records, usually small seven-inch records, with only a couple songs per side. These records are often “splits,” with a different band on each side.
Later Kozub became a DJ and he spun records. “When I started, this was before CD and digital mixers, I had to use vinyl.” These days technology exists that allows DJs to do anything with an Mp3 or CD, that they could have done with a record and a turntable. But Kozub is sticking with vinyl. “It sounds better and it’s more fun.”
His band has put out all their releases on vinyl and plans to continue releasing vinyls. “There’s something much more real about bumps and grooves in a record than ones and zeros,” he said.
But Shout Out Out Out Out is not alone. “New bands, they put out records all the time now,” Kwan said. “They’ve been doing it for quite a while now, it took a little time for the record companies to realize that maybe there is a market for vinyl. Right now the one that we’re waiting for is the new Radiohead.”
Musil agrees.”A lot of bands now are releasing on vinyl because of downloading, people want something more tangible. Vinyl’s definitely around.” A lot of new records come with a CD, or include downloads of the album’s Mp3s. Said Christina Rentz of Merge records, home of the Arcade Fire, “We now give away the Mp3s with each purchase of an LP, so that fans of vinyl don’t have to pay twice to listen to the records they buy from us on all formats. We call them ‘LP3s’.”
CDs, the very medium that was supposed to kill vinyl, may actually die first. Musil says that while CD sales are dropping, vinyl sales have remained steady. “I hear people say, ‘Oh, don’t buy it, I downloaded it already’- I hear that more when it comes to CDs. As opposed to ‘Don’t buy it on vinyl, I have it on Mp3’ – it doesn’t happen as often.” Kozub predicts that the CD’s days are numbered, “I still buy a lot of CDs, but I realized that I only listen to the actual CD once, when I’m ripping it to my iPod.”
Says David Kunstatter, a Concordia music student, “Vinyl is here to stay, because vinyl will always be that tangible solid analogue of the music. You stick a needle on it and you listen down close to the needle and you can here the music going through the needle, it’s not just this encoded description of the music. You know you hear a whirr and a buzz, but you don’t get anything from a CD. If it’s vinyl, you can actually sit there and hear the vibrations of the needle, you know? It’s the music.”
Kozub, Kwan and Musil all finished their interviews with the words, “Long live vinyl.”
New records come in two formats, the 7 inch and the 12 inch
The seven inch, or “single,” is usually played at 45 revolutions per minute (or rpm) and usually has one or two songs per side
The twelve inch, or “LP,” is usually played at 33