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There’s still a place in our hearts for old stuff in a digital world

4th May 2021 By James Ellaby
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In recent months we’ve seen the dawn of a new way to purchase digital music, fashion and art. It’s called a non-fungible token (NFT) and if you properly understand what that means or how they work, you’re no doubt much younger than I am.

Is this the future for music, coming at a time when vinyl sales continue to skyrocket to new heights while Spotify and streaming dominates the industry? From my experiences as a record collector, there has to still be a place for physical ownership and the stories that come along with it.

When I was growing up, my parents had a record player, but it was more of a piece of furniture than an active part of our lives. The only record I remember them having was Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds and we only ever listened to that on cassette.

Vinyl hadn’t been significant in my life growing up and I had no real attachment to records. They were history.

From analog to digital… and back again

My music addiction started when I was a teenager, moving quickly from cassettes to CD and then onto MP3s. After buying my first iPod I uploaded all my CDs and sold them. I’d gone digital.

But fast forward several years down the line and my latest iPod finally gave up and died. And now Apple isn’t making those traditional iPods anymore. By this point, everyone was streaming from Spotify instead and MP3s were so yesterday. We were moving from a model of music ownership to one of subscriptions and just borrowing the songs when we wanted them.

This left my huge MP3 collection stranded with no easy solution for listening to it anywhere but my own home. This wasn’t what the digital revolution had promised!

Six years ago, I was finally tempted to buy a record player and see what the fuss was about. Initially I bought new reissues of my old favourites, but soon I discovered the magic of second-hand record shops, and I fell in love with dusty, musty old albums. It’s a complicated world, full of jargon and codes and if you’re obsessed with getting first edition copies of albums (which I am) it can be costly.

But in a world of streaming, I’ve become more than a little addicted to music ownership all over again. People who call themselves audiophiles can tell you all about the SOUND of vinyl and why it’s better than digital music, but for me, it’s the stories of these old records that I love.

Record stores and stories

The oldest record I own is a Frank Sinatra album from 1948, called The Voice of Frank Sinatra. It’s the first pop long-player album ever released, which makes it the forerunner of every album released afterwards, from The Beatles to Billie Eilish.

But even more important are the personal vinyl stories. Second-hand records often have treasures hidden in them, from old receipts to clippings of reviews and I’ve even found a very old loan application form once. Sadly I’ve never found £930 in a Carpenters record though.

Lots of old records have people’s names written on them. Apparently they did this for when they took them to parties so at the end of the night they’d know which records were theirs.

One such album in my collection is a release by actor Jack Lemmon from 1958. My copy has a sticker on the back bearing the name of a former owner. It’s a rare enough name for me to have Googled it once and I found his online obituary.

He’d died a couple of years ago and his obituary told of him being an avid record collector, so it was clearly the same man who had once owned my Jack Lemmon album. Something about seeing his face and reading his story really had an impact on me.

This 60-year-old record that once sat on a shelf in Canada and meant something to him now sits on my shelf in Manchester and means something to me. One day when I’m gone it will mean something to someone else, somewhere else.

That’s what makes records important in a digital world of NFTs and Spotify. They’re history.