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POSITIVE FEEDBACK ONLINE - ISSUE 31
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Cue it up: About the Longevity of Vinyl
by Chris Sommovigo

 

[Chris Sommovigo is President of Signals-SuperFi, a fine audio distributor based in Atlanta, Georgia. Among the products he distributes are Continuum Audio Lab, German Physiks, and Peak Consult. He is a gifted designer of audio cables, with Stereovox being his current product line, is a good friend to the Positive Feedback Online community, and has excellent audio sensibilities. Chris is well known to long-time PF readers, having contributed articles to our journal back in its paper ‘n ink days. For more on Signals-SuperFi, visit their web site at http://www.signals-superfi.com.

This brief article is abstracted with Chris’ permission from an online discussion that PFO Associate Editor Clark Johnsen got rolling about high resolution streaming media vs. compressed formats vs. analog—you know the drill.

Thoughtful and well-written responses to Chris Sommovigo’s article are welcome, and will be published, to further PFO’s audio discourse.]

In 2017 I'll be spinning vinyl. I suspect I may even be able to spin NEW vinyl.

Luddite, I know.

But I suspect the digital argument here is developing on a tangent instead of the primary vector: the chief advancements in digital technology seem to be toward increasing density while decreasing cost. Digital as a format is primarily about convenience. Convenience means transportability across media. This is the two-edged battle-axe: digital has made the distribution of content extremely easy and cheap, so it has helped to increase per-unit gross margins. BUT, digital has also made the distribution of content extremely easy and cheap, so it has fueled piracy. DRM is a joke. It's seems like a right of passage for mid-level hackers to break DRM. So it has helped to decrease per-unit net margins.

Meanwhile, as digital technology evolves to the nano-scale (http://tinyurl.com/35q6ec) the combination of density, transportability, and apparent injectability (Matrix time, anyone?) will make the media completely irrelevant. Streaming on-demand networks tapping virtual libraries of everything that has ever been recorded or transferred to digital will be de rigueur—and I mean everything. It is only a matter of bandwidth. Your vehicle's on-board Audio/Video system will be downloading movies in surround sound WiFi on-the-fly so your children won't be without Spy-Kids during your road trip to Aunt Minnie's in Alberta. The digital media "thing" will go away ...the collectable thing. Libraries will be replaced by playlists that trigger virtual music from virtual libraries stored in virtual space.

Digital was, is, and always will be about convenience. The most density for the lowest price. It's an inverse commodity: the very fact that extreme density is becoming extremely cheap IS its value, and as it gets cheaper it becomes more valuable. Not because the thing itself is valuable, but because the power of convenience is valuable. There is no actual thing—there's just the movement of weightless data: infinitely copyable at infinitely diminishing costs across an infinity of platforms.

But, for us Luddites, there will still be the LP. The incontrovertible "thing" that imparts some level of ownership, some spark of satisfaction otherwise unapproachable by the virtuality of digital distribution schemes. 

And LPs are coming back. Don't believe me? Think me attached to a pipe-dream in an opium den?

Last night I met for about two hours with a local indie-record store owner, this in relation to a project that I'm developing with some extremely talented locals. His sales of vinyl account for fully 20% of his gross revenue these days. I should clarify that number a little: his sales of NEW vinyl account for 20% of his gross revenue, his primary demographic is (estimated) 18-24, and we're not talking reissues. He was telling me that, on average, he imagines that the other indie record stores he associates with around the nation might count about 18% of their gross receipts as being attributed to new vinyl sales. The significance of this is tremendous, considering the numbers only 10 years ago (when Googling was still something you did to yourself in private).

More and more bands are releasing vinyl, and their sell-through numbers are increasing. Young people are picking up vinyl. Yes, they are still downloading, still buying CDs, still messing about with iTunes, etc. But they are also buying vinyl. 

Warner Brothers/Reprise/Rhino has taken notice: http://stevehoffman.tv/forums/showpost.php?p=2523644&postcount=1  

The new Wilco LP, Sky Blue Sky, was released with a complimentary CD inside. You'll see more of this as the labels catch on. They're making the eventual and understood Rip-to-iTunes convenient. There's that "convenient" word again.

But I think some people at the labels are beginning to understand: You can't hack an LP and peer-network upload/download it to the rest of your Gnutella net. It exists for its own sake, a solid keepsake, an actual thing in a world growing increasingly virtual.

Maybe that's one reason why the LP is gaining in popularity among the younger set. They can get the digital content easily, sometimes (illegally) for free. And yet they're buying LPs, as well.

And that's why I suspect that, in 2017, I'll still be spinning new vinyl. Two tracks. Seems quaint, I know. But in actual life it seems that the simple, quaint things are often the most satisfying to the soul. Single Malt Scotch. A fire-grilled steak. A straight-8. A good cigar. A milkshake with real milk. A bicycle ride. A fish-fight on a bamboo pole. A six-stringed guitar. A drive-in movie (http://www.driveinvasion.com).

And at the end of the day, that's what I crave more than anything my gadget-geek alternate persona might otherwise demand: Nutrition for my Soul.

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