Off the Record

For those of you currently infatuated with vinyl record collecting, I get it.  The large artwork, the ritual of handling the disc, the drop of the needle, and for those of us old enough, the nostalgia. All of these things are part of the vinyl record romance.  However, I’ve about had enough of the shenanigans, and for the second time in my life, I’m leaving vinyl.

I mention the nostalgia of vinyl collecting for older folks and I’m definitely in that camp.  The discovery of my immense love for music came as a kid in the 70’s, when I started fervently listening to my mother’s records.  These were the records of her youth and early adulthood, and they really set me off on the right track: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Spirit, Queen, Bee Gees, Led Zeppelin, Heart, etc., etc.  I absorbed those records, meticulously listening to every track, pouring over the liner notes, and pondering the artwork of the covers.  That collection really fired me up for music, and lead to me graduating from mere music listener, to music maker (as a supremely unsuccessful on-and-off again semi-professional musician of 30+ years).

Nearing my pre-teen years, when it came time to go off on my own as a music listener, I can remember my weekly allowance being used mainly for the purchase of new records.  This started out as a few singles, but quickly evolved into full albums, the majority of which I remember buying at the local Kmart.  (I distinctly remember a period of buying new releases on vinyl for $5.99 at Kmart.  $5.99!  That’s hard to imagine these days, innit?)

Behold, the very first record I ever bought on my own.
(Gimme a break…I was 9-years-old.)

Of course, vinyl gave way to cassettes as I grew up, especially once I started driving.  Living in Podunk, Alabama, there wasn’t much to do as a teenager but “cruise”. You HAD to have your tunes blaring out of the open car windows for that activity and vinyl made that impossible.  While I never had any real love for the cassette (I was quite indifferent, actually), it DID excel at portability.  Still, though, I continued to buy vinyl here and there, but by the end of the 80’s and my teen years, it had really started to fade out of consciousness.   (By the way, I know you Hipsters are trying to make cassettes a thing again, but to be honest, you guys are just being overtly silly at this point.)

At the dawn of the 90’s, I turned 20, and with a good paying job, I was able to buy my first new car and outfit it with one hell of a stereo system; a CD-based system.  Holy crap; the CD was awesome.  You could listen to an entire album without flipping, there was crystal clear sound devoid of snap, crackle and pop, and you can easily move them between house and car.  Other than it’s pricey nature, it seemed like the perfect audio medium, and so it was for many, many years.  While I still had the vinyl records of my youth, they were a relic of a time that had passed, and I had little use for them.

And then, the ‘Net happened; the personal computer as a common household appliance happened; the MP3 player happened; smartphones happened…all working together to change the way we consumed music.  Piracy nearly ruined the record industry, people stopped caring about albums as a whole, sound quality stopped being a priority, and physical media was tossed aside with abandon.  The way digital music could so easily be accessed and changed on a whim was giving listeners a form of audio ADHD, and I could feel myself becoming one of its victims.  That simply would not stand, man.  Something had to be done.  I had to go back and sort myself out as a lover of music.  Enter the return of vinyl.

It was all great at first; rediscovering “the ritual” of playing vinyl; the busywork of collecting and caring for them and whatnot.  It was a real nostalgia trip to my early years, and even though I wasn’t blind to the format’s same ol’ shortcomings, I was properly listening to albums again, and that was great.

But as time rolled on, those same ol’ shortcomings became more of an irritation than cute bits of nostalgia, and after the new annoyances of modern vinyl collecting settled in, the shine really started to come off the whole thing.  After a good 4 or 5 years of my return to vinyl exclusivity, I have simply had enough.  Screw this noise, I’m out.

So, what are these irritations, old and new, that caused me to bail on vinyl for the second time in my life?  Let’s see…

  • PRICES OF NEW VINYL – New vinyl is remarkably expensive.  $30, $40, and $50+ for a record?  Really?  Laserdisc (in its heyday) prices?  Nope; not gonna happen.
  • PRICES OF USED VINYL – I don’t know about where you live, but the prices of used vinyl often aren’t much better.  In my neck of the woods, that moldy-smelling, scratched all to hell copy of Led Zeppelin IV that looks like a dog chewed on the jacket is $40+.  (Must be the album’s rarity, as they only produced eleventy billion of them.)
  • EXTINCTION OF THE CHARITY SHOP FINDS – Now that vinyl is all blown up amongst the Hipster crowd (who not only have no real nostalgia for it, but all too often, don’t even actually listen to them), coming across cool vinyl finds at places like Goodwill are done.  Too many eBay flippers and whatnot have destroyed it.  Unless your collection is short of a mind-boggling amount of 70’s Christian recordings, you will only have disappointment on a second-hand shop hunt.
  • DIGITALLY RECORDED ALBUMS – “But duuuuude…vinyl is analog and has a warmth that you can’t find on downloads or CDs.” Ummm, when an album was recorded digitally, dumping it on vinyl doesn’t make those original soundwaves analog.  I know, some artists are recording in analog again, but most everyone is working digitally.  To sell those digital studio albums on expensive vinyl is one of the biggest scams going.
  • MY PRECIOUS – Ya know, I’ve never been one to manhandle my entertainment media and I’ve always taken great care of my things, but I’m a bit fed up with treating a record like it’s a priceless Ming Dynasty vase every time I want to hear Frampton Comes Alive!
  • OVERPRICED HARDWARE – Look, I’m no fan of the crappy Crosley players out there and wholeheartedly support the purchase of higher quality turntables, but with vinyl being trendy again, the price gouging is in full effect. Want a proper “entry level” turntable? You’re going to need to spend a minimum of $300 to $400…and that’s BEFORE we get into talk of “appropriate” and grossly overpriced preamps, receivers and speakers. “But brah, you can pick up a full vintage rig for next-to-nothing at Goodwill!” Yeah, not so much anymore. (See bullet point #3.)
  • THE “VINYL SOUNDS SO MUCH BETTER THAN EVERYTHING ELSE” MYTH – Better than highly compressed MP3 files, cassettes and 8-track tapes? Absolutely. Better than CDs? Not so fast, cowboy.

    Sure, you can point to the earliest CDs as sounding “thin”, but once the format matured, the VAST majority of retail CDs sound extremely good. (You can also go on at length about the “loudness wars”, but I feel that’s always been made a bigger deal than it really is. I also suspect that most people using the phrase don’t even truly understand what it is.)

    And since any proper audiophile will tell you that a rig costing thousands of dollars is needed to really make vinyl shine, most of the people parroting the “vinyl is superior” myth aren’t really hearing any supposed superiority. (Especially when they’re not even listening to them in the first place.)

    Of course, quality equipment is necessary to get the most out of CDs as well, but that cost is mere pocket change compared to what vinyl requires.

Deep in your heart, you KNOW he’s right: vinyl collectors ARE indeed crazy.
Surely you’re not going to be so bold as to argue with a ROCK GOD.

So in closing, I’m officially out. I have no plans to go back to all-digital; I have shutdown my music server and never even started toying with streaming services like Pandora or Spotify. For the most part, I’m going to stick with physical music media in the form of the wonderful Compact Disc (more on that later); there just won’t be any new vinyl making its way into my collection.

For the rest of you crazy bastards, have fun…without me.

Fatsquatch Written by:

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