Vinyl Vs Digital
As we gear up to present the world's biggest collection of the Beatles' White album first edition records, FACT Contributor Stephanie Whalley considers the big question, which is better, MP3 or vinyl?
14 August 2014
In the digital age, the value of a little extra expense spent on purchasing a tangible product is becoming discredited and diluted. However, owning a vinyl is a multi-sensory experience that can never be replicated and is your own personal ticket into the creative process that has conspired to provide you with that thrill each time you get your hands on a new one.
The sound, of course the sound but then there’s the visual delight as you flick through your collection or cast a proud eye over your wall of album sleeves. Not forgetting that smell, that instantly recognisable aroma of must and plastic that fills your nostrils, almost catching your throat but rapturous nonetheless. The crackle of static as you peel away protective cellophane or the tuneful note as the record slides from its sleeve almost creates an introductory riff to the song itself. A collection of periphery delights that encourage physical and personal interaction - a concept that is completely lost in cyberspace when it comes to downloads, headphones and the detached experience of digital music files. After the tease of awaiting a new release and the foreplay of unwrapping the product after buying it in the store, listening to listening to a full song can be exquisitely climatic.
I still remember to this day, rescuing a Fleetwood Mac Rumours vinyl from the clutches of a local charity shop after one of my mum’s clear out frenzies. The tears at the corner and years of discolouration would have left the iPod generation contorted into an expression of disgust but for me, these imperfections were what made this product well, perfect. Just this very second, by a spooky twist of fate, Go Your Own Way has just blasted from the television as soundtrack to football highlights and proved my very point. Digitally re-mastered to incorporate the monotone drone of the commentator and the obnoxious roars of a jubilant crowd, the raw honest sound is suffocated at the merciless hands of technology.
The most prominent and irresistible pull towards vinyl over digital downloading however, has to be its inextricable marriage with art. Yes an mp3 file can be easily copied, pasted, synced, streamed, shared and whatever else but never will it provide the immortal aesthetic value of vinyl. Take any vinyl in your hands, no matter what the genre or who the artist and you’re grasping a physical embodiment of the imagination, inspiration and emotion that was poured into its creation. From the sleeve design to the lyric insert, what you’re holding is a little piece of the artists’ mind; a fragment of the time and space in which that song or album was their sole reason for being.
Ahead of writing this article I spoke to local musician Jamie Roberts of post-punk indie band Go Fiasco who said:
“In an ideal world, if it wasn’t so expensive, I would like to replace all of my mp3s with vinyls. I think any artist would want their listeners to take the time to sit down with a vinyl and take it all in but on the other hand, the fact that someone could listen to our music on a bus or in a cheeky earphone at work is great.”
So yes, convenience is key and access is made easier through digital means but novelty, value and the ability to collect are being sacrificed for instant gratification, idle convenience and a purely synthetic experience. Sure, it’s great that we now have access to portable music that can be listened to from any nook or cranny but Adorno would be turning in his grave at the mass media apocalypse that is forcing record buying into unnecessary extinction. Some may criticise vinyl as being more biased to the alternative genres of music but even Nicki Minaj and Lady Gaga are available in record form these days, I’ve seen it.
I find solace in the fact that Liverpool is still very much celebratory of the more retro ways of buying and listening to music and so it should be, right? The Beatles, Echo and the Bunnymen and Elvis Costello are amongst the many musical legends that have elevated the city to its influential status in the industry and it’s imperative that we never forget that, no matter which generation you come from. All you have to do is step into the city centre and you’re never far from an independent record shop (Probe Records, The Vinyl Emporium, Dig Vinyl just to name a few) or an artistic tribute at a local gallery. Next in line is the We Buy White Albums showcase at FACT celebrating Rutherford Chang’s 1,012-strong collection of The Beatles’ White Album first-pressings and I, for one, simply cannot wait to get in there!
Rutherford Chang's We Buy White Albums opens on Friday 15 August at 6pm with live music, and free cocktails! Visit the exhibition project page to find out more about the world's largest collection of first edition copies of The Beatles' White Album.