For the Record

The way we listen to music has changed a lot in the last decade. And I, probably like many of you, have been absorbing music mostly though Spotify or YouTube. And I realized how much I miss listening to music. And I mean really listening. Through changes in technology, music has become something of a convenience, or an accompaniment to something else, rather than an event in itself.

Because it’s so accessible, music feels now like something disposable. Or worse yet, something that we watch, rather than hear, in the form of YouTube (or tiktok/Instagram) videos. A mentor shared a wisdom with me when I was young: “people listen with their eyes, kid.” And those words are no truer than today. Music has been demoted… a mere side dish in a gluttonous sensory banquet.

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How many of us can remember the last time we sat down, without scrolling away on our cellphones, and just listened to a song—or, God forbid, a whole album?

For me, it was a few days ago. For my birthday, my girlfriend bought me a record player; probably because of me rabbiting on about the above complaints until she could take no more. (This squeaky wheel is officially oiled.) But before that, I’m ashamed to say, it’s been too long.

And I think like me, a whole new generation is “re”discovering vinyl because the conveniences of the digital age are just not scratching that itch. This trend first struck me a few years back while touring with my band in Tel Aviv, when we walked into a record store that seemed right out of the 1980s. No CDs, just two floors of vinyl. And all brand new pressings.

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It’s possible some of our older readers are rolling their eyes at this point and thinking, “why go back to all that? Digital music is so much more convenient!” And they’re right, at least in part. But convenience isn’t always a positive. Aside from the sonic differences (audiophiles will endlessly proclaim the warmth of vinyl) there are other advantages to records.

Broadly speaking, I think we never really value what comes easy. It is so much more satisfying to hunt through old records than to be fed some Spotify playlist algorithm.

Here are some other added benefits:

-Every 15 mins you have to get up to change sides, so there’s an added cardio bonus.

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-You can now look down upon anyone who doesn’t listen to music on vinyl. Next time someone says to you, “I love insert artist here”… you can say, “hmmph , you just have to hear them on vinyl. That was the way their music was supposed to be heard.” (When you buy a new record player, it comes with a six-month warranty and a license to be a conceited ass.)

Hoarder Record Collection
A respectable “starter collection” of vinyl albums. (photo courtesy Apollo Music)

Today I went to a second hand record store and trawled through rows of old albums. I whittled my pile down to a more affordable handful of gems, carried them home (damn, I forgot how heavy vinyl is!), poured a glass of wine, sat down on the couch and, just listened. And here’s what I learned today:

-Many records were never released digitally, so you can find some rare old albums.

-It was okay in the ’70s to have a completely unrelated hot chick on your record cover. (Bonus points if she’s pictured with some sort of food or whipped cream.)

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-Herb Alpert was an extremely good looking dude. Damn! (He does not look like his music sounds, if you know what I mean.)

-a record left uncovered on your turntable doubles as a barometer of your apartment’s dust level.

-If you have rare old records at home, you could be sitting on a goldmine. Some of these records are selling for over $100 second hand!

Yes, I know it’s a commitment. Yes, I know it takes up a lot of room. Yes, I know it will be a hassle when I one day I’ll have to move all these heavy boxes to a new apartment. But so begins a new love affair with vinyl. From now on, I want my music collection to give me back trouble.

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Reedman extraordinaire Adrian Cunningham is the leader of Professor Cunningham and his Old School Jazz Band, based in New York City. Adrian Cunningham was voted in a 2017 Hot House Jazz Magazine readers’ poll the Best Alto Sax Player in New York. His most recent album is Duologue, issued on the Arbors Jazz label. Visit him on the world wide web: www.adriancunningham.com.

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