We all love vinyl. So, why the generational divide?

by Matt O

The newly resurrected mainstream interest in vinyl has exploded a culture that a minority of diehards have been covetous of and a place where they have felt safely nestled since the introduction of CDs in the 80’s but I have to say that I find the elitism in the world of vinyl records to be a bit disconcerting.

When I was a kid I remember distinctly sitting on the floor of my porch with my sister listening to a 45rpm single of Sammy Davis Jr. singing The Candyman on our Fisher Price record player. Of course I thought he was singing about Mr. Mint from the board game Candy Land, and that was awesome enough, but for my sister and me it was the joy of hearing music together and bonding that was magical and an experience that nothing can replace. We listened our mom’s old 45s for hours and enjoyed every second of it despite the music sounding “horrible”.

We neither knew better nor cared that the music wasn’t of a high fidelity, only that it made us feel something. Lately, ‘experienced’ vinyl-philes seem all too ready to insult “hipsters” who, by many accounts, have saved and even revived an industry these ‘philes’ espouse to love. I put hipsters in quotes because it seems to me that’s the moniker given to this vinyl loving youth by the older fellas despite their actual hipster status. Apparently it’s not enough for another generation(ze youths) to appreciate vinyl and record culture, they apparently have to appreciate it the same way the experienced folks do, which is actually impossible simply due to not having the same amount of time on this Earth.

After attending Record Store Day this weekend however, I do wonder if this is just an online phenomenon. So many people seem to be cordial, even endearing in real life. Just about every single online forum I frequent though, there is a group of older “record guys” who have to ‘tell it like it is’ and express their frustrations. “Hipsters do this” they’ll say and “Young kids don’t know nothin’” they’ll cry. It could be that this is the same for every generation since the beginning of civilization, but what I see is a bunch of record heads who have a chance to relate to another generation through an intimate and shared interest of vinyl culture but are failing to take that leap.

I get it! There are objective measurements of sound quality. Total harmonic distortion, comb filtering, wow & flutter, pitch etc. A budget turntable will never sound as good as a high end setup; but does it have to in order for the music to be enjoyed, in order to enjoy the vinyl experience? There should be admiration for tone hounds who seek to find a way for music to sound absolutely pristine, but whether you have a $20,000 world class stereo, or a Crossley Suitcase , it’s the act of listening to the vinyl that is the most important experience and not what you’re listening to it on. It’s the idea of congregating to share the music you love with those you like (or want to impress) that is the key factor when it comes down to enjoying vinyl.

I would wager that the person who has the Clearaudio Goldfinger Statement cartridge and flawless test pressings of vintage Blue Note recordings doesn’t necessarily appreciate listening to vinyl more than the person who only has the Ortofon Omega cartridge and garage sale records simply because they’ve spent about 500 times the money on their audio equipment. So, why when people share their photos of them enjoying records do so many people say “Upgrade your cart”, “Get a new turntable”, “You should probably get some (insert their brand of speaker here) if you want to get the best sound” etc.? Why do we constantly have to nag and critique facets of others’ lives? I ask this question as both a perpetrator and a victim.

Now hang on to your criticisms for a second. I don’t want the more experienced among you to think I only take umbrage with some of your behavior. These kids nowadays don’t make it very easy to see their point of view either. Ignoring sage-like advice from someone who has more knowledge than you is foolish and can sometimes be detrimental, we’re not just talking vinyl here! But buying vinyl only to own it and never listen to it? That seems a bit crazy and it can definitely drive up the cost for those who love to spin. A point of frustration I definitely understand.  Buying a record player simply for aesthetics despite being able to have a higher quality audio experience is also rather irritating. I would doubt that there are the same types of stimulating conversations at Urban Outfitters vinyl racks that you will get at your local record shop and certainly not the same expertise. When company’s ramp up production and use digital masters to sell more records but don’t care about quality that ruins it for everyone. I see these as being more of a capitalism issue than a generational one however. There are those who are doing their best to help keep vinyl as a strong contender in the audio realm. Jack White and Darryl ‘DMC’ McDaniels to name a couple.

Album Jacket Display- Short-term display

LP Record Jacket Toploader Displays one LP Jacket (with record) This top loading display is made from 16 gauge crystal-clear rigid vinyl. Does not hold double albums.

Vinyl is one of the ways we can come together again in this great digital divide. Music can be very personal but it can also be the most social thing one does in their lifetime. In case you haven’t heard, concerts help you live longer.

The company you’re with can make the worst sounding art-house punk band’s performance a phenomenal experience, yet going to see the London Philharmonic in Royal Albert Hall can be ruined if the people in front of you are talking the whole time. I appreciate the joy one can get from the vinyl experience; a nice cartridge, high end speakers and a warmed up tube amp can be a life-changing aural event, but is opining that to be the only true way someone can enjoy vinyl helping to keep vinyl alive or will it yet again send vinyl to the depths of audio culture?

I think, at the end of the day, the youth want to be more like their elders; more experienced and knowledgeable but still want peer credibility. And the “old cats” want to have their experiences and knowledge respected and they envy the time the youth are in possession of. Sharing what you know, who you are and what you feel with people who are receptive to that is one of the greatest feelings we can have as humans. We should set aside those little differences that, although bothersome, shouldn’t stop people from seeing eye to eye when it comes to appreciating something they love. “Vinyls”?! Yeah…I hate it too but I suppose it’s technically correct.