Vinyl records have long been considered a dinosaur in the modern music world, an ancient relic of our parents and grandparents’ memories. In this day and age where even CDs are slowly being phased out and forgotten, it would seem there would be little hope for vinyl in a culture that values portability and ease when it comes to technology.
But the world of vinyl is undergoing a revival that is saving the format from total extinction. Nielsen Soundscan data shows that vinyl record sales topped two million units last week alone, a roughly 37 percent improvement from 2008 sales. Sales are on target to reach their highest mark since 1991, with genres like alternative and classic rock selling the most. The medium has gained some considerable momentum from the mid-to-late 90s when it was a format mostly utilized by underground musicians and DJs. Now many popular mainstream artists release their music on vinyl that comes with digital downloads of the tracks, giving fans a bigger bang for their buck.
Vinyl records and record players are no longer a thing of the past, and they have grown increasingly popular amongst the college crowd and those with a real passion for hearing music in its truest analog form. Retro-chic hipsters are flocking to independent record stores like Amoeba Records or Rasputin Music to browse the aisles overflowing with records from every genre and artist imaginable.
But it’s not clear if this vinyl comeback is being caused by those who see records as simply something kitschy and nostalgic much like Polaroid cameras, another technological treasure revived by the hipster set. Just go down to your local Urban Outfitters and you can see classic portable record players on sale, along with records by artists like MGMT, Sonic Youth and Fleet Foxes.
Undoubtedly, a large part of the appeal of vinyl records is their nostalgic value; it’s hard to put on a record and not instantly feel transported to a time of Mods, hippies and disco dancers. The vinyl revival is a way for Generation Y-ers to reconnect with the glamorous decades of the 50s, 60s and 70s, years that we try to relive through our fashion sense and music taste.
I was initially ambivalent about this trend when I first noticed it gaining popularity. I had not yet been “converted” to the way of the record player, and was quick to dismiss it as a fad that was being propagated by those trendy hipsters who embrace all things vintage. As I did some research online, I felt myself being drawn in. Images of sitting on my bed on a rainy day, reading a good book while listening to an old Bob Dylan record dreamily played out in my head.
Deciding to try it out for myself, I acquired a Crosley portable record player. Reminiscent of old leather suitcases from the 1950s, it truly had a vintage feel to it that was irresistible. I couldn’t wait to pop in a record and hear for myself what all the fuss was about. A classic album like “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” seemed like the most logical place for a vinyl newbie for me to start.
Once the needle dropped on the thick black plastic, the faint baselines and drum-beats emerged. From that first rocking guitar riff of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” to the sultry, sitar-drenched “Within You, Without You”, and to the cacophonous orchestral explosion ending of “A Day in the Life,” I was completely absorbed in the music. There was something hypnotic about watching the record spin, as the grooves in the plastic slowly blur and fade. The subtle scratches, static and crackling sounds only added to the listening experience.
This is where vinyl truly trumps digital music. The rich and nuanced sound quality of analog recording is something that can’t be replicated by CD recording or MP3s. Vinyl records have grooves carved into them that mirror the original sound’s waveform, which means that no information from the original sound is lost. The science behind it gets even more technical but it basically proves that analog, vinyl recordings are the truest way of listening to music.
The most glaring disadvantage of vinyl record players, and one of the main reasons for their downfall, is their size and inconvenience. You can’t exactly take your turntable with you when you walk to class or go to the gym, and you can’t purchase individual songs with records, or listen to as wide a variety of songs as easily as you can with MP3 players. These obvious factors have kept people away from vinyl for so long. For people our age who have been exposed to the ease of iPods since our early teens, it’s hard to imagine any other way of listening to music.
But nothing tops vinyl when it comes to quality. It’s not just the sound quality either. Listening to vinyl is an experience that enraptures all your senses; running your fingers along the delicate grooves of the plastic, studying the album artwork and watching the record endlessly spin are all parts of the experience that make vinyl records so fun.
It only took one album for me to see the light and realize that the newfound attention that vinyl is receiving is well-deserved and not merely a fad. I suggest that if you really love your music, treat yourself to the joy of vinyl and let yourself get lost in the music.