In the midst of the digital age, my generation has spearheaded an unexpected movement — the resurgence of vinyl records in mainstream American culture. While CDs and even digital sales, such as iTunes, are on the rapid decline, record sales are higher than they have been in decades. Why?
From an outsider’s perspective, it doesn’t make much sense to revive vinyl. Records are not easily transportable since both the disks and the players are massive. It’s expensive to buy new records, especially considering a Spotify membership is only about $10 a month, or $4.99 for students, for unlimited music.
People claim that the sound quality of vinyl is superior to that of digital music, which can be true. However, the kind of person who usually totes that assertion tends to be the pseudo-intellectual hipster type who plays their records on a low grade, shoebox Crosley record player.
What draws me to prefer listening to vinyl is the opposite. I love the imperfection of it. I adore the crackles that you hear before the first song plays. I live for the microsecond scratches in between songs, the slightly higher pitch of the tunes. Sometimes, I feel like that’s the way the music was supposed to be heard. If that makes me a hipster, fine.
Nowadays, it seems like fewer and fewer people physically own their music. With the influx of streaming services such as Spotify, Pandora and SoundCloud, the need to own music seems like a thing of the past. That’s another component that adds to the novelty of records. In comparison to simply clicking a “+” button to add a song to your library, purchasing and playing vinyl is an experience.
The experience begins at the record store. There’s something ridiculously satisfying in browsing through records at a record shop. I usually don’t go into the store with preconceived ideas of which records I want to buy, but I enter with the mindset that I could walk out with anything. You could spend hours sifting through stacks of vinyl. Moreover, unlike when you browse music on Spotify, album artwork plays a major role. You get to see, in a massive display, cover art that too often gets overlooked today.
When you get home from the store, the experience continues in full force. After gently uncovering the record from its protective sleeve, you place it on the turntable and place the needle at its initial groove. Next, you wait with anticipation for the first track to begin.
That’s another area of the vinyl experience that make records so special — they force you to listen to albums in their entirety. I’m culpable of it too, but with the rise of iTunes came the ability only to purchase one or two tracks off of an album. I got my first iPod as a hand-me-down from my mom on my 10th birthday. I was granted a limited allowance for music purchasing. Why would the 11-year-old version of myself blow my numbered budget on an entire Akon album when all I wanted was to hear “Smack That?” I wouldn’t. I would pay 99 cents to download the singular track. As a younger music-listener, I neglected too many good songs artists had because I was too busy solely purchasing the hits off of the records. It’s a bit of a pain to skip around songs when listening to a vinyl record, so it’s easier to listen to the record in succession, the way the artists intended for you to hear it.
We’re in an era where people are looking to the past for inspiration: Overalls are hip again, Fujifilm mass produces Polaroid cameras, we continue to remake the same movies. So it makes sense that record sales are increasing. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like my generation has little identity of our own. Instead, we seem to steal the key trends from other generations. There isn’t anything necessarily wrong with that, but what is Generation-Y going to be remembered for years down the line? If we continue to idly retrace the same lines we drew years ago, will we stay at a cultural standstill?