The future perfect progressive of music

The FUTURE PERFECT PROGRESSIVE TENSE indicates a continuous action that will be completed at some point in the future. This tense is formed with the modal “WILL” plus the modal “HAVE” plus “BEEN” plus the present participle of the verb (with an -ing ending): “Next Thursday, I will have been working on this project for three years.”

Q: When is the future not like the future?
A: When it’s the past.

Vinyl is making a comeback. It’s been making a comeback for years; we’ve all heard that. And now, all the well-informed people will tell you that the comeback is over — indeed, the whole thing was just a sham for poseurs in the first place. But behind the clickbaity headlines (which often wildly exaggerate the claims of the actual articles) it seems increasingly clear to me that something is definitely going on in Vinyland. Yes, production quality might be variable, and the albums that are selling tend to be old albums that have already shifted millions of units, but people are excited about them.

I am a born digital kid. I love the extreme flexibility of making music digitally, and the way you can use it to make completely unnatural sounds that no human could make any other way. But I also love analog, and I know why engineers, mixers and producers swear by their tube consoles and preamps. The best digital tools right now, as far as I’m concerned, are the ones that provide the most authentic reproductions of analog gear.

So I’ve been on the fence about vinyl up to now. Not even that in fact: it just sort of hasn’t affected me. My view up to now (and still my view) is that you only start thinking about doing that when your audience starts asking for it. Getting your music pressed to vinyl is expensive, and I still have boxes and boxes of unsold CDs in my cupboard, as most musicians do these days.

But then I learnt about Jack White’s Third Man Records, and what they’re doing with their whole setup. And I started to really feel the excitement.

(If you’re really interested in the more technical side of things, there’s this Adam Savage video, which was actually how I first learnt about the company.)

They’re not just pressing records, but they’re getting new record pressers built, along with all the other old-school technology like hydraulics, boilers, piping… But more than that, they also have a record shop at the front, selling albums and assorted shiny accessories. More than that… they have a room where you can get up on stage and perform your song, and they’ll cut you a record of that performance. And more than that, there’s a booth at the front where you can perform into a microphone and get a record cut for you then and there (like Pinky does in Brighton Rock).

And just look at the design of the factory! No one does visual design, particularly colour, quite like Jack White, and it’s clear that the whole space has been designed with minute attention to detail. This is part of what makes the whole operation exciting to me: everything about it, from the uniforms to the workflow, is treated like a work of art.

But the one thing I don’t get from all of this is the sense that this is in any way a fundamental attack on the ubiquity of digital music. I don’t know what Jack White or the vinyl fans think about whether digital music should be stamped out or wound back, but I think this kind of vinyl enterprise sits perfectly with the age of streaming. And I think I can see why vinyl particularly is so popular.

The NME article that I linked to earlier suggests that most people who are buying vinyl are (a) buying old albums that have already sold very well and (b) are not even listening to them. Sometimes they’re putting them in cases on their walls as purely display items! So they couldn’t listen to them even if they wanted to.

And I can absolutely see why, and I don’t think it has anything to do with posing.

When I first moved onto a houseboat, years ago, I knew I didn’t have a lot of space, so I did my best to get rid of as many CDs, books, DVDs and even videos and cassettes, that I could. But when I started to settle in, I was struck by how bare and… frankly, lonely the space seemed. I could put pictures up, sure, but I realised that what it was really missing was the shelves of CDs, books, DVDs, etc. Just one glance at one of my favourite albums could put me right back into that joyful and emotionally complex headspace. (Books are particularly good for this: can there be anything else that provides as many mental associations per square centimetre as a book spine does?)

The purpose of buying albums on vinyl, as I see it, is not to listen to it. Which may sound absurd, but few people who buy Tang dynasty or Wedgwood ceramics would ever dream of serving dinner out of them. People have always loved to buy functional objects that have a story to them, and the more valuable the story makes them, the less likely the objects are to be used.

People always assume that when new technology comes along, everyone will stop using the old technology. But I think what tends to happen instead is that there is more choice available, and although the majority of people (myself included) will usually go with the most convenient technology, sometimes it just isn’t powerful enough to do the job in hand.

And so I can see that über-library streaming services like Spotify will probably continue to be the way that people discover and get to know the music. It is by far the most convenient way to do it. But when you have access to all, or nearly all, of the music out there, how do you avoid getting lost in all the choice? What you do is pick out the music that means the most to you, and you get it in a physical format. And put it on a shelf at home, or even on your wall. You make it a permanent part of your everyday life.

Which explains why it’s the old albums that have sold a lot of units that are the ones that are being bought on vinyl: these are the albums that have stood the test of time, and that people know they want to be a bigger part of their lives. And I’ll bet many people do still listen to the actual records, because that format has the benefit of preventing you from skipping to another album, in much the same way as seeing a film at the cinema prevents you from talking to people and checking your phone and generally not concentrating on the screen.

With this in mind, I think the future of vinyl looks pretty rosy, and I can’t wait to see what companies like Third Man do next.  I saw in an interview that they’ve even pressed flower petals into clear vinyl for one release.

So don’t be shy: embrace the vinyl revolution! And if you have any concerns about it maybe being a bit of a hipster thing to do, seriously, don’t worry. Any hipster worth their penny farthing will already have moved on to the wax cylinder.