By Charlie Brigden
Blood-red. Green zombie splatter. Dino-DNA. If you’re a soundtrack vinyl collector you’ll recognise these terms instantly, and will probably wince, the magnitude of which will be dependent on whether or not you paid over the mark for one of these colourways. But like it or lump it, coloured vinyl is big business. But are people sacrificing the music for the packaging?
First of all, the myth. “Coloured vinyl sounds worse than black vinyl”. This has been a long-fought argument from both sides, earlier today I was talking with someone about the difference in sound quality. What I gave was my opinion from personal experience, that black is preferable. I’m not about to state it as a fact – especially since black vinyl is by its very nature “coloured” – vinyl in its original form is clear, or somewhere about there on the spectrum.
One reason some people do claim black is better is due to Carbon Black – a pigment compound added to the vinyl that helps to reduce surface noise, which coloured compounds don’t manage as well. Again, as far as I know this is a theory – like many things, what we hear is down to our own interpretation (which usually generates the same arguments about CD versus vinyl) – but feel free to shoot me down if it’s actually right. Of course, there are a ton of other things that could affect the sound quality during pressing.
But the question here isn’t even about the sound quality (not that it’s not uber-important), it’s about the sheer magnitude of colour releases and the rabid rush to get them, where people will often buy two or more variants. And because this is a niche market (which to be fair has exploded), the records don’t have massive manufacturing runs and are produced as limited editions, commonly with coloured more limited than black, which in turn creates a marketplace that seemingly values colour over music.
I should probably emphasise that I’m not against coloured vinyl – I have a ton of records with various colourways and most of them look and sound great. But it’s a gimmick, like the whole deal with every single expensive reissue being pressed on 180gram like it’s a holy weight. There’s always a mad dash to be first in line to get some, which can cause serious issues both with server overload and fan expectations, just look at the Friday The 13th “Blood-filled” sale. But it’s never about the music. It’s surprisingly hard to find discussions about the actual music on these records against how cool the splatter is and how great it is that you got it.
This is certainly part of a larger cultural issue, where we consume at such a high rate that it’s become a conveyor belt of sorts. We wait, the record comes out, we buy it, play it, and ask when the next one is coming. This is a big issue in CD soundtrack circles, where there are great releases constantly – many of which are actual film score grails – and there’s so much anticipation but when it finally comes along, it’s a case of “done, next!” or “Oh, I don’t want that one, what’s next?” A staggering sense of entitlement given the work that goes into these albums. It’s like dating someone for two months, finally having sex with them, and then casting them off so you can find the next one to conquer.
Really, the most important thing is the music itself, which is why in reviews I write mostly about the music and then a short section on sound quality and packaging. That’s why I write about soundtracks in the first place, and while vinyl is my favourite medium, I buy CD and digital as well (not cassettes – don’t understand that one at all). Just remember why it’s created, so we can listen and love the music, not so someone can buy four copies, three of which they’ll hawk on Discogs or eBay for inflated prices. Now I’m going to finish listening to the recent reissue of Air’s music for The Virgin Suicides. It was cheap, it’s on black, but it sounds great, and the music is amazing.
Which is all I ever really ask for.