What the vinyl era can teach us about creating a better electronic music community today.
Although vinyl continues to be a popular medium for audiophiles and collectors, the record has long lost its place with the DJ, the disc jockey moniker a description of a skill no longer required for the position. There are many things to appreciate about that: no need to carry cases of records, a plethora of music available in an instant, new tracks released daily. No worries about matching beats. Electronic music is now much more accessible to everyone: easier to mix, easier to find, easier to produce.
Of course, easier isn’t necessarily better… or necessarily worse. It’s a different landscape, one that will continuously change as the scene, technology, and industry progresses. Although vinyl will likely never repeat as the main resource for DJs, there is still much from that era that we can learn and apply to today, with a goal of enhancing the underground electronic music experience for everyone.
A Greater Sensory Experience
Touch: The act of being able to reach out and feel your music creates a deeper connection, especially the act of mixing when you are physically slowing and speeding up the music with your touch. When you feel the music it creates a new connection in your mind alongside the listening input, building a fuller and richer experience. As Darin Epsilon acknowledges: “I miss being able to physically touch and feel my music.”
Visual: When asked what he misses most about vinyl, Luke Fair said it was “The visual association of tracks and their associated sleeve artwork/labels.” The visual aspect adds another layer of connecting with your music. Imagine digging through new releases at the record store when you see a label design that you recognize, your heart flutters a bit as you grab the record and head to the turntable as you wonder what this new track could sound like. Labels like Hooj Choons had this idea down, slight changes to their branding create a recognition and excitement for new releases. Beyond standard label artwork, the quality of LP design would be enough for you to pick a release out of the crowd. The connection of beautiful and interesting artwork often coincides with a beautiful and interesting track, and your mind will forge that connection when you are digging through your music in the future.
Smell: Another sense to add to the experience – the smell of the record store, the smell of your record collection while you sift through tracks. Of parties gone by, the places your music has traveled to. It all creates more ways to pull the memories together and form a connection to the music. As Quivver said:
“I miss the smell of vinyl… honestly.”
Although perhaps we can’t recreate the touch and smell part, the idea of trying to create a full sensory experience can still be applied. Make your music more distinctive and tangible by going beyond the track itself. Associate meaningful artwork, tell a story through the whole package, whether that’s visually or with your words. Infuse meaning that will make your music memorable on multiple levels, so that it will connect with listeners in a distinctive and enduring way. Or even get a limited number of vinyl printed. People love special editions, and there is a variety of customization you can do to really make your record a collectible fans will hold on to.
One of the bi-products of having physical media is needing a place to sell it at. Long live the record store. Here you could connect with others whose eyes light up at hearing a new track from their favorite label, who could spend all day listening to records, who put their value on music as much as you do. For many, this was a tight knit community, one where you could be found sifting through vinyl at the local record store during the day and dancing in the dark at night. Music brings people together in a way that nothing else can, when something energizes your soul, your true self shines through and you’re able to forge close connections with those who feel the same.
It was also a connection with the rest of the world. Records would come in from across the globe that you would find in your local store, creating an indescribable bond with some far off DJ or producer, as you took home a part of them.
Everyone had their place. Quivver had Massive and 3 Beat, Nick Muir had Black Market Records in Soho. In Tel Aviv Weekend Heroes would go to “Third Ear”. In his college years, Darin Epsilon would shop at Gramophone Records in Chicago where he loved hanging out at record shops and chatting with other locals. I think we can all agree with him:
“It was such a joy to bring home a bag filled with brand new vinyl!”
We have an even greater opportunity to connect with those far off DJs and producers today, so take advantage – tell them you love their music, how it makes you feel. Find ways to meet in person with fellow passionate pursuers of music in your local communities too. Create events that appeal to a deeper crowd, go to the record stores that still exist and sift through records, talk to those around you.
This is still a tight knit community, so even if it’s not in person, there are many ways to connect and talk about music with those who feel the same. Don’t hesitate to reach out, to listen, learn, and share with each other.
Quality through Challenge & Limitation
Putting in the work:
As a producer the medium of vinyl meant you had to work harder to be heard. A lot of money needed to be invested to press vinyl, so a label had to have faith in the potential of your track. Your music had to stand out, to be worth it for someone to purchase, to invest in. Not only that, but merely to connect with labels internationally took a lot of time and effort, and your passion had to be greater than the obstacles.
As a DJ you had to make great investments in your self. From a turntable setup at home to constantly sifting through record stores for new music, the money and time you had to put into your passion meant you really had to love what you were doing enough to make sacrifices in other areas of your life. Not only was your skill important, but the quality of tracks that you played. The tracks that you had defined your style, and owning an exceptional rare vinyl could set you apart with the crowd.
Because of these limitations and challenges, a high standard was required from everyone in the industry. In order to get your record made, purchased, and heard, it had to pass through the limitations of your own studio (the need for actual analog gear!), get connected to a label (of which there were far less), through a distributor, to a record store or through a promo pool, and hopefully onto the turntable of a DJ in front of a crowd. Listeners won’t know what the name of the track is though, so off to crate digging at the local record store to hope they find that track they loved at the show.
All this effort, this transmuted passion, led to something wonderful: Timeless music. Music that you remember for years; you remember when you first heard it, when you first bought it, and you can take it out of your record case and listen to it today, bringing back all those memories and reminding you why you fell in love with it in the first place. I asked several DJs about their favorite record, and it’s obvious how these special tracks have stuck with them:
Darin Epsilon: That’s a really difficult one to answer but I’d have to go with two tracks that got me interested in Progressive House to begin with: the original ‘Heaven Scent’ vinyl by John Digweed & Nick Muir on Bedrock Records and ‘Stage One’ by Space Manoeuvres on Hooj Choons
Nick Muir: X-Press 2, London Xpress – a game changer for me.
Weekend Heroes: Without doubt – Placebo – Running Up That Hill (Infusion RMX) (White Label)
Quivver: There are far too many great records to pick a favourite but the one that I played the most over the last few years I was using vinyl was the Junkie XL remix of ‘Synesthesia’ by Infusion. I played that as my last record so many times…a massive, massive track!!
Luke Fair: Stereo dub of David Morales and Albert Cabrera – Higher. I went through 3 copies.
While it’s good to have the opportunity for more people to get their music into the world, the result has over saturated the market with mediocre music. Even the great tracks get lost in the shuffle as producers have to get music out quickly and often in order to be recognized. The shelf life of a great track is less than a month as people move on to “what’s next”.
We need timeless tracks today.
Create as if you didn’t have thousands of other tracks to compare to. Place limitations on your productions and try something different. Dig deep beyond the promo and top 100 lists and find your own sound that no one’s heard anything like before. Invest in your own quality and continuous growth with relentless passion.
Although we may never return to the era when vinyl was king, we can at least appreciate and apply some of the lessons that we learned from that time. By creating music that connects to magic moments through multiple senses, finding connections with passionate peers, and challenging ourselves to go beyond the comfort zone into deeper discoveries, every person involved in this music can take what we’ve learned from the early electronic music days and make today’s scene even better.