graphicpush

Thoughts on branding, design, writing and life by Kevin Potts. Established 2003.

The Love of Vinyl

It was obvious that musicians took their album art seriously. More and more, I find myself scanning shared iTunes playlists and hoping just a picture shows up in the lower left corner.

Yesterday, I started cleaning up my office at home and rediscovered a huge crate of vinyl records. Not only did I practically forget I had them, but I very much forgot some of the gems—records I played over and over years ago, but have since left to collect dust.

(History: years ago when I lived in Philadelphia, I was very much into electronic music and DJ culture. Not so much the fluffy house stuff or the rave scene, but the darker stuff like industrial/ebm, tech step and goa. I was an aspiring DJ who had a fair number of gigs, but grew tired of that drama long before I had any kind of recognition. The vinyl is mostly leftover from this disc jockey era.)

For as long as I can remember, I have been a rabid music collector. What I couldn’t get on CD I bought on vinyl, and sometimes I bought both versions just because. Even though I am the first one to stand up and proclaim digital downloading as the future of music acquisition (and I don’t even own an iPod—!), I feel there is something lost when a folder of blank MP3s arrives without packaging.

Maybe it’s the designer and artist in me, but there’s just something physical and tangible about a 12” record with full-color artwork. For instance, I own Frontline Assembly’s Implode album on both CD and vinyl. Dave McKean’s artwork is gorgeous, but it’s far more breathtaking when you’re holding a heavy, foot-square double album rather than a 5” piece of plastic.

album cover art for FLA's implode album

This has been said before, I know, and there’s really no stopping the ever-quickening drive toward consumer convenience, but I find it just a bit sad that one of the most appealing parts of music collecting is slowly being lost. I used to hang around the record store for hours, listening to obsessive collectors discuss cover variations of the same album. I often bought music based on artwork alone. I liked the experimentation. I loved studying the design work. It was obvious that musicians took their album art seriously—full-blown art directing, expensive photoshoots, hiring well-known illustrators—and it was obvious that fans treasured the results. More and more, I find myself scanning shared iTunes playlists and hoping just a picture shows up in the lower left corner.

This is not a discussion on the superior audio format, because everyone knows vinyl is better. But looking through the records, I suddenly understood where some of my very first interests in design as art grew from. These were canvases drafted by a graphic designer, not just a painter or photographer. The illustration was important, but equally so was the typography, color choices (colored vinyl anyone?) and the Big Concept.

Currently, my ridiculously expensive Vestax turntable languishes in storage, so I can’t even play these records. (Including my copy of Speedy J’s Public Energy No. 1, of which I only own on vinyl and know no one who has a CD copy I can borrow.) Guess I’ll just have to get some of these so I can enjoy the pretty pictures.

commentary + criticism

Mitch

wrote the following on Thursday December 30, 2004

I have a very close friend who is a DJ and spends money regularly on records, he’d probably give his left lung to get his hands on what you have… hahaha :)

Brendan

wrote the following on Thursday December 30, 2004

I couldn’t agree with you more man. I wanted to be a graphic designer because of my love of album artwork, especially Hipgnosis/Storm Thorgerson stuff (Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Audioslave etc etc). More recently I’m obsessed with Stanley Donwood’s Radiohead artwork.

I used to spend hours (before having children of course..) just sitting in my bean bag listening to the tunes and just gazing at the artwork. I stopped buying vinyl for years (didn’t seem practical) but have realised that I love the large artwork and the sound so much that I can’t deny my addiction any longer!! The good thing is that second hand vinyl doesn’t cost you much, and it’s a lot easier to go out and by it than to try and download an albums worth of MP3s over a dial up connection.

I read recently that a couple of record companies have closed their vinyl plants in the UK, and it will be a sad day if they stop making it once and for all.

basilisk

wrote the following on Thursday December 30, 2004

I just surfed in to read your icon editor roundup but like the design so started monkeying around… now this is interesting to me, as I am still very much balancing the graphics/design world with my old-time interest in vinyl and – specifically – Goa! So, just an interesting synchronicity here… while I may have grown disenchanted with the quality of the medium (better sound is nice but skips and pops that grow with time are not) there is nothing bad to be said about the large-size covers and the design possibilities inherent to such a large canvas. This is one of the primary reasons I never understood the white label hype – who wants a record without one of those brilliant covers anyway?

Here are a few of my favourite covers from my collection – http://www.discogs.com/release/77399
http://www.discogs.com/release/48820
http://www.discogs.com/release/119792

Nice website btw…
peace.

Mison

wrote the following on Thursday December 30, 2004

I couldn’t agree more here. I used to be a huge laserdisc fan and the same applies to this too – opening a gatefold – 12” movie was just one of the nicest parts to owning the film – the actual process of flipping these discs to watch the other side never bothered me in the slightest!

What concerns me is that I don’t actually see DVD as a collectable medium – the packaging they have is awful and what’s more – when we eventually have solid state electronics in our movie playback device of the future – the whole thing is going to be smaller and even less tangible than ever.

zig

wrote the following on Friday June 24, 2005

I have come across some primo vinyl that used to belong to my father, 1950s thru 1990s. Do you know of anyone who would come and appraise the collection?
Thanks