Sunday, January 6, 2008

"Is Vinyl Dead?"

Last night my friend J posed that question and I found myself with a split opinion; on the one hand the vinyl DJ in me thought "of course not," while the guy who had just bought a pair of Pioneer CDJ-800s thought "well, maybe not dead, but looking pretty pale."

I bought the CD players after several years of being a vinyl-only DJ because I realized that the economics of DJing have changed considerably over the past few years, and there was no way I could keep up with current music otherwise. While I was able to obtain maybe ten tracks a month at a cost of $11 each, the boyfriend was going up to music blogs, using Bit Torrent, and buying tracks from Beatport at a range of $1.99 to $2.49 each. When he had a gig coming up he could put together a huge collection of almost completely fresh tracks for far less than the five or six new tracks I would buy for the same sort of occasion. The final straw, though, came when the only record store in town that reliably stocked the music I was into AND provided listening stations, BPM Records, went out of business. I can still rifle the minimal bins at Amoeba, but without any way of previewing tracks before I buy them, I'm essentially betting money that my admittedly limited knowledge of artists and labels will help me pick consistent winners. Past experience has demonstrated that this is patently not the case.

As a mobile DJ who has schlepped gear for numerous events over the years I was also drawn to the convenience of CD players over turntables; for me the turntable is still the preferred instrument, but there's no denying that CD players are lighter to lug and far more forgiving of difficult conditions. Years ago, before my conversion to the dark shiny stuff, I was at an outdoor where a friend was playing records and began to have problems because of the heavy fog that had come in and was leaving drops of moisture on everything, including his records. I teased him about it, saying that CD players were far superior for adverse environmental conditions, even though years later I would be trying to protect my tonearms from being blown off track by gusts of wind coming off the playa. Ever since I began having to bring my own turntables to parties I have been aware of just how much space they take up, how heavy they are, and how tempermental they can be under the influnce of, say, a hundred people bouncing up and down on a wooden floor.

Of course, the convenience, in terms of music acquisition, afforded by digital tracks has some drawbacks as well. I'm indebted to Pee Play for introducing me to the term "blog house," the sort of music that proliferates through blogs like missingtoof.com, bigstereo.com, hypemachine.com, and others, that, while it might be of dubious quality, still becomes immensely popular because of the fact that people download it and play it. And, as I have discovered for myself, while the Top 100 charts of Beatport provide an easy way to scope out what's getting people's attention, it also engenders a degree of homogeneity among those same people. It's easy enough to find ways to obtain digital music, but I still think there's something about the process of crate digging at your favorite record store that yields a more individualistic set. Also, being able to hear an entire track, or at least the breakdown and return, is so much nicer than having to suss out the entire vibe of a track from a three-minute selection.

And, as far as playback devices go, while the CD player may offer a number of advantages in regard to space, weight, and environmental conditions, you have to remember that, in terms of functionality, the whole point of technological advances with CD players is to make them "play" more like turntables. There are some functional aspects of the CD player that I really like; instant cue return is great, being able to set a consistent "platter speed" eliminates the problems you have with records that are of different weight, and once you set the tempo, they'll steady as a rock; but, when it comes time to true up the beat-matching between two tracks, I have yet to find the combination of settings that give me the same level of haptic feedback and control as turntables.

I don't think vinyl is dead, but digital music is certainly forcing its adherents to consider the basis of their loyalty. As for me, I've still got the turntables set up in the bedroom, and I will still use them when I'm practicing at home or recording as set; but when it comes to time to play out I'l l probably only be carrying a book of CDs, and you can bet that the tracks I've recorded from vinyl will be well-outnumbered by those that I've obtained via download.

1 comment:

DJ Dave Trouble said...

Hi, I came across your blog while doing some dj googling. I have been djing since 1992 with vinyl, have never played a cd or mp3 at a gig. For those of us that are dedicated, so far we can buy boots still, and any official release is still put on vinyl. The problem is that the brick and mortar stores are closed ( all the giants closed last year in NYC ), so now I must buy vinyl online. It takes a littlle more planning and is still expensive, but I could never dj without it. When vinyl is dead, I will move on, but I won't help kill it by compromising... If it doesn't get put out on vinyl, it doesn't get played. Tough fucking luck. There is lots of great music that I can play, and no ONE song that is so great that I have to play digital media.

Playing a laptop or cd's just isn't fun for me, and I do this for the love of music and the joy that it brings me. Every set, I get mad respect for sticking to my guns.