Special Guest Post by Sarah Windisch
Vinyl is the best medium upon which music has ever been recorded.
There. I said it.
And I meant it.
I love records. I have hundreds. There are more turntables than people in my house. My son’s initials are LP on purpose. I celebrated my 33 ⅓ birthday.
I’m possibly a little extreme.
Records just sound better, and it’s inherent in how they’re made: they are pressed physically from stampers created from a master disc that physically has the music - as played in the studio - etched in acetate. The audio engineers think about things like groove width and velocity at the inner and outer edges, and adjust the mix to be truest to where it will appear on the album. A mastering engineer runs a lathe to actually cut the master when it is mixed to perfection - calibrated perfectly between channels and sometimes viewed with an oscilloscope - in one take. ONE. The cut has to be perfect, and the track separations are cut by hand.
That’s all before it heads to a company that will stamp the vinyl that we get as consumers.
That time and commitment to perfection at the very first step should be enough to make a person love vinyl more than a bunch of ones and zeroes algorithmically forced into a sine wave.
Vinyl has perfect imperfections created by human hands. Vinyl is a physical interpretation of an musician’s work. Digital music only has cold perfection.
Don’t get me wrong. I have an enormous CD collection and pay my monthly fee to have good Spotify. I love having access to whatever song strikes my fancy at the moment and having music in my car that will satisfy anyone who’s riding along. It’s great for someone with extremely eclectic taste to be able to examine a band before buying an album. And the pure nerdy fact that digital music even exists? That you can sample and query sound and recreate it in binary? That’s cool too.
It’s just that what’s new and better isn’t always...better. It might be more convenient. It makes life easier. It’s shiny! But the hisses and pops that make every record unique, the care put into liner notes and album artwork by artists to share their vision, the way your needle can wear the grooves down on a favorite track, the ritual of turning it over, of learning how to align the arm so your stylus is right over the start - those things feel more substantial than being able to DJ on the fly.
There’s so many Exciting New Things in education. Every day there’s a new acronym to be responsible for and a bandwagon to jump on. A new toy or tool to meet our students where they are. Some of these are fantastic. Some, let’s be honest, are 8-tracks: popular for a short time and destined to die out because they are internally flawed. Some are fine, but push older, battle-tested ideas aside, relegating them to idea-collectors and educational hipsters who use the old thing you’ve never heard of to prove their worth as teachers.
And those “vintage” ideas? How long did someone, or a group of people committed to creating them dedicate? Were they used for so long because of their worth, rather than because “that’s the way it’s always been done”? Are we as educators too quick to judge on that point? Are we too focused on keeping up that we forget to use the past to help us change for the future?
So when we talk about vinyl this week, let’s think about educational obsolescence and make nifty analogies about records and teaching. Naturally, we have to talk about the amazingness of album art and the idea of the gatefold and which album is The Album, too. We might even actually debate if analog is really warmer.
Because it is.
Sarah's record collecting is an honest habit - she's a music teacher. It's practically required. She lives and causes trouble in North Idaho, and wishes her students appreciated Herb Alpert as much as she does. Find her on Twitter @slwindisch .