Venkat Raman –
If you think that the digital age has buried the good old stuffs like gramophone records, video cassettes and radio sets, don’t you believe it.
All of them would be back in demand sooner or later, just as vinyl records have done. Indeed, people are increasingly realising the value of those analogue days when music had rhythm and softness.
A new research by University of Auckland Business School Associate Professor Karen Fernandez has found that all things retro, vintage and legacy ranged from home gardening to vinyl.
Old-fashioned things are still popular, she said.
Our Artlink Editor Ratna Venkat says that everything in life comes around in full circle. Just as well.
Music in Big Box
Dr Fernandez records, that were the preserve of muso anoraks and hipsters but flatlined in 2006 are back in big box.
“Last month (December 2016), vinyl sales outstripped digital music sales for the first time in the UK (though that’s partly because streaming is cannibalising digital sales),” she said and asked, “In this age of Spotify and iTunes, what gives with our newfound love affair with vinyl?”
Along with fellow researcher Professor Michael Beverland of the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Dr Fernandez decided to investigate by focusing on the allure of vinyl.
They interviewed 25 vinyl collectors from New Zealand, the UK and USA. Most were men, many were in the 20-30 years’ age group.
All of them were vinyl aficionados: one put in his wedding vows that his wife would never make him stop collecting; another had 7000 records stored in his mother’s garage.
The researchers found that much of records’ appeal was tied up with the fact that they are material objects: things you can hold and display, things that make concrete something abstract – music with all its emotional associations – and that bear physical traces of their owners’ lives.
“People talked about not just the vinyl itself – the warm human tone, the crackle, the touch of the needle – but that the whole process of acquiring and using the vinyl seems to involve other people. Even the stories they exchange with sellers and other buyers in the shop become part of their memories for that record.”
Dr Fernandez remembers a particularly poignant story told by a young woman who was part of this study. When the woman was buying a record, the seller told her it had a scratch caused by his young son, who had since died.
“Every time the needle jumped, he would remember his son. So, the woman took on being the keeper of this scratch, every time she heard it, she would remember the man’s son. That has been at the back of my mind for years: the power of a concrete thing.”
Many of those interviewed in the study said the physicality of vinyl made it feel more substantial than digital music – more of an ‘authentic’ connection with the artists, and more of an expression of identity.
Dr Fernandez said that the cover-art on record sleeves added another dimension to the high value.
“Many enjoyed the challenge of hunting down obscure records, complaining digital music was just too easy. In fact, the care and effort involved in finding, playing and looking after records created a precious sense of ritual. Way back in the day they made cake mixes that you just had to add water to, but they didn’t sell. People do value something more when they have put some personal effort into it,” she said.
Prior to undertaking research, Dr Fernandez did not own vinyl records, while Professor Beverland became a collector during the study.
But while preparing a presentation, she stumbled across YouTube videos of people ritualistically unwrapping a new record and playing it for the first time.
“That made me buy my first record – Abbey Road by The Beatles. Now I am a convert,” she said.
“Be wary of what you lose when you miniaturise and digitise, because you lose that whole dimension of physicality. And never underestimate the critical role that physicality plays in creating connections between people’s sense of identity and objects,” Dr Fernandez added.
Additional Reading: Our Editorial, “You just can’t kick the reading habit,” under Viewlink.
Dr Karen Fernandez carries her first vinyl record of The Beatles (Abbey Road Album)- do not miss the T Shirt!