This week, the BPI told us what we already knew about music sales in the UK. Digital continues its rise at the expense of physical. In figures released for the third quarter of the year, downloads accounted for 28.2% of all UK albums sold, up 24.2% on the previous year, reaching a total of 6.1m. 99.7% of all singles sold are now digital and sales rose by 13% to 42.4m. Music fans have bought more than 130m singles in the year to date compared with 117.5m from January to September last year. Sales of physical albums, including CD and vinyl, were down 20.5% year on year to 15.5m units. Overall sales of singles and albums in the first nine months of 2011 were up on the same period last year, from 193.7m to 202.9m. So, as a music lover, DJ and vinyl enthusiast shouldn't I should be weeping into my headphones?
Not really. Once upon a time it would have mattered. I used to be a vinyl junkie, losing count of the number of times a shopping trip into Manchester ended with me penniless after yet another afternoon's crate digging. Those new shoes I'd been eyeing up had been erased from my memory in precisely the amount of time it took the facilitator behind the counter to say “Up to you but it’s a limited press of 500.” He knew what buttons to push. He knew my type and how we operated. He was one himself. It was akin to George Best wafting a can of Stella under Gazza’s nose.
I rejoiced in vinyl. I bought it by the crate load and gravitated towards those that did likewise. I even opened a specialist record shop in the cultural wasteland that is Wigan such was my enthusiasm for the stuff. I lived for the Friday afternoons / Saturday mornings when I'd take one of the new American imports, melt the shrink wrap with 3 brisk swipes - no more, no less - across the thigh, hold it between fingers & thumbs, flip it onto the deck and place the needle carefully onto the run in. I've bought many a track that’s never left its sleeve, the simple reassurance it’s in the collection enough to keep me warmer at night than any woman could. Indeed, I was 18 when an ex girlfriend, miffed at yet another night sat on my bed whilst I pawed some early house track instead of her, uttered those immortal words " You can’t just mess about with records all your life!” She was correct - eventually - but it was technology that eventually changed rather than my raison d'etre and I still spent the best part of the next 20 years trying to disprove her anyway.
I've bought many a track that’s never left its sleeve, the simple reassurance it’s in the collection enough to keep me warmer at night than any woman could.
More often than not being a vinyl junkie went hand in hand with being a trainspotter. I ticked that box as well. Roughly speaking, the definition would go along the lines of "a pathological desire to a) know as much as possible , b) own every release, c) bore the tits off all and sundry over a specific brand of music / record label.” In times gone by, original trainspotters would be packed off by their women - on the rare instance they had one - with their flask & sandwiches to cross out the 3.24 from Birmingham New Street in their little book. Years later, we'd be granted leave halfway through a shopping trip - “10 minutes, honest, just to see if there's anything new" - with a tired smile, a scathing text to a sympathetic mate and a burning desire for him to grow out of it. She longed for the day that dinner with Abigail & Josh could be undertaken without you telling Josh about turning up the original U.S. 12” of Ce Ce Rogers “Someday” in Barnardos for 50p. Again. Josh cared little for the early production values of Marshall Jefferson. More fool Josh. He was clearly an imbecile.
Looking back, the sampletastic early house scene was a trainspotter's wet dream. When I still had my shop, the satisfaction gained from sneering the phrase “Yeah, that's [insert contemporary tune here] but it sounded a lot better in [insert obscure gay disco anthem here]” as a 3 second snippet on a mixtape was correctly identified could never be fully understood by the un-afflicted. If said with just the right mix of disdain and nonchalance it also ensured the customer took his copy of "Mixmag", shoved it up his metaphorical arse and never darkened my door again. That showed HIM, with his custom and his money. A good trainspotter carried arrogance and contempt to a level that even Cowell would deem "a bit much". I excelled. None were more arrogant and musically, I could belittle half the town before I'd taken my jacket off.
Similarly, you'd think being a vinyl addict / trainspotter would lend itself to DJ'ing? Wrong. We care too much. We are way too into it. A good DJ will play what the crowd wants to hear and knows the value of a full dancefloor. We play what we want to hear and the dancefloor can go fuck itself. We know best and have superior taste. We are here to educate you, like it or not. God forbid there’ll be two of us in the building. It'd be quicker and less fraught for all concerned if we just lopped our penises out onto the mixer and let the lighting man measure who had the biggest, thus saving the night from its' inevitable descent into Indian nose flutes breaks and some crack whore from Chicago hitting a kettle with a spoon.
A good DJ will play what the crowd wants to hear and knows the value of a full dancefloor. We play what we want to hear and the dancefloor can go fuck itself.
Nowadays? Well, that time has passed. I'm still a trainspotter. I can't help myself. I do know best and I'll fight anyone who says otherwise. I still buy a stupid amount of music and the itch that can't be scratched shows no sign of leaving me alone. But I'm an enthusiast now as opposed to a junkie. I still love both the idea of vinyl and the feel of it. I play my older stuff and occasionally pick the odd bit up. But it's no longer the be all and end all. Like the people outlined at the beginning, most of my fix now comes courtesy of my ISP. I'd like to say I've realised it's about what comes out of the speakers as opposed to how it gets there (man) but the reasons are far simpler than that.
Everyday commitments mean the days of £50+ a week on music have long gone. £7 per single versus 79p? No brainer. On a practical level, a few bits of vinyl casually placed are considered "chic" in aspirational magazines. Entire walls arranged by genre then alphabetically aren't. Don't blame me. I don't make the rules. Not in my house anyway. The old stumbling block of quality isn't really an issue anymore either. Pay a bit more and you'll get a WAV file. It's larger than an MP3 but you'll still never fill the 1 TB external drive you can pick up for buttons nowadays. We've all had bad quality files but are they any worse sound wise than the early "Trax" releases, pressed over the top of other records to cut costs and now revered?
Record companies will always go with the market and technology. Moreover, digital makes sense financially for both the big players and the small independent. There'll always be physical product out there for the enthusiast but each week sees more "digital only" releases. Whilst this matters not a jot to Northern enthusiasts, who still refuse to acknowledge CDs let alone anything recorded after 1973, for the rest of us sticking to "vinyl only" guns means missing out on a lot of good stuff. Assuming you do manage to pick a few bits up, you'll struggle to play them. Technics have become increasingly scarce in bars and clubs and the CDJ's that replaced them are slowly but surely being usurped by the ubiquitous USB port. For better or worse, just like my hair, waistline and youth, the vinyl years have gone. The CD years are following suit. This is the last call for all you vinyl junkies out there. The 3.24 from Vinyl Central is about to depart the platform. Jump onboard or get left behind. It's that simple.
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