The same sort of revolution has happened in the music industry, but they don't seem quite as adaptable. Music stores are closing all around the world - even the Tower Records across the street from Rolling Stone Magazine has closed its doors. It seems the industry simply hasn't been able to keep up with the technology - thinking a law suit against Napster would solver their problem was sheer folly.
When you think about it, the LP lifespan wasn't really that long. Most vinyl from the fifties may make great collector's items, but it wasn't until the Beatles took over the world that the album hit its stride. From this point, through the seventies and early eighties vinyl reigned supreme.
The cassette tape was the first sign that the album was about to jump the shark. Sure, there had been reel to reel and the infamous eight track, but cassettes eventually took the place of records in most people's collections. The covers were barely the size of a post-it note and they had a tendency to spew yards of tape (requiring a pencil to spool it back).... but who cares when you can put it in your boom box or Walkman and be on the go! Plus, you could record from the radio or transfer your lame old LPs! What's not to love? Turns out, quite a lot, and the compact disc was quick to replace the tape by the early nineties.
The CD started out strong enough. It looked so much more technological and space-age than the crummy tape (vinyl was a distant memory at this point). The sound of a cassette tape was nothing less than horrible, and digital sound was touted as pure audio ecstasy. Plus, with the slightly larger cover, they seemed like something you might be inclined to collect. But, alas, even the CD would fall prey to the next technology - the digital download.
So far, the music industry had enjoyed, dare I say encouraged, the advent of each new technology. Think about it - with the dawn of each new format, people would repurchase the same albums! Exactly how many suckers bought the Eagles Greatest Hits on vinyl, then bought it on cassette tape, then repurchased it on CD is inestimable. The music industry had it easy with those formats - the digital download, however, was a kick in the nuts that they still have not recovered from.
Currently, the download has a lot, and I mean A LOT of positive qualities for a music lover. It has allowed a massive amount of music to become available to everyone with a computer. Even better, except for those that pay almost a buck a track at iTunes, the music is absolutely free! If I want, I can stick a song right now in this post, and it can be the most obscure impossible to find oddity that you would NEVER find in your local record store or hear on the radio.
So what's the problem? Why am I still bitching about the death of vinyl? Shouldn't I stop whining and just enjoy the digital revolution? Hell no. Here's why.
1. Analog Sounds Better than Digital
Digital is nothing more than a simulation. The theory is that digital can add enough detail that the human ear will not be able to distinguish "fake" audio from real audio. The problem is that the human ear can distinguish the content differences between the original sound and the synthesized sound of typical digital playbacks. The wave shape is simply different, and your ear is not fooled.
Listen to Dark Side of the Moon or Sgt. Peppers on a good stereo with a vinyl record and listen to on CD. The difference is undeniable.... you may not be able to explain exactly why, but it just sounds BETTER. Why does a symphony sound better live than through a speaker? The answer lies in the shape and form of the sound waves - the live symphony bombards you with a wonderful variety of complex and rich waves, whereas the digital wave is missing all those nuances.
Problem is, most people are satisfied with it being "close enough". After all, do we really need to hear Fergie in such rich detail? I won't argue with that - I don't expect everyone to be music connoisseurs or rock snobs. If you want to listen to Hannah Montana on the iPod, that's just fine, but don't tell me it sounds better. The sound is worse. Period.
2. LP Album Art Is Superior
Part of the music experience was the album art. This may be impossible to comprehend to a younger generation, but the artwork was just about as integral to the listening experience as the music itself. And think of all those great covers! The dark and mysterious figure on the Black Sabbath debut album, the complex psychedelic majesty of Sgt. Peppers, the sexy woman in whip cream on the Herb Alpert cover, the list goes on... and the bad ones are just as fun to look at.
Additionally, many albums had extras for the fans: the liner notes, the fold out pictures (like the Runaways album to the right), the zipper on the Rolling Stones cover, the White Album had color photos included, etc.
The CD cover is microscopic by comparison - there's simply no way to have the lush detail of an LP cover. And downloaded file's artwork is, well, nonexistent. The crummy little image that pops up on your iPod doesn't count. And talk about no-frills! - you're lucky to get liner notes with a CD (with which you may need an electron microscope to read the puny lettering).
The record companies can't seem to comprehend why they are dropping like flies, yet the answer is very simple: You can't expect people to buy something that is worth nothing. An LP is tangible, it can't be recreated (unless you happen to own a recording studio, a record manufacturing plant, and a printing press). Whereas, digital files are copied with two clicks of a mouse, and thus rendered completely, utterly, one hundred percent worthless.
If you own a vintage Japanese import KISS LP, you really have something special to brag to your friends about. If you have a digital copy of this album, you're just another dork with a KISS album.
Sure, there's a lot of people paying iTunes these days, but something tells me it will change very soon. Already, the people paying money for worthless digital tracks are declining - and sales are nowhere even close to the glory days of the LP.
Okay, you were with me so far, but you're not going to agree to this one, right? Well, think about it. Records that are upwards of forty years old are still in circulation. My childhood record collection can still be played (although, I don't know if I particularly want to hear Stars on 45 again) - you think the same will be said of CDs or downloads? Hell no, they're destroyed by a thumbprint. In contrast, how many of your old LP's have withstood their share of party accidents and still have the distinct odor of spilt beer and bongwater? I've had one too many CDs ruined by an infinitesimal scratch to buy into the myth that they're more durable. Downloaded files may be secured and backed-up, but we both know they're not going to have the longevity of 40 - 50 years simply because they are by their very nature worthless and disposable. Who would ever even want to hold onto something that can just be ripped for free later?
We've already established that it sounds better, looks better, and has a tangible value. The last point I'd like to make is a bit complicated to explain in that it relates to the very essence of the LP, but let me give it a whirl. The LP was sort of like a book: it often had an introduction and ending, and a theme running throughout. Dark Side of the Moon had a point to make. David Bowie's Low had a overwhelming "feel" and theme. Albums like Heart's Dreamboat Annie and Zeppelin's fourth album had a pervading tone and purpose.
In contrast, the majority of music is downloaded by individual tracks. Who gives a crap about artsy fartsy concept albums when an album is really nothing more than a conglomeration of tracks. Soon, artists will make the next logical step and stop bothering to combine tracks on albums altogether.
So, all this whining and moaning begs the question - will the album make a comeback and save the music industry? No way in hell. It's too late. The genie is out of the bottle and you can't put him back. Vinyl collecting will continue to be a cooler version of stamp collecting, and the technology will continue to put a beating on the music industry..... that is until something unexpected happens. One day there will be a music format that brings things back again, and people will once again have a product that's worth something. What that will be is anybody's guess.
Take home message: 0101001010001110101101001 = crap