Falling in love with Vinyl Records

Reporter / CHANG, CHIA-YING、TSENG, KUAN-HUA

As streaming media like Spotify or Apple Music have dominated the era, there is still a reminiscent voice spinning around this generation. Vinyl records known as gramophone records can record both sides of one disk, with each side of the vinyl playing from 3 minutes to half an hour. Around the 1910s, the world had developed a 10-inch black disk record, with round label called record core in the middle and shellac groove from the edge to the center. At that time, vinyl had become the mainstream of the music market and the black record disk is specifically known as “Shellac” or “78-turn record”. By the 1940s, 33 1/3 and 45 revolutions per minute record disk which were separately known as long-play microgroove (LP) and extended play (EP) were invented. Until now, they are still the most popular type in current vinyl market. 

Turntables can last up to twenty to fifty years. Photo by KUAN-HUA TSENG

Learning to Dig Vinyl Records

Song Wei Lun, owner of Xiao Song Record Shop slowly put the vinyl record on the turntables with the stylus on the cartridge tracking the groove from edge to center to produce a melodious tune. Teemed with vinyl records, Xiao Song Record Shop was established twenty-three years ago. Song Wei Lun, who opened his first shop in Taipei, has developed his interest in vinyl since he was  young. He started his business after retiring from military career. At first, he trained some students majoring in music and planning to study abroad to buy vinyl for him. It took time to understand what vinyl is all about and it was much easier for those who have studied music for years. However, the outcome was not as what he had expected. Song sent the overseas students money after they delivered the specific vinyl to him. Yet, the transactions did not go well because those trainees were not responsible for their decision, and they may not pick up the the records Song wanted. “ Misunderstanding resulted from communication has made me decide to do it on my own,”Song said. After much disappointments, he made up his mind to pick vinyl records on his own. He has visited several countries such as the US, France, Germany and Japan. It was in Japan that he found the most valuable records and shopped to his heart’s delight. After his visits to Japan, he frequently went there to pick up vinyl records. When it comes to vinyl, Song has his delicate taste and shares same insights about the market. “It is said that vinyl is a renaissance but in fact, this is nonsense,” he said. Given the fact that playing a piece of vinyl record requires a lot of devices, good turntables, speakers and amplifiers are indispensable. Spending money on these devices is not easy for young people. Moreover, some malicious businessmen even sell cheap devices to the young advents. 

Song Wei Lun finds vinyl records fascinating. Photo by KUAN-HUA TSENG

With the inexorable rise of digital music, the value of vinyl records has been affected. “Young people are not appreciating vinyl records nowadays, because they are used to listening to the digital ones,” Song pointed out. To him, the most essential part of music is the dedication conveyed by the producers and the composers. The way vinyl record transmits music has fascinated him so much that he can not help but fall in love with it. According to the Diffen website, “the CD audio is digitally encoded and read by a laser, while analog vinyl audio is physically read by a needle.” Compared with the precise digital record, vinyl is similar to the frequency of human-to-human conversation. Song Wei Lun stated that though vinyl records don’t sound as good as the digital ones but they deliver the details about music and the notes composed by the musicians. Along with every tone and accompaniment perfectly matched, digital records are like studio versions while vinyl records are more similar to music whispering in ones ears as the listener dives deeply into the art of music.

Song Wei Lun and his vinyl record collection. Photo by KUAN-HUA TSENG

Vinyl Decision: Spin-offs of Vinyl Records

In the hustle and bustle of Taipei City, there stands a retro cafe called Vinyl Decision. Inside Vinyl Decision, you can see some customers roaming around the shop in search of vinyl records. The British owner of this cafe, Mark Thomas, who has been in Taiwan for over twenty years, chose Taiwan to be his final destination for selling second-hand vinyl records. Yet, running a business is difficult, especially under the circumstances that the second-hand market is no longer popular. “By offering a place and a chance for those who enjoy vinyl through selling food, beer or other servings is how we strike a balance between earning a living and keeping what we love,” said Thomas. 

When celebrated composers like Bob Dylan or The Beatles wrote the music, they imagined it would be delivered through vinyl record and that is why Thomas found it to be so fascinating. Even though the price is mostly more expensive than that of CDs, the irreplaceable part of vinyl is its engagement with music composers. To Thomas, the instant way for music streaming has eliminated the exact meaning of music. With the button of ”skip” or “shuffle” on the music player, people can rarely enjoy the playing of music. Vinyl records are “monsters” that can last up to fifty or sixty years as long as they are kept properly. Moreover, restoring vinyl requires a lot of effort since its surface must be kept clean. Besides cleaning the disk regularly, storing them in a dry room matters as well. A little bit of squeezing may lead the disk to deform. 

Customers enjoy vinyl records and servings in Vinyl Decision. Photo by KUAN-HUA TSENG

Vinyl record is not just a disk but a way of expression. A sense of warmth is deeply embedded in people’s mind with the rolling of the vinyl records. Fortunately, creativity seems to live to its extreme. Discarded vinyl records not only become ornaments, but can also be transformed into art works such as clocks and mobile phone cases. In short, no matter how vinyl records develop, there are still some people who find them to be enchanting. With the passing of time, vinyl records can exist in different forms, showing their charm to the world.