I'm feeling a little spunky this morning, so I figured I'd rile up some Mumfords.
Mumfords? That's my latest name for hipsters. Outspoken, cooler-than-thou cats who are all over the latest music craze, regardless of whether it's truly in their heart or not.
Most writers don't harass Mumfords, in fact, they tend to watch those hip little rascals very closely. They write stories about their latest whim and tell the rest of us we should mumfordize ourselves accordingly. What? You're not hip to this? Better get your shit together.
This cycle has happened repeatedly over my quarter-century in music biz, but never has there been more hipster hype than with the resurgence of vinyl records. You might have heard. Vinyl is back to save the world.
Anyway, nothing riles up a Mumford, young or old, than bagging on their beloved vinyl. So here we go.
Why Are You a Vinyl Hater, Geek?
Before I write my list (blog editors love lists), as usual, I need to qualify a few things.
First and foremost, some of my very best friends are Mumfords. The music world is the haven for progressive listeners, and truth be told, I'm pretty mumford-y in comparison to most of my high school buddies. You have to stay ahead. I just like fucking with them (I touched on the subject in Five Statements Guaranteed to Piss Off Music Elitists, but it wasn't enough).
Second, I'm not a vinyl hater. I do own some vinyl. Hell, I started on vinyl. It's a small percentage of my collection, but it's a very solid part.
Finally, I don't want to hear any smart-ass comments about both formats being antiquated.
I've said it before and I'll say it again -- I don't care how you obtain or listen to your music, but if you're going to pay money for it, then in my opinion, buying downloads is like paying for air. If I'm going to spend money on something, it's going in my collection, not my hard drive (at least not solely).
Now that I've qualified (notice how that was a little list itself), let's cut through some of this vinyl hype.
Are you getting worked up yet, my little Mumford?
A Little Dose of Vinyl Reality
I've seen the whole circle of vinyl resurgence firsthand. My first chore in a record store (Wherehouse at 35th Ave/T-Bird in 1987) was pulling price tags off of new records so we could return them. Vinyl didn't make it back into Hoodlums until roughly 2005. By the time we closed the brick-and-mortar side of things last year, vinyl was back up to over 20 percent of our sales (and even more of the profit).
So the resurgence has benefited me a businessperson, and it continues to benefit stores across the Valley. But I'm still not sold personally.
5. CDs are more durable. If you don't take care of records, then you might as well not even own them. Records can be protected, but compared to CDs, they're a pain in the ass. You have to use a dust jacket along with the sleeve and the cover. That means extra steps from shelf to listening and (most importantly) back, which means more opportunity for wear and tear (plus extra time and effort).
Even if you are relatively tight about your handling, in normal household settings (meaning more than one person -- God forbid kids -- might listen to said vinyl), LPs just seem to inevitably take on a bit of wear. Once that happens, it affects the entire vinyl experience.
By contrast, the only thing you have to do with a CD is take it out of and put it back in the case. Two moves equals less chance for trouble.
If you are a slacker with both configs, this is even more of a no-brainer. Don't believe me? Try leaving an LP and CD laying around unprotected for a while.
Of course, if that's your style, maybe you should stick to files.
(Note: I still encourage my wife and kids not to handle either config out of my collection. For them, the digital version is perfect.)
4. CDs are more musically versatile. This isn't rocket science. CDs are digital, so they have all the benefits of a file, and they can't disappear for any reason. Like I've noted, I've had an iPod since the first generation, and I've got an iPhone, iPad, and various other digital playback methods all over the place. In fact, most of my listening is digital, mainly for the sake of convenience and portability.
So I love the fact that you buy the CD, stick it in the slot, and the music is everywhere.
Not the case with vinyl. Yeah, I know, LPs can be digitized, too. We sold the units at the store. But let's face it -- it's extra work, and people don't like to do extra work (not to mention buying analog just to turn it digital doesn't make much sense).
3. CDs give you more bang for the buck. CDs are now cheaper than LPs. It didn't used to be this way, which is part of what made collecting used vinyl in the '90s and early Aughts such a gas; it's just gotten this way lately.
Why? The same reason that has always plagued the music biz: Greedy record labels, and to a lesser extent artists, just refuse to leave prices at a reasonable level. The clowns in the ivory towers saw that people were buying vinyl again, and the prices started to rise. Ask any record store owner and they'll verify this.
It's the same thing they did with CDs in the '90s, which, ironically, is what drove people to the used record bins -- as well as Napster, all subsequent file-sharing sites, and the corporate loss-leaders (which is another blog post in and of itself).
'Cause kids. Dig. Cheap. This kid, too.
It's not going to get any better. Simple supply and demand dictates it. There's a limited supply of used records, and there's just not enough LP processing plants to offset all the vinyl Mumfords.
2. CDs are easier to store and move. Now that I've reacquired some vinyl, it's all coming back to me. Holy shit, does that stuff take up space. As a result, it's a pain to move around and store. That's the reason I left my LPs in North Dakota. I had one little car, and there just wasn't room. I brought the 20 CDs that I had started to collect and never looked back.
Now it's back in the house, and just like at the store, I have to make room for it. That's easier said that done when you have three kids and a spouse who couldn't care less about collecting either configuration.
1. CDs sound better. Ooh, that'll piss off vinyl nuts. I can just see some of my favorite customers and record store colleagues writhing about this one, but I'm not joking.
Yeah, I know. Vinyl has that full analog sound that you love so much. I love it, too.
When it sounds like that.
Which isn't very often. My guess is that the percentage is relatively low throughout the overall listening world.
To get that awesome vinyl sound, you have to keep your albums in great shape, which most people do not do. I know, because I've looked through five zillion used buys over the past few years.
Beyond that, you have to have good equipment to play it on. You can't just throw vinyl onto any cheesy little turntable with some half-ass needle and get that super sound. That kind of equipment isn't cheap to purchase, and even harder to get repaired if it goes out of whack. That goes against the aforementioned "kids dig cheap" axiom.
By contrast, CDs, because of their far-more-durable nature (see reason 5), are infinitely more consistent with their sound. I'll acknowledge that the amped-up engineering of certain CDs over the years has driven me nuts, but not enough to prevent me from making claim that the comparative body of CD sound beats that of vinyl.
(Insert the sound of a crackling LP or a slightly off-speed turntable here.)
One Way or the Other, Just Listen to the Music
There you have it: FIVE solid reasons that CD is still be the preferred choice of this particular hoodlum. I could have made it six and included "ease of use," but that's a given.
Sorry, Mumford. It's just the way I feel. If you prefer vinyl, party on. Neither configuration is as important as the music itself.
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In the meantime, don't take it too seriously. Next week I'll talk about vinyl's advantages.
Thanks for reading. Have a great day.