Five Things a Record Can Do That an MP3 Cannot
Should any instance occur in which your musical taste assists in getting you laid, chances are very slim that an MP3 collection would be the responsible format.
MP3s make a vacant effort to fill moments of silence with careless noise. The day has come where Pandora picks the soundtracks to our lives based on algorithms formulated by choosing just one song (choose wisely!). These are the days of Spotify playlist, filled with the intangible and elusive MP3s.
Lucky for us, we also live in a time of revival, where a proud movement of music snobs have been able to quite literally turn the tables. It is in this age where the limitless and shameless demand for nostalgia and irony has moved beyond a mass of cultural critique, and brought with it the return of the record.
If ever you second guessed the time and effort involved in building your record collection, here are five things to reassure you that you've invested wisely.
5. Records make you feel things
Think about it. When was the last time you hugged an MP3 to your chest after waking up early on the day of release? Never.
You march your ass down to your local record store before going to the office, making sure you bring that bad boy into work with you -- because Lord knows the average temperature in a sealed car in south Florida is about that on the brightest day on the sun. Plowed through the work day, carried that sucker home with you (even if you have been taking the bus these days). And finally, with your after-work beer in one hand, you lifted the record player needle with the other, and physically lay down those tracks.
Does iTunes make you work that hard? Did you know you wanted to work that hard?
For most of us who read County Grind, our music has always had a "feel." But until we started collecting records, nothing about that feel was physical aside from some goose bumps or singalong induced laryngitis. Our folks had the vinyl thing going, and if we were lucky, we got to experience the sensuality of a record before we knew what it was like to start our own vinyl habit. But no amount of bootlegged or rightfully owned MP3s can make the leap from audible to tangible. It feels good to have a big ol' awkwardly sized LP under your arm. A thing subject to its own demise should it be left to the elements.
4. Records relieve stress
The range of hearing for humans tops out at about 140 dB. The average talking voice hovers around 40 dB. The range between the lowest variables of sound we are capable of deciphering and the highest has a direct effect on our psyche.
Think about it. When someone is yelling, they are no doubt exceeding the average 40 dB of sound defined at the typical talking range, and we feel it. It gets into our heads and signals to us that someone or something is either really pissed or feeling something in an aggressive manner (aggressively happy is a thing, too).
For instance, when your dog is so excited to see you that before you even get to the door, you can hear him barking, in excitement. Even though you know he is excited that you are home, the range of noise incites a kind of anxiety.
These days, most compact disc and MP3 recordings are mastered at amplitudes nearing 100 dB. That is a lot of barking dogs. And your volume knob is useless in such instances because at 20 dB ago, the sound began to distort. Believe it or not, this is stressful for our brains.
Vinyl is different, as the capacity for recording information is limited and literal. A vinyl record is a literal imprint of the sounds being produced, taking up actual space. This produces a whole sound, which some call "warm"-- and not just a digital summary of sound.
Because there is only so much space on a record, common practice is that the appropriate range of recording for vinyl is typically between 60 dB and 70 dB. Just a notch over the normal range of voice and rightly so, because listening to music shouldn't be as passive as simply receiving directions from our boss, but shouldn't drive you to the point of your emergency stash of Klonopin either.
3. Records get you involved
Last time we checked, no one was tapping kegs of free beer, giving away concert tickets, and generally looking out for your musical morality on MP3 Download Day. But toward the end of February every year, your friendly neighborhood record shop owner begins to look a little worse for wear. For good reason though. It's likely that they just got a crap ton of forms from different distribution firms looking for a declaration of what the store hopes to receive come Record Store Day! Lots to think about, but mostly they are thinking about us, the faithful, and even the once a year bandwagoneers.
But what a thing to celebrate! Live music, local artists, local food -- commerce at its grassiest roots, and the opportunity to put your money in the pockets of those who provide services you truly value. Community people. Plus there's nothing like a rerelease of the Flaming Lips' Zaireeka on 4xLP or Atmosphere's Demosexual special release to get you out of bed and into the throes of musical society.
2. Records present perspective
MP3s are a flat medium. You download one song or a handful of songs from a variety of musicians, pack them neatly into your iPod or whatever it is these days, and you're set. No real regard for the title of the track you downloaded, no real appreciation for the musicians who put that track together, and no real frame of reference or context to provide any world for that music to live in. Lost in the endless sea of shuffle.
Now think back to the last record you bought. The album art wasn't confined to a jewel case on generic glossy paper from some pro ink-jet printer. Chances are the record or records you bought came equipped with their own spaceship. A time capsule of what the band wants you to know about this particular album. Their own personal graffiti. It isn't just the album cover, but the inside art work, lyric sheets, photographs. The Postal Service is packaging a set of post cards with their Record Store Day release this year. Last year, the Flaming Lips offered an entire skull made of jelly that you could deconstruct. One of the most iconic images in Bob Dylan history is the fold out Milton Glaser poster that came with his 1966 Greatest Hits release.
The history and concept of the musician's intentions are waiting in the jacket, record sleeves and even on the record itself. Trey Anastasio released his latest album on orange translucent vinyl and included a whole second 7" inside. A veritable goldmine of sights and sounds to construct a whole new perspective and connection between the listener and the bands they choose to listen to.
1. Records feed your outlook
It doesn't matter who you think you are, if you collect records, you're making it clear how you feel about music. Vinyl (or phonographs anyway) were the first formats for sharing music off the stage. If you have any appreciation for vinyl, it is a dead giveaway that you care about music, the potential for music in your life, as well as the potential for music in the lives of the people you surround yourself with.
To be interested in the history of a subject is to be able to identify with its roots, and while music goes much further back in time than any recording could capture, the vinyl record is an implicit identifier in the world of sonic consciousness. Feel how you want about it, but a record collection is a commitment the way any physical library of items is a commitment. You care enough about a thing that you'd hoard it in an amount that one day might need to be lugged up three flights of stairs involving multiple trips. Not only are you now an identifiable caring and committed human being, but at some level you must have an idea about your future. Whether it is the immediate future -- the hour or so it takes to listen to that album in a linear fashion through to the end -- or some near distant future, where you were gifted a portion of someone's record collection and hope to be able to do the same thing for the generation that comes next.
There is a reason for your collection, and it isn't because you want to watch them all melt into a pile of stinky nonsense one day. Maybe you want to be able to show your kids what good music really is, like your folks tried to do for you. Or maybe because, one day, you think one of those records will be so rare, that it will make you a fat little nest egg so you can quit your stupid desk job and finally find your way off the grid. Your future and your past are in your record collection.
If you have a collection or aspire to have a collection, chances are you know when something is worth the commitment, and no matter what the future brings, you see yourself and your record collection in it.
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