Vinyl is clunky, fragile, and expensive. Yet sales continue to soar, even in this age of cheap and convenient digital media. So what makes vinyl so attractive?
Over 200 million people use streaming services, such as Apple Music or Spotify. For a subscