singles by choice
(albums when it's necessary)
8 March 2023
listening through speakersAvid Acutus
Benz Micro LP-S
Linn Klimax DS (Renew)
TEAD Mastergroove Mk 2
TEAD Vibe Phoenix / Pulse 2
TEAD Linear A mk 2
TEAD Model One
Luxman P-1u
Sennheiser HD800

I haven’t bought anything in ages.

I didn’t consciously decide to stop buying things (I rarely consciously decide to do anything) but one day, I realised that’s what has happened. And I don’t miss it.

I don’t listen to as much music as I used to, but I haven’t stopped altogether. There’s still plenty of music playing, and I still er, access stuff digitally. I haven’t stopped looking at physical media either; I still read my record shop’s mailout most weeks, but don’t order.

Maybe that’s because I haven’t heard of 80% of what’s on there, and the other 20% is reissues of stuff I’ve already got. But that 80% is a lot of music, and I hadn’t heard of 80% of the stuff on the mailout in 1998, but I bought as much of that as I could afford.

Did I just get old? Or has something else happened? Has, as one might say, the world changed, or have I changed? As always with an either/or, it’s both.

Records were cheaper in the 1990s of course, and I had more disposable income, but I think the key difference is that if you didn’t buy that Iowa Beef Experience 7” back then, how else were you going to hear it?

It wasn’t the physical item that held the value, it was the sound in the grooves. It was having heard it, and being able to hear it, and being able to play it for someone, or tape it for someone. The music was rare, and valued: less so the artefact. The thing I valued wasn’t my record collection: it was my music collection.

I took me a long time to realise this. It took the streaming services and the instant availability of everything to teach it to me. Or maybe not to teach it, but to make it so.

I don’t stream music, because I find it distasteful that someone, somewhere, somehow, is trying to monetize a part of my everyday life. And Big Tech can choke on shit anyway: I’m not giving any of them a cent that I don’t have to. But because I’ve digitized every CD I’ve ever had, and because I’ve got five thousand records in my living room, and a radio, and Bandcamp, I don’t have to stream. I’ve got music to see me out, and then some. I still have records unplayed after twenty-five years in my house.

So, even without streaming, why buy records? You can, if you’re of a certain mindset, get practically anything you can think of, right now. For free, if you’re that way inclined.

There’s some case for preferring vinyl over digital. It’s measurably worse in almost every way, but I prefer the sound of my analogue chain to my digital one. But my analogue chain is thirty-odd-grand’s worth before you hit the preamp. Whilst accepting that there are folks with spare tonearm cables worth more than that, most people are playing records on decks and systems that sound like absolute shit. Assuming they play them at all. But why would you play them when YouTube through your laptop speakers sounds better, and the QC on modern records means they’re often so dished your Bluetooth Suitcase Belt Drive can’t even track properly? It’s absolutely not about the information in the grooves. It’s about having the thing, not using the thing. Like it’s about having the Tesla or the Labradoodle or the North Face or the Prime. Records in 2023 are a bit like NFTs: a way to add artificial scarcity to an infinitely replicable product, and rinse money out of suckers.

How else would you explain eighty-quid half-speed Whitney Houston reissues and six different sleeves for the new Lana Del Rey album? And I don’t understand it any more than I understood the people who bought the URI of the monkey in the hat.

Where’s the cachet? Where’s the satisfaction in clicking “add to basket” and sticking them on shelves still shrink-wrapped?

Record collecting now isn’t any fun, because it isn’t any challenge. All you need is money. If you’ve got that and internet connection, you can have pretty much anything by the end of the week. And if you haven’t got it: tough. Record collecting used to be about taste, and shoe-leather, and luck. Money didn’t come into it that much, even for a 17 year-old with no job. Now it’s a shallow, pay-to-play, box-ticking acquisition, hyper-commercialised, like everything else in the world. You needn’t even think. Discogs will tell you what fits your brand, and provide you with the add-to-cart link right there.

Like pretty much everything, it was mostly ruined by The Internet, then completely ruined by Rich People. I don’t know where all the rich people have come from, but there are far too many of them now, and they’re the reason I can’t afford the things I once could. They’re the reason Avid don’t give a shit about old customers like me because they can sell £240,000 speakers to people who’ll probably never use them.

Some people who know me would say I’m a contrarian. When no one else bought records, I did. Now it’s the thing to do, I don’t want to do it. There might be something in that. But really, who’d want to associate themselves with something advertising “creatives” think is cool?

(Side note: there’s an advert on the telly where a CGI man and a woman dance in an upstairs room to an LP12-style record player on a table. Call the ASA. I had an LP12, and if it wasn’t on a shelf on an external wall, you couldn’t look at it without it skipping.)

I feel a need to get rid of stuff, not to acquire more. Getting rid of the whole record collection is still too big a step for me to take, but I have few regrets about the hundred or so that I sold last year. The sevens need thinning out now, and it won’t be any kind of wrench.