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Sony is making vinyl records again and I'm so very, very tired

The music giant is bringing vinyl back, which is great. But, boy, am I tired of all this


Gabriel Bell
July 2, 2017 7:00PM (UTC)

As we told you on Thursday, Sony Music will soon be producing vinyl albums again for the first time in almost 30 years. The move is a no-doubt wise business decision given that the once-discarded medium has undergone a large surge of interest over the last 15 or so years.

Indeed, some reports have it that vinyl outsells both physical CDs and digital downloads on some fronts when it comes to new titles, such as Ed Sheeran's latest release, and classic ones, such as Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon."

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Sony's resurrection of a physical product that the company actively tried to kill just a generation ago comes off, in some ways, as industrial confirmation of a trend that began long ago.

In the '90s, Gen-Xers, myself included, smuggled their old turntables into college dorms, spinning classic records over spliffs and dropping new 45s from indie bands whenever they were available (there was a time when pressing vinyl was still less expensive than pressing CDs for smaller, less mainstream labels). Connoisseurs from the classical and jazz fields went on long, fully justifiable rants about the medium's superior sound, decrying the drier, flatter tones of CDs while smoking clove cigarettes. Club, techno and, particularly, hip-hop DJs had nothing else to work with other than those fragile, warm-sounding discs.

From the early '90s on through to the present, we scoured bins at the second-hand shops and the few remaining record stores in search of unusual finds — things that were not and, we presumed, would never be available on CD or streaming services. There was a nobility to that, if also a boorish freshman enthusiasm.

Whereas vinyl had been a quasi-political statement for Gen-Xers looking to comment on their broken childhoods and rail against the corporatization of music in the Clinton era, the medium became a welcome — if somewhat twee — fashion statement by the time Obama came into office. Millennials, without irony and with little memory of vinyl's heyday, shopped for C-grade players at Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie so they could play "Rumors" while watering their succulents. The oversized, often illustrated images that used to grace album covers became appreciated as a lost art and retailers high and low began to sell picture frames specifically created to showcase those jackets on living room walls.

Behind the wheels up in the DJ booth, some turned to laptops and newfangled digital turntables to mix beats for the dance floor. Just as many, however, stuck to the old ways, carefully transporting their vinyl from set to set in road cases.

This was all well and good and gave rise to a new generation of quality turntables, vinyl releases and, in a feedback loop, more interest.

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And that brings us to now as a multinational conglomerate has made a fully legitimate business decision to channel this growing interest into profit, to give customers what they genuinely want, letting the road rise to meet them.

It should be a glorious moment for all — proof that capitalism sometimes can yield positive results that honor the nostalgic feelings of the public and bring back a beloved, inarguably superior medium that simply didn't fit into the corporate interests of the past.

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But you know what? I'm tired of this. Openly, aggressively tired. The Sony move, to me, signals the end of the trend, the point where I get off the train.

Go ahead and @ me.

As someone who pursued vinyl in the early '90s and still treasures a first-edition copy of "The White Album," I'm tired of giant, unwieldy sleeves that only fit in an IKEA Expedit. I'm tired of treating each album like a jade treasure just pulled out of an ancient tomb, scared even to put the needle on it. I'm tired of the regular upkeep a player requires, the desperate search for new needles that don't cost an arm and a leg or a new belt that goes with my turntable. I'm tired of the fact that it takes me five minutes to transfer from "Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain" to my 45 of "Waiting Room."

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I'm tired of skips. I'm tired of warping. I'm tired of falling into minor depressions every time I notice a new scratch on the record or a new wrinkle in the jacket.

I'm tired of the constant cooing by Stereogum or Pitchfork whenever Arcade Fire or whoever's making a tour of the festival circuit right now drops yet another deluxe vinyl edition with three variant covers. I'm tired of the fact that I don't have them right now. I'm tired of going to record stores and have been since Other Music closed. I'm tired of making space in my Expedit (which is now a Kallax) for every new find. I'm also tired of not finding things. Whereas I used to search for weirdness in the bins, the brand-new music of the day comes at me nonstop.

I'm tired of vinyl's fashionability, of the picture frames filled with Roger Dean's admitted beautiful work for Yes. They might as well be in Lenin's tomb lost behind glass there. I'm tired of going shopping for shirts and seeing cheap turntables on sale. I'm tired of going to Whole Foods and seeing reissues of "Tusk". I'm tired of the preciousness.

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I'm tired of not being able to skip a song with the touch of a button. I'm tired of not being able to rewind. I'm tired of not being able to shuffle. I'm tired of the ceremony of listening to vinyl that, yes, makes each listen a wholly enveloping experience but, no, just doesn't fit into my day. I'm tired of not having a world of millions of songs at my beck and call right here, right now. Discovery is no longer about stores or bins. My newest finds usually arrive in a search bar.

I'm tired of the argument that vinyl offers a warmer, richer sound with true depth. It's just as true now as it was 30 years ago when I first heard it. It was persuasive the first time, obnoxious the thousandth.

Look, vinyl records are beautiful, necessary things. They represent the pinnacle of the available listening medium despite being a technology that's exactly 140 years old. That's impressive in of itself. It's also an indication of how much work has to be done in compression in the digital world.

That said, I'm just tired of it — tired of the dialogue, tired of the trend, tired of the undebatable inconvenience.

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Yes, if there's fault to hand out; it lies with me and people like me in my generation. If we hadn't, in our indie youth, turned vinyl into something beyond a delivery vehicle for music, this wouldn't have happened (which would have been much to the chagrin of audiophiles and the DJs behind the decks). Me and my early Green Day EPs will shoulder the burden.

But, at this point, I just want to be left alone with my Spotify and my iPhone. I'm old, old, old and done. Digital streaming has officially ruined me.

It seems that vinyl is a young person's game now — but perhaps now that it's got corporate backing, soon it won't even be that. If history is any indicator, the medium's renewed commercialization could kill off the trend entirely, ushering it out of coolness as the hipsters take up a new fave, cassettes.

By the way, if anyone can point me to a good, cheap online source for new needles, let me know.

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Gabriel Bell

Gabriel Bell is Salon's Deputy Culture Editor. Follow him on Twitter at @GabrielJBell

MORE FROM Gabriel BellFOLLOW @GabrielJBell


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Albums Entertainment Music Partner Video Sony Sony Music Tech Technology Vinyl Vinyl Records

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