It is becoming more and more common for bands to release music on vinyl. Artists such as The Black Keys, The National and Radiohead all saw substantial success selling music on vinyl in 2010. Why are we seeing a departure from digital music and CDs in the music scene?
The answer to this question lies in the decline in music quality between MP3s and vinyl.
With vinyl, the sound is warmer and fuller. MP3s use a technique called ‘lossy compression’ by taking the original music file and compressing it into a smaller file by excluding music information that it believes the listener is less likely to notice, which in some cases, results in whole instruments being secluded from the final product.
Also, producers now use ‘Dynamic Range Compression’, which reduces the difference between the softest and loudest parts of a song, so the music sounds good coming out of laptop speakers rather than high end stereo speakers designed for high quality playback.
The verses are just as loud as the chorus (listen to Red Hot Chili Pepper’s Scar Tissue to see this), and the song has no soft part, just sections that are ‘less loud’.
MP3s leave the music sounding hollow and lifeless, whereas vinyl presents the music often how the original artist intended for it to be heard.
For musicians on the independent scene, releasing vinyl either shows an acknowledgement of the decreasing quality of music with the industry’s decision to turn to digital, or shows a desire to get music to fans at the highest possible quality.
When CDs slowly replaced vinyl in the late ’80s to early ’90s, the music quality suffered a little, but it wasn’t a substantial amount. I would argue people were willing to sacrifice a little of the sound quality for the convenience CDs offered.
Vinyl is fragile, scratches easily and isn’t as transportable as a wallet containing 200 CDs is. The music still sounded superb, so CD was a welcome new format.
However, when MP3s came around, there was a noticeably substantial loss in quality from CDs, so much so that people began seeking out higher-quality formats and naturally went back to the highest quality — vinyl.
The rise of vinyl is getting money back to the artist — a move illegal downloading isn’t concerned with whatsoever. And unlike downloading, it isn’t a looming threat to the entire industry. So why fight it?
And there is a plus side. If enough of us start listening to vinyl and make it more mainstream, hipsters will stop listening to it and will naturally gravitate to the format that no one else is listening to, which in this case would be MP3s. iTunes wouldn’t know what hit them. Hipsters would be seen crowding Apple stores instead of our record stores. Even Steve Jobs will be ironically sporting a thin wispy moustache and listening to bands you’ve never heard of. Everybody wins.