Music is a funny old business. Trends come and go, bands are hot then not, and the ways we listen to music constantly change with time. If you told someone in the 60s that in the future we’d have tiny devices we carry around with us that send thousands of songs instantly to your ears, they’d have thought you were smoking something. On the other hand, if you’d asked someone from 10 years ago if they thought vinyl would make such a big come back, they would have thought you equally mad.
But this is a crazy world we live in, and this has happened. We have, on the one hand, the ultra-technical medium of music streaming, and on the other, the age-old format of vinyl. But which is better? Or should we even be comparing them? Do we really need to put these two musical mediums into a ring to duke it out, or can they work together for pure musical harmony?
Streaming towards success
First, let’s look at streaming. Some would argue there are huge advantages with this format over vinyl – mainly the portability and choice:
- You couldn’t lug around a turntable as you go for a jog or sit on the bus, but with streaming, you can listen to any song in your entire collection to your heart’s content (with a good data plan or via wifi obviously). This frees up your music to be listened to anywhere, in any situation, rather than be constrained to specific places and times.
- Instant gratification is ingrained into society in today’s world, and music has followed suit. Streaming allows the listener to instantly choose any track they wish at the press of a button or touch of a screen. When streaming, the album format doesn’t have to be adhered to, and the listener can chop and change as they wish. This has created a whole new way to listen to music, which some would say destroys the beauty of the album, whereas others would argue it cuts out the bits they don’t like.
- New music is easily discovered with streaming. Instead of sifting through record shops, usually looking for something you already know about, streamers can hunt around easily, and chance upon new music they had no idea about much more easily. Just click around Spotify and you’ll see what I mean: suggestions will flash up, playlists will be recommended and music is separated into moods; the potential for discovery is immense.
Vinyl Fights Back!
Vinyl is a scrapper. Just when you think it’s down for the count, it gets back on its feet and lands you with a mean right hook. It’s stood the test of time, and now back for revenge. So how can vinyl compete with streaming? In many ways actually:
- With vinyl you get that physicality and ownership you don’t get with invisible streaming. You can look at the record sleeve, see the record, touch the record, smell the record – you get the whole package, not just the music. You have to take your time putting it on the turntable, cue it up, then sit back and enjoy until you have to turn it over. This sense of interaction gives you a more intimate listening experience and actually forces you to pay more attention to the music.
- A lot of people swear by the fact that records hold a better and warmer sound quality that’s lost when converted to digital streams. Although other people argue against this, vinyl does give off something that streaming doesn’t, and it’s that nostalgia and magic of hearing sound rise directly from a groove in an almost magical way. You can literally see where your music is coming from and, depending on the record and components, it can really give you one of the best listening experiences you’ve ever had.
- Vinyl needs time, and this is a good thing. You can relax into it, sit back and do nothing else but listen. No distractions, no running around or sitting on a train, just the music. And with albums, you get to hear the music the way the artist intended instead of jumping around your streaming service like a maniac and being overloaded by choice.
Vinyl and Streaming: The Best Of Friends?
The above are just a few of the advantages and disadvantages of both formats, and there is no answer to which is best; they both work better in different situations, and actually complement each other. In fact, it has been argued that streaming music actually boosts vinyl sales; people find the music they want using streaming services, and then go and buy the vinyl copy. People don’t only want the ease factor of streaming, but also want the nostalgia and physicality of real-life records.
With both formats fighting together instead of against each other, we get the best of both worlds. Streaming is for convenience, and vinyl is for the experience, and I for one, couldn’t be happier to have both doing so well.