Format Wars: Why You Don’t Have to Choose Between Vinyl and CDs

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cd vs vinyl Archives - Pressure Radio

Gatekeeping. Anyone who says that it’s not a “thing,” is probably the person guarding said gate. Look, I’ll be the first to tell you- vinyl is awesome. It’s experiencing a resurgence for a reason. A lot of people wanted to get back to the age-old experience of going to the store, buying an album, and taking it home. There is something to be said about physically getting up off your couch, heading down to your local shop and picking something out, and then taking it home and cracking the seal. The advent of streaming services (Spotify, Apple Music) has been incredibly convenient for us all, but in some ways, they’ve also sucked the soul out of our music consumption.

Now that I’ve said all that, allow me to backtrack and trample all over it. Sure, streaming can be soulless, but it’s not evil. Well, the act of streaming isn’t evil. The corporations behind them though? They may well be, but that’s an entirely different conversation for another time and place. Anyway, streaming is downright necessary. These days, new cars don’t have CD players or tape decks anymore. How else are we supposed to listen to music in the car? Are we to ride in silence? Or we could subject ourselves to the same dozen songs being played over and over again on FM radio. No thanks. Furthermore, how are we supposed to sample an album? Vinyl is expensive and takes up a ton of space. It’s unrealistic to “blind buy” everything and hope it’s good. Streaming is essential for sampling music. Do I wish the artists were paid better? Yes. Do I hope it changes? Of course. The simple fact remains though, we as music fans need streaming. Sound quality and capitalism aside, it serves an essential purpose in a music lover’s life. Demeaning anyone for streaming is nonsensical and asinine.

When it comes to vinyl, I mentioned earlier that it’s probably booming because people are harkening back to the days of yesteryear. Vinyl has a lot of charm. The cracks and pops (in moderation) provide the “warmth” that we so often heard about. Look, if you’re into vinyl- you get it. You know why you like it. If you’ve spent a lifetime with it, then you know why you’ve made that choice. I don’t need to educate you on why you’re doing what you do. I’m not a shrink. There is another part of the vinyl equation tough- the hipster. I say this with no malice, and as nicely as possible, but there is a certain subset of people who buy vinyl simply because it’s trendy, cool and because they saw it on Instagram. That’s fine, I suppose, but I bring it up because these are not people who can be relied upon to continue to buoy the hobby. It stands to reason, that when the so-called “cool” wears off, that a lot of these people will dump their records. Where does that leave us? I honestly don’t know. One last important point as to why the vinyl bubble might burst is price. When I was a kid, people were throwing away copies of records that go for hundreds today. How? Why? Simple- no one wanted them. You can’t sell if there is no demand.

Vinyl Sales Surpass CDs for the First Time Since 1980s - CDROM2GO

Hot take- vinyl is booming because of the advent of the CD. How’s that now? You thought CDs killed vinyl? Yeah, they did. I’ll explain. I preface this by saying that this is something I hadn’t readily considered until I interviewed Larry Jaffee. Without going into a great deal, Larry theorizes that the ballooning prices of CDs in the late 90s and into the early and mid-2000s directly led to people turning back to vinyl. Why? As I mentioned before- vinyl was dirt cheap. I distinctly recall buying copies of Hotel California and Tommy for 25 cents at my local shop. I kid you not. Now, these are 20+ dollar records- used. So, what happened? In short, CDs came along and “killed” the vinyl record (and cassettes). At the time, CDs were smaller, more convenient, and were said to have better sound quality (that’s another debate for another time). As time wore on, CD prices rose and rose and the market finally ruptured and gave way to MP3, another more convenient source for music, and then the CD was reported “dead” too.  So, where does that leave us?

As I type this up, I am listening to Wish by The Cure, on CD. The album has never been reissued on vinyl. If I wanted to obtain a copy, I’d have to buy an original pressing from the early 90s which runs for hundreds of dollars in decent condition. This in lies the problem. Just as CDs did beforehand, the prices of vinyl are getting to sickening levels. Used records, which no one wanted 10-15 years ago, are now going for incredible dollar amounts. In the last 6 years alone, I’ve watched prices of both used and new vinyl go up and up and up. Is it a fad? A trend? I see new records- single disc- nothing special, going for 30 dollars? What’s the deal here? So, why am I listening to Wish on CD instead of vinyl right now? Simple, I’d rather pay $3.99 for a mint condition original copy of the CD than $200+ for a mediocre condition copy on vinyl. It’s that simple. I love vinyl, but I can’t be a sucker any longer. If it is reissued on vinyl- I’ll buy it. Until then- I’m good.

