We walk around with 1000 songs in our pocket. The bold marketing concept that accompanied Apple’s iPod release helped to shape a revolution in the music industry. It was the beginning of a legitimization in the wild west landscape of digital music consumption. Since that time digital music has found its place in the commercial music market. CDs have more or less disappeared from the psyche of most consumers. Gone the way of the eight-track tape. Although weirdly enough cassette tapes might be making a comeback.
Even as digital music has swept the marketplace an old player has re-entered the game with a whole new gusto. Vinyl records have exploded back onto the scene serving its original audience while being introduced to a whole new generation. Although the hard-core enthusiasts will say vinyl never went away. People are dusting off their old vinyl collection while trendy shops stock the latest pop hits in vinyl form. The second hand market for vinyl is surging. Just a few years ago records that people struggled to give away for free are now fetching handsome prices to new collectors.
But why? The purists will say it sounds better. The skeptics will point to studies suggesting the improvement in sound is not discernible to the average person. So what makes it truly stand out? Well I can speak to that as the converted.
I probably fall into the hipster crowd purists might look down upon. I’m part of the millennial generation that has discovered the medium and grown to love it. But I will not pretend to be a purist or talk of the good ol days. I simply have fallen in love with the experience of listening to music on vinyl. Like many people in my generation I do have an infinity for things retro and nostalgic. I can’t help it. I think most of us just have naturally warm feelings toward the past. But that is not the main reason I have taken a liking to vinyl.
When it comes to enjoying vinyl it is a matter of breaking away from our current state of overconsumption. We are so bombarded with media yet we get to savour very little of it. We may have 1000 songs in our pocket but we likely will press ‘skip’ through most of them. And that’s the part of vinyl that is appealing to so many. It’s about taking a moment and savouring.
When people listen to vinyl records it becomes a purposeful act. We pick out a single album, sit down, and savour it. Suddenly music is no longer background noise in our house, it becomes the focus of our attention. When was the last time you sat down and just listened to music?
Last Sunday my fiancé and I did something we haven’t done for years. We sat down at our table, put on a record, had breakfast together, enjoyed some coffee and just talked. We had a moment where we were both present and just enjoyed each others’ company. This was different from a more typical routine of eating some cereal on the couch while watching TV and browsing around on our phones not looking at each other. The simplicity of enjoying an album together helped to shaped that experience.
It’s these kind of moments that I think myself and many others appreciate about the experience of listening to records. It is a way to slow things down. A way to be present in the moment and take in what we are doing rather than being a multitasking zombie being distracted by constant notifications.
I’m not saying the way we live our day to day lives is wrong. But having these moments creates a mental break that is quite refreshing. I’m not ditching my MP3 collection anytime soon, and I love that I can load up 8 hours of music for a road trip on my phone. But I am slowly growing my vinyl collection for those days where I want to sit down and savour. Enjoy a moment and actually take in the music that I love.
The benefit of vinyl making a come back is it creates a greater sense of value to the music we “own”. We are in a weird place right now where we download music to consume, but it doesn’t really have any value. Many advocates of vinyl like having that physical object in their hands. They like the way the tangible record feels.
There is an appreciation for the incredible artwork that appears on album covers. Likely very few people have a precious hard drive collection, but a vinyl collection is so much more than a series of albums. For many each record carries with it a set of memories and experiences. A record collection also is a way to visually display your personality. You can instantly show what is important to you. What artists you value.
Supporting artists is also a strong factor in record purchasing. With digital downloads, depending on your source you are either not supporting the artist at all, or if purchase legitimately the artist gets very little money from that sale. People are realizing that they would rather support the artists rather than Google or Apple.
The other argument for vinyl’s value is in a monetary sense. It’s really the only medium where music collections are worth something. You can’t re-sell your iTunes digital Bringing Sexy Back album, but your Dark Side of the Moon Vinyl can actually hold monetary value. Especially to hipsters like me who grew up wearing Hot Topic t-shirts with the triangle rainbow (note – I never purchased any t-shirts from Hot Topic)
For some, vinyl coming back can be seen as a temporary gimmick driven by our nostalgia loving culture. But as a music medium vinyl offers something unique to the music listener. In an era where we are surrounded with background noise vinyl focuses our attention on the music. It brings back a special experience, one that cannot be replicated with 1000s songs in your pocket.