From time to time I ask myself just what it is about vinyl records that is so appealing. A lot of the time the answer for me has to do just as much with the artwork and the presentation as the music itself.
I am not anti-digital. I think downloads have really helped push vinyl–the physical artifact–to a new place of importance in music culture. There’s something about the larger artwork, the inclusion of liner notes, the gatefold sleeves and the physicality of the record that gives it a lasting appeal.
You could literally do most, of not all of this digitally–providing a large digital poster image buyers could download and print would be fab. Ditto liner notes. But for some reason, the seeking and finding is an important part of the vinyl buying experience. You can hunt and peck online for digital downloads all day, but nothing beats the thrill of flipping through the stacks and seeing that album cover that just gets you interested for no good reason. Or for VERY good reasons.
Shopping online is pretty utilitarian. Going to a local record store, listening to the music playing on the overhead, browsing the magazines, overhearing conversations about new music…this is almost becoming (if it hasn’t already) date night activity. It’s definitely a great way to kill an hour or so when you’re waiting around for something else to happen…but for me going to the record shops is always a main event type activity.
Digital is great and convenient. It’s not the same listening experience with vinyl–the involvement of cleaning the record, putting it on the turntabling, turning it over to play the B-side, looking at the artwork…doing this for an hour or two a night requires more attention. It’s like cooking at home instead of ordering delivery. You get your food in the end, but that hands-on experience makes it more…real somehow. Not that downloads are plastic or fake. They’re easy and fun. But not special, not on their own.
Those digital services that encourage mixtape and sharing amongst friends/subscribers have the right idea–making music an EXPERIENCE is probably the key to selling more digital downloads. Vinyl has all that built-in.