The Vinyl to Digital Transition

I know a lot of people who would much prefer to listen to even current music on vinyl. There’s something about the needle being placed on the record, or the warm quality of the record that makes it a better way to listen to music.

Don’t get me wrong, I love vinyl. I love being able to hold my music in my hands, to look at the liner notes and the sleeve, to be able to read the printed lyrics and see who wrote each song. And I definitely enjoy the rich, retro sound of records, especially when the music itself is older and it is an original recording.

But, having said that, one thing I do know is that the older the recording is, the less likely it’s going to be that I’ll find it. And if I do find it, the odds of it being in good condition go down dramatically. That’s frustrating, because the original owners didn’t really know that 50 or 60 years down the line somebody else would be hoping to hear one of these songs for the first time, so they weren’t necessarily as careful as they could have been.

That’s why archiving music and reissuing back catalogs are so important. For example, I can’t tell you how much I would be willing to pay for an original copy of Tommy Johnson’s Alcohol and Jake Blues because I have a better chance of becoming the King of England than it ever happening. There are rumored to only be 3 copies in existence of that record (one of which appeared on ebay, of all places! In case you’re wondering, it sold for $37,100) However, I have a copy of the song itself. Did I have any problems settling for the scratchy MP3 that Amazon has available? Not really! You want to know why? Because I’d rather be able to hear the song than just wonder what it might have sounded like.

When you have music like this, that’s so old and rare and important – it’s really depressing to think that they might disappear. Nowadays, we have digital master copies of everything, but the original recordings of most of the really old stuff is gone. The only way you can find them is to locate one of the commercial pressings. The odds go way down when there wasn’t a big press run and as time goes by.

Amazingly, there are people out there who are looking for, and buying, these old records. Best of all, many of these people are remastering and converting the songs into digital format and making them available to others. Record companies who do have master copies are digitizing and releasing old music as well.

I think that is an amazing benefit of new technology: to take something rare and amazing, and make it available for others to experience. Music shouldn’t only be for those with a lot of money, it should be accessible to all.