Vinyl Revival in the Digital Era

When you think of vinyl records, you might be transported to a distant memory of your grandmother blowing the dust off an old record and setting it on an obnoxiously large contraption before delicately placing a tiny needle on where *she thinks* the first song begins.  In an instant, doo-wop or Motown originals from the mid-20th century will flood the room and infect the ears of everyone nearby, as you sit there contemplating asking Alexa to play the clearly remastered rendition instead.  


This is an exaggerated way of saying one simple fact: vinyl records are old technology.  In the recent calendar year, however, vinyl record sales have surpassed CDs for the first time since the mid-1980s.  As of September, vinyl record sales made up 62% of all physical music revenue in 2020.  


In a world where we constantly crave the newest, most advanced piece of technology, a resurgence in vinyl record popularity is a bit surprising, to say the least.  More importantly, in this digital era of music where you can stream almost any song ever written as much as you want for as little as $5 a month, why are consumers still willing to pay upwards of $30 for a single vinyl record?

“Hard copies of LPs show interest, passion, and a deeper connection to any given artist,” says Marc Weinstein, co-founder of the legendary Amoeba Music record shop. 


Much like passionate readers and book collectors’ preference for the hardcover editions of books they most enjoy, the closest you can come to a piece of musical art is to own the vinyl record.  Marc mentions that “the LP has the artwork and is curated the way the artist intended, not to mention all the notes and related data like who plays or produces the work – none of which you find on streaming services.” 


Vinyl records often come with exclusive photographs, writings, and artwork specifically curated for the medium, serving as an extension of the music itself.

Coupled with being an authentic piece of music memorabilia, the experience of listening to a vinyl record is much more engaging and unique than streaming.  Playing a vinyl record forces the listener to pay more attention to the intricacies – removing the record from the sleeve, delicately placing the needle, flipping the record when side A concludes.  This ritualistic process allows the listener to establish a deeper connection to both the music and the artist.  


“It sounds much more crisp and real,” says Mina Hynes, a writer and avid record collector from Los Angeles, “streaming music or listening to a CD sounds the exact same every time – vinyl records create somewhat more of an authentic concert experience.” 


These slight musical variances on vinyl that Mina mentions allow the listener to notice and appreciate different layers of the song or album with each listen.  The materiality of vinyl records offers a certain warmth, richness, and depth that digital formats lack.  “It’s a marvel of the mechanical age – and it sounds at least as good, if not better,” says Weinstein, “How does it work? It’s a bit of magic at your fingertips.”

Furthermore, purchasing a hard copy of the music often allows the artist the opportunity to make decent money for their efforts, as opposed to the lackluster funds generated from streaming that are not nearly as profitable.  “I think if you are really into an artist you should support them somehow so they can keep creating,” says Mina.  For the diehard fans who want to subsidize their favorite artists’ efforts, purchasing vinyl is one of the more popular ways to do so.  


And it isn’t just current artists who are benefitting from this vinyl revival, as older LPs are still being sporadically consumed by music lovers across the country.  “The ephemeral nature of LPs adds to the experience,” Weinstein adds, “as the world changes every single day, here is evidence of a time when some magic happened.”  Whether you’re a crate-digging producer or a casual collector discovering the classics, connecting with older vinyl is like owning a little piece of music history.


When CDs were first introduced, many speculated that vinyl records had become outdated and were, essentially, dead in the water – though this recent resurgence would say otherwise.  While streaming is poised to remain the dominant method of consuming music for years to come, the engaging and authentic experience provided by vinyl records makes them a unique mainstay in music fandom that isn’t likely to be overtaken by another physical medium.  So put on a classic 45, kick your feet up, and vibe out to the naturally timeless sound of music on vinyl.

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