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Durham University


Music, Media and Technologies

Karlyn King (University of Birmingham) - Vinyl records vs digital ephemera: does the medium of music matter?

15:40-17:10 - Session III: Theories and applications

In an era when music is considered a utility rather than a possession, this research considers the theory of technological advance shaping our musical consumption culture, with a potential reversal at play, initially conceptualised by McLuhan in 1988. McLuhan theorised that when a technology, or medium, is overwhelmed due to its own nature, it can cause a reversal back to older mediums.

In December 2016, vinyl album sales outsold digital downloads for the first time (Savage, 2016). This is also the year that vinyl sales made more money for British artists than streaming services (Plunkett, 2016). The goal of this research is to compare the artistic exchange between consumer and product, focussing on the current monopolised product format of iTunes and the resurgent vinyl record.

The broader scope of Actor Network theory will be considered alongside theories of nostalgia, fidelity of sound and an anti-digital backlash alongside primary pilot research conducted via semi structured interviews and case studies, to investigate how “inscribing and incorporating practices” (Beer, 2008) are producing “heterogeneous spaces of postmodern technologies and cultures” (ibid) within those interacting with vinyl records.

Such a study is useful for developing an understanding of the ideology of meaning associated with music consumption, to inform technological endeavours and music economics in relation to practices and formats. In addition, there is a lack of discourse contrasting perceptions of both formats amidst a plethora of literature on vinyl history.

Indicative References

McLuhan, M (1988) Laws of Media: The New Science. University of Toronto Press

Savage, M (2016) Vinyl Sales made more than downloads last week. BBC News. 6 December:

Plunkett, John. "Vinyl Sales Bigger Than YouTube for British Artists." (20 May 2016) Accessed 20 May 2016.

Beer, D (2008) The iconic interface and the veneer of simplicity: mp3 players and the reconfiguration of music collecting and reproduction practices in the digital age. Information, Communication & Society 11 (1): 71-88