Vinyl geeks’ dilemma solved?
I am a vinyl geek. Some would consider me a format snob, but really it goes beyond snobbery into the territory of Geek. I do not buy vinyl to look cool or assert my music authority over Joe Shmoe buying the latest on CD. I do it for love.
I adore the (probably toxic) smell of a vinyl record. I salivate when the needle hits that first groove because there is no sound comparable to playing an album on vinyl. No format can compete. I admit to owning CDs, but their numbers come nowhere near what my partner and I have on vinyl.
If something is re-released on vinyl but I already have it on CD, I’ll buy the vinyl anyway. This was the case recently with Simon Joyner’s Room Temperature reissue. I am keeping the inferior CD version, however, so I can listen to it at work or on the bus ride home. The main drawback of vinyl is that it’s not portable. Theoretically I could have a setup at work or carry around a portable record player, but these are not at all convenient, especially considering the infamous convenience of the MP3 player.
With a culture so intent on convenience, the introduction of the MP3 player could have meant the death of vinyl. Technically vinyl should already be dead – that’s what the record companies decided when they introduced CDs into the market. (For a good article on this see www.negativland.com/minidis.html). But there are enough music fans left in the market who understand the quality of the vinyl format and have kept its production going.
For these faithful few, a dilemma may arise: quality or convenience? If I buy the CD, or an MP3 download, I can take the album everywhere. But I also want the vinyl on a shelf at home, so I can listen to it in all its glory. Sure, you can shell out extra for the MP3 files, or more likely illegally download the album you just purchased, but these are not ideal solutions to a veritable quandary. Lucky for us, independent record labels are aware of this predicament and have come up with a brilliant solution recently dubbed “digital vinyl.”
Merge Records introduced this phenomenon with the releases of The Clientele’s New Geometry and Robert Pollard’s From a Compound Eye. The system is simple: buy the vinyl release and receive a code for a free, one-time MP3 download of the album from the label’s web site.
Saddle Creek is also pioneering this trend with their upcoming release of Two Gallants’ What the Toll Tells. The label has also announced plans to provide free codes with vinyl purchases of their entire catalog. It’s the perfect solution for those who don’t want to compromise sound quality for convenience, but still crave both. This enables music lovers to buy their preferred vinyl format for home listening while simultaneously obtaining a convenient, portable format of the album at no additional cost or hassle.
It allows listeners to have the best of both worlds (vinyl and convenience), but if you’re anything like me you have thousands of records that did not come with an MP3 credit and probably never will. So what about the collector’s back-catalog? Fortunately there are solutions and they don’t take a lot of expense, just the right software, very basic equipment and a lot of time on your hands.
Sound-recorder software enables you to record music from your record player if it is plugged into your line-in port. A quick web search will show you dozens of options and free tutorials. A free source of this software can be found at Audacity (http://audacity.sourceforge.net). It does not have as many bells and whistles as the programs available for purchase on the market, but it does the job sufficiently and the program’s developers are consistently updating it.
One of the most popular shareware programs is made by Polderbits (www.polderbits.com). Their Sound Recorder and Editor software ultimately costs you a little over $30, but they have a two-week free trial to see if you like it before committing. If you like the sound of vinyl but don’t enjoy transferring the crackles to your digital files the program even has a filter to take care of this. More expensive software on the market falls into the it-can-do-almost-anything category, such as Roxio’s Easy Media Creator 8, which has a steep SRP of $99.95 but can be found cheaper.
Luckily labels like Merge and Saddle Creek have had the foresight to invent digital vinyl so vinyl lovers will not face the hassle of transferring their records into digital recordings forever. Vinyl geeks are forever indebted to these pioneering labels, and we should support them and ask our other favorite labels to follow suit.