The vinyl is dead, long live the vinyl!

I don’t remember when I started to collect music but I think it was in 1976 when I was 16 years old. I had bought some albums before that but you could not say that I was a collector, but something happened in 1976 that took my interest in music to a new level. The first band that I really wanted to own albums by, instead of just copying them to cassette tapes, was the mighty Bachman Turner Overdrive from Canada. At the time I didn’t have a turntable or even a stereo, instead I listened to music on a portable little cassette player from Radionette that had surprisingly good sound quality. This meant that my first albums were music cassettes instead of vinyl. I managed to get all albums by BTO and 10cc as well as most albums by Thin Lizzy on MC before I switched to vinyls in 1977, when I moved to Wisconsin and America for a year. The first vinyls that I bought was Rush debut and Nightlife by Thin Lizzy. Soon followed albums by Budgie, Ted Nugent, The Runaways and so on. Before the year in America was over I had bought more than 200 vinyl albums. I also bought my first bass and saw my first two live concerts before we moved back to Sweden, Thin Lizzy in 1977 and The Runaways supporting The Ramones in 1978, but that’s another story…

Back in Sweden in the summer of 1978 I bought my first stereo, a JVC receiver and cassette deck as well as Luxor speakers. Of course the appetite for more albums was growing and I used to raid the used record stores at least once a day. I managed to find lots of interesting new bands and exiting music this way and the joy of owning more and more records was just as exiting as listening to the music it self. I was still in school at the time so buying used albums was the most economic way to afford vinyls. Some times I found out about albums that was not available in Sweden and if I where lucky a record store called Highflow managed to import them even though they where a bit more expensive that way. It was very cool and rewarding to show and play an imported album to my friends that they had never heard of before. I say show because looking at the album artwork, especially if it was a gatefold cover, was just as exiting as listening to the music. Even the smell of the album cover was part of the experience listening to a new record for the first time. Sitting in a comfortable chair with earphones holding the record cover, reading the lyrics and loosing yourself in the music was magic.

By the time CD’s entered the market I immediately embraced the new format, as I hated the cracks and pops that some vinyl’s had. It was also great to be able to listen to music without having to get up and turn the record over every 18 minutes. But the CD package was of course not as nice as the big vinyl format. For many years I bought about two records in average every week, always on the look out for new bands and new music. I was mainly buying hard rock, heavy metal and progressive rock. It didn’t take long before vinyl was an outdated format and by the middle of the nineties very few vinyl albums was released. However the music industry was still thriving and the lines in the most popular record stores “Skivhugget” and “Bengans” in my hometown Gothenburg were always long.

Then along came the Internet…
First it was great as bands got their own homepages connecting more direct to the fans. Then came the MP3 and it didn’t take long before some people started to share files of music for free. In the beginning this wasn’t a problem but as the quality of the illegal copies was just as good as the CDs it became a problem when fans started download albums instead of buying them. It became harder and harder to sell CDs and to even break even with the cost of recording, mastering and pressing the albums. Well, you of course know the story…

It appears that the new generations of music consumers don’t see the value of owning a physical copy of the albums, if they even care to listen to a full album. Many only listen to a few songs before they move on. The music industry finally surrendered and put its hope into streaming. The only problem was that it still didn’t mean much money for most recording artist or bands. Lots of labels that I have talked to say that it’s hard to sell even 2000 CD’s worldwide today. I don’t know how true that is but it doesn’t sound good. Many big bands don’t see the meaning of making new albums as they will only lose money when so few will buy them. A couple of years ago I talked to a rock club owner who told me about a release party where a free CD of the new album was included in the ticket price but most of the audience declined to get their copy when they entered the club, like it was an unwelcomed flyer. Being a musician is becoming an expensive hobby instead of a career.
Does this mean that the music industry is doomed? Maybe, maybe not…

A few bands can make up for the loss of record sales by touring more and selling merchandise. It seems that it’s now easier to sell a T-shirt with the album cover than the actual album even if the T-shirt cost twice as much. Some bands even put their names and logos on products that have little or no connection to music at all, like whiskey, beer, perfume and so on. Nothing wrong with that, but it would be nice for the bands to sell some music as well.
And maybe they will, because vinyl is making a comeback after almost 30 years. To own a vinyl copy of the album are these days almost like a mix between getting merchandise and a physical copy of the music. Thankfully, there are people, of all ages, that still want’s physical albums and it seems like the demand is slowly growing, even though the numbers of each vinyl edition often are very low, even compared to the declining sales of CDs.

So what about me, have I also returned to vinyl? Yes, as a matter of fact in the last year I have finally surrendered to my original love for the big records. The reasons that made me prefer CDs are now the reasons for returning to vinyl, except for the pops and cracks that I still hate. One problem with CDs was that you could fit twice as much music on them, compared to a single vinyl. This made, in my opinion, the albums too long with too much time passing between records. I much rather have 38 minutes of high quality songs that makes me long for the next release, hopefully within a year, than 80 minutes of music and a new album several years later. I also like the fact that I have to get up and turn the record over these days as it makes me listen more active and of course the record sleeves are so much nicer than the CD booklet. However, I don’t like that some albums that could fit on a single vinyl are now double albums on 45 rpm rather than single albums on 33 rpm. If the music doesn’t fit on one vinyl the album is too long. Save some of the songs for the next release instead. The only exception is double live albums and best of/greatest hits collections. Also, some of these vinyl releases have ridiculously high prices. Anyway, I don’t think that the return of vinyl will save the music industry but it’s nice that they are back and that my vinyl collection is growing once again, for the first time in 30 years.

Stefan Björnshög

Stefan Björnshög


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