On Boxing Day (well…Canadian shopping Boxing Day), I bought myself a turntable.
It’s been a while in coming. I’ve had access to the salvageable remnants of my parents’ record collection for a few years now, and have actually owned a couple of vinyl records of my own for some time (an Arcade Fire single, Radiohead’s In Rainbows). So it was only a matter of time before I broke down and purchased something to play them.
That said, I can’t help but think that my decision has less to do with that and more to do with the cultural cache that owning vinyl gives me. Let’s face it: the rise in the medium’s popularity among music connoisseurs the past three or four years has more to do with identity than audio quality. The Internet is the great equalizer between true music geeks and the slightly-less-geeky masses, in so much as there is no longer any difference in their ability to access music. That obscure b-side that you tracked down on a European CD single in the mid-1990s? Joe Blow can download that in 30 seconds.
Vinyl is the new credibility. It shows commitment in a way that simple music ownership this century cannot. Saying you own the new Spoon record on vinyl not only means that it sounds really good – it makes you that much better than those poor suckers who bought it on CD (let alone those fools who download it, for Christ’s sake). So like everyone else, I’ll tell myself that I’m into vinyl for the sound…but secretly covet my newfound status in the Cult of Vinyl. Sweet, sweet status…
I’m not the only newish member of the cult. Sales of LP’s almost doubled in the U.S. last year, to a total of 1.88 million units. Curious as to what sort of records are selling on vinyl? Soundscan’s got the numbers (courtesy the LA Weekly’s music blog):
That’s only two “mainstream” 2009 records making the list – and both ones with very devoted fanbases. The rest are a mix of classic records (Dark Side and Abbey Road, which is the only Beatles record in print on vinyl, I think), two modern alternative classics (OK Computer and In the Aeroplane…) and three of 2009’s most popular records among indie/alternative music fans. The one oddball is Funplex, which I’m guessing was pushed hard by the B-52’s label.
And no, you’re not seeing things: that’s just over 25,000 vinyl sales for In Rainbows. I saw Radiohead live in concert in Montreal alongside 10,000 more people than that this past August. For all the press it gets, vinyl makes up only 0.01 per cent of all music sales. No wonder it’s the new status symbol.