Vinyl and me
Over the last few weeks I’ve read literally apocalyptic pieces on climate change, and literally is intended here in the proper sense of the word, as they’re talking about the actual end times.
I panicked for a moment. But just a moment, then I carried on with my life. That thought gave me pause, it mattered, but not as much as it probably should. How can I read an alarming take with the morning coffee and forget all about it well before lunchtime? Either I am a sociopath or I have developed some sort of antibodies to news like this.
I think that we all have, inside our heads, memorized a series of ideas, theories and theses¹ that allow us to dismiss information that contradicts our worldview and thus keep functioning without curling up in fetal position every time we open a newspaper.
My own idea-of-this-kind about climate change is that mega corporations are the main culprit, and that simple citizens like me can never make a significant impact in the situation.
If I stopped buying plastic-wrapped products right now and kept this resolution up for the rest of my life there would definitely be less plastic in the local landfill thanks to me right?
Coca Cola™uses the same amount of plastic, my life plastic quota if you will, in just a single day, or maybe an hour.
Here’s how I manage to not care a lot about it and keep buying single use plastic, because there’s the Coca Cola™Corp. Could we maybe prevent Coca Cola™from using plastic? Would this be beneficial for all? Could we actually do without Coca Cola™altogether?
I could, I don’t like it that much, I can’t recall the last time I had one. If Coca Cola™vanished² from the world with a Thanossnap right now I would maybe realise it in three or four weeks, but I know many people that would recoil from this highly hypothetical scenario. A small sacrifice for me, a kind of huge one for many others, one that maybe we’re not really willing to commit to.
So that’s how I started thinking about records. I have a modest record collection nowadays, split between different houses, two cities, long term (more or less permanent) loans, shared custodies from relationships and so on. I never had or wanted to completely move a record collection, and the idea of doing it gives me anxiety and makes me sad.
Packing, moving, sorting and reordering. A Sisiphean³ task. I own so many things that I don’t really need, and I keep thinking about it lately. That’s why I used to love buying records and nowadays I do it less and less.
As a kid, living in a big small town in the outskirts of a small city in central Italy, records were a dream and a nightmare. Finding the ones I wanted was hard, sometimes literally impossible, and I bought what I could find, often not the ones I dreamed of. It seems absurd at this time in history, but I often wonder about what kind of music I would have been into if I grew up some place else, maybe completely different things, or maybe almost the same.
Could I do without buying records nowadays? Yes, yes I could, if I’m really honest I’m almost there right now. I buy music on Bandcamp, I’m subscribed to Spotify, but yeah, those are slightly different things.
Now I know what you’re thinking, with all the things that are horrible for the environment why focus on the rather small and floundering recording industry? Don’t you know about cars? Don’t you know about cows? Why don’t you stop eating meat instead?
This is all true, I understand, but my problem with the records situation is that a sustainable alternative exists. There’s a number of them, for different kind of users. Sure, no single one is perfect, there’s still environmental costs to contend with (servers, network infrastructure, electricity just to name a few) and the revenue model in some cases doesn’t seem super solid or very amenable to artists, but to be really honest it’s a whole lot more sustainable and eco-friendly.
Records, those wonderful objects, are just thin wafers of pvcencased in cardboard: making them is expensive and pretty bad for the environment. They’re pretty much unrecyclable, not biodegradable and you have to chop up trees to package them. Even the trademark lacquered black paint, called Carbon Black, is made from heavy petroleum products.
And then there’s the logistics of it. Records have to be manufactured in the requested quotas, shipped and distributed around the world and then stored on shelves in a shop until somebody steps inside to buy them. The cost of the entire operation is astronomically higher all around, although yes it employs more people at every level in the chain.
Digital distribution goes through a lot less steps, incurs in fewer costs, gets everywhere an internet connection in no time and nobody ever runs out of copies. On top of that there’s all the little advantages you get with digital music over physical records, like never having to stand up to change sides. One of my favorite records from last year, Drunkby Thundercat, has been published as a Boxset with 4 10”records⁴, it’s a bizarre, beautiful object, a real work of art, but it averages 3 songs a side, and to listen to the whole thing start to finish I have to keep switching sides, taking and putting back the different records in and out of their sleeves: it’s really not a great experience overall. The ritualistic part of it, the needle, the crackle, cleaning lint and cat’s hair with the little brush, all cool things the first few times, but honestly, deep down, I could do without.
I am trying hard to imagine telling my younger self that I now can access all of the music, whenever I want, on my cellphone, but I travel once a year to Berlin to check out the record stores there (during which, by the way, I get totally berated and treated like shit by the shopkeepers⁵) and well, keeping a straight face about it. I don’t know if I could really justify it to that kid, or to my mom, or to any other person who is not inside my own bubbleof diggers and collectors who find this whole thing normal.
Am I so romantic about this thing that I can’t take a step back and consider it in a rational or at least a bit more practical way? Is the vinyl soundreally worth it? Does the above ritualreally make for a better experience? Is my living room better with the ikeashelves full of dusty jackets or would it be cleaner with a sparser, more minimal look? And is any one of these enough reason to offset the environment hit or are these just the whims of a grown child?
I mean, that’s why the news these days really, deeply scares me, because I can’t make this very small, insignificant sacrificein mylife, and I have no faith that everybody else is going to be so rational and altruistic with their choices.
I’m still keeping a little hope though, a little hope that you are slightly better human beings than me.
Originally posted on Medium
2- This post is not a paid advertisement for Coca Cola™
3- This word sounds better in English, believe it or not.
4- Less common record format, bigger than a 7 inch (45) but smaller than a 12 inch (regular 33rpm album) — usually used for EPs
5- My personal shitlist includes Hardwax, HHV.DE and that small shop where the owner is crazy and just starts insulting you as soon as you walk in.