In this era of iTunes, Spotify, Pandora, Napster and even Jay-Z’s Tidal, why would Vinyl be rising from the ashes, quite literally? The advent of the compact disc had rendered Vinyl extinct, right? Going by its recent cultural and commercial revival, then all indications are that we’d not seen the last of Vinyl yet! While even digital album sales are plummeting, Vinyl seems to be bucking the trend, with Vinyl record sales rising by over 50% to go past the million mark in 2014. This unlikely upward surge -- the highest since 1996 -- continued in 2015.
But why? First, we need to point out that there were people who never lost faith in it at all. For instance, some 700 independent record stores from across the U.S. came together in 2007 to create a Vinyl-oriented event dubbed “Record Store Day” while in the UK a firm fixture celebrates a similar event every April 18th, where special edition CDs and Vinyl are released.
Another major reason is retromania, i.e. enthusiasm and nostalgia for past fashions and cultural paraphernalia. People just want to have a break from the digital trends of the modern era and have a feel of the past, albeit with some touch of modernity since tracks such as those by Sufjan Stevens, James Bay, Arctic Monkeys and Nadine Shah are also in the Vinyl mix. Even the likes of Madonna, Jack White and Daft Punk are playing into the nostalgia when they release their own Vinyl versions of their latest albums.
Then there is what fans are calling the “warmth” of the Vinyl sound, i.e. its distinctive deficiency in audio cleanness and perfection. It’s a unique harmonic distortion flaw inherent within the Vinyl’s analogue sound production system that is -- surprisingly -- adored by fans! The Vinyl sound is also arguably more immersive.
One design feature that proved revolutionary with CD players was the fact that we could now skip tracks and reshuffle albums as we wished. While track skipping came with risks associated with disc fragility and the risk of dropping the stylus and rendering it damaged, some people just revere the sequential track-by-track music experience that the Vinyl brings. It’s an experience that media artist Jesse England describes as a “complete album immersion”, and the record players as “altars” for music. England has even moved forward to invent a vibrating plastic disc to enable listeners to play digital music via Bluetooth on any record player.
Similar analogue/digital hybrids borne out of the Vinyl “renaissance” include the portable attaché case-style record music players such as USB ports specially designed to be able to digitally record Vinyl, crackles, etc.
In addition to sounding different, Vinyl also has a unique possessive quality that intangible streaming and downloads can’t have. From the collecting that the iPod did away with (which is actually one intrinsic part of the Vinyl’s allure) and the opening of the LP sleeve that involves the gentle disc handling, to the aesthetic qualities of its cover, the artistic inner sleeve designs and the printed lyrics, nothing beats the nostalgia of bringing the Vinyl back!
But there are also some obstacles: the Vinyl’s consumer base is still a niche audience; companies are no longer manufacturing LPs; the technology to manufacture Vinyl is difficult to access and expensive. If the momentum of the revival of the Vinyl is to be kept at current levels, then some or all of these challenges need to be dealt with decisively.
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