Have I lost any of you yet? Probably. Like I said, gatekeeping is a thing. There are a lot of “purists” out there that refuse to even consider the idea that vinyl isn’t the be-all-end-all. Again, I love vinyl. I am not about to dump my record collection and strictly buy CDs. That said, I do buy CDs- often. I enjoy them. There are tons of albums that never made it to vinyl, or as I mentioned before, are simply going for prices that none of us should be willing to pay. The longer we go on paying obscene prices for records, the longer this will go on, and the worse it will get. For example, there is no reason in the world that Frank Ocean records should be going for thousands. His fans deserve to have physical copies of the guy’s music. So, screw the scalpers and price gougers. Go out and buy the CD. Do you want experiences with physical media? Do you want to get up and buy the album in store? The CD can give you that too.

Check your home! These vinyl records are worth big money - YouTube

A lot of people like to rewrite history. They will say once vinyl died, that all intimacy with music died. That they were completely disconnected from their music. I have trouble with this. Is a CD not a physical piece of music? Does it not take up space? Why does the precursor for a “sit down meal” have to be a disc made of vinyl housed in a 12” sleeve? The reality is that most of us who grew up in the 90s were very connected to our music. I have recently reacquired a ton of CDs I had in the 90s and the rush of nostalgia I’ve felt has been incredible. I feel very connected to the music and I did then too. I know this because the act of physically holding a CD I once owned and spent time with makes me feel that way. There are memories attached there. It’s the same idea as vinyl.

Don’t gatekeep music. Don’t gatekeep formats. Don’t gatekeep enjoyment. The idea that we should only listen to vinyl because it’s the only format that keeps us connected to our music is a half-truth, at best. Vinyl does keep us connected to our music. I love going to the store and buying records. I love listening to them. That said, they do take up space. Unless you live in a 15 room mansion, you’re going to have to make some decisions at some point, right? Also, cleaning them is annoying. I do not enjoy this ritual, but I love my records and choose to care for them properly. No complaints, but sometimes I just want the ease of popping the CD into the player and moving on. Without going into detail, CDs do sound great. Some formats are actually better heard via CD (Classical) and if you’ve got a good player (just like vinyl) you’ll have a great time. CDs provide a physical connection to music just like vinyl. Again, don’t get me wrong, I am not saying let’s dump vinyl. My point is simple: prices of vinyl are rising and ironically, CDs can now be gotten for pennies on the dollar. No one wants them. Sound familiar?

Life happens in cycles and it looks like the cycle is getting ready to turn again. If you’re becoming uncomfortable with the prices of vinyl (or running out of space) then give your old friend, the CD a call. They will happily keep you company and provide you with the physical experience you seek. For me personally, I am finding a nice balance between vinyl, cassettes, and CDs. I love and enjoy all three. I suppose that vinyl will always be my favorite, but I have been more than happy to welcome the CD back into my life. Someone I once knew proclaimed that digital is, “Drive-through and vinyl is a sit-down meal.” Well, oftentimes meals have several courses. If that’s the case, think of CDs, cassettes, and vinyl as a three-course meal. Enjoy them all. Use them to your advantage. And if you choose not to, don’t judge those who do. The CD resurgence is right around the corner. So, when you see your favorite influencer stocking up on CDs, remember you heard it here first.

No, I Am Not Getting Rid of My Thousands of CDs - The New York Times

Dig this article? Check out the full archives of Stories from the Stacks, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/stories-from-the-stacks-archives/

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

Andrew has always felt himself to be a "jack of all trades, master of none" type of person. With an immense passion for music, a disposition for writing, and an eagerness to teach and share both, Andrew decided to found Vinyl Writer in 2019 as a freelance column under the column Stories from the Stacks. Over time, the column grew into a website which now features contributors who further the cause of sharing both a love of music and the art of journalism with the world through articles and interviews. While Andrew enjoys running the website, his real passion lies in teaching and facilitating others to do what they do best, and giving them the opportunity to explore their passions in the process.
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