Fashion trends have always confused me. I stopped trying to keep up somewhere between the Nike socks/sandals combo phase and those dumb things you put on your sunglasses so they stay on your neck phase. But one rule I’ve always used to make sense of fashion is that it tends to mimic decades past. Everything we wear is a homage to our preceding generations.
On the other hand, technology trends do not confuse me, especially music technology trends. In this realm, whatever sounds best is best, and it stays that way until something else comes along and tops it.
This is why the re-emergence of vinyl confused me. With this re-emergence, music technology is now following in the footsteps of fashion: it’s starting to mimic decades past. From a purely analytical standpoint, this trend just doesn’t make much sense, and here’s why:
No matter what the dirty hipster at the record store told you, no matter how incessantly a music elitist will talk your ear off until you accept his claims, the sound quality on vinyl is not superior to digital files. It’s just not.
Back in the day, sure, vinyl was king. For people growing up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, vinyl was the latest and greatest technology. But there’s a reason CDs and digital files took over other than the fact that they’re significantly smaller and more portable: the quality is better.
Many claim that vinyl has a ‘deeper’ sound, that the music sounds differently when coming through a record player. Well, part of that is true. Bass is extremely difficult to perfectly recreate on a vinyl record, and sometimes this can lead to a distorted, ‘deeper’ sound than some crave. However, this doesn’t make it a better sound.
Another hole in the superior sound quality argument is that oftentimes, new vinyl records aren’t even mixed separately, but instead simply pressed straight from a digital file. This means that the quality is, at best, equal to a digital file. It’s a sad fact, but a fact nonetheless.
However, please don’t take the previous claims as a sign that I don’t like vinyl. I love it. I love the physicality of it, the fact that I can hold music in my hands. I love watching it spin. I love the concept of a needle and groove producing music instead of whatever goes on inside the speakers of my laptop. I have a record player, and you can catch me spinning Kendrick, Joan of Arc, Mantronix or The National any day of the week.
The reason I brought up the fact that vinyl is technically worse is because it allows us to look at this trend from a completely different standpoint. It means that people are buying vinyl not for the superior sound quality but for the love of music.
For the first time in perhaps the history of music technology, progress is coming to a standstill and people are rejecting new technology in exchange for a product that makes them feel closer to the music.
Usually, technology is about abandoning old products for the latest and greatest. When’s the last time you watched someone whip out a Razr and take a call? But with vinyl, people are accepting that there are perhaps more efficient, more technically proficient ways of consuming music, but they’re saying no to these methods.
The fact that people long for a more meaningful way to listen to their music means that music is separate from other types of trends. It’s different than other technology. It’s different from fashion. It’s different than other forms of art. The re-emergence of vinyl is proving that music affects people in a way that we may only be beginning to understand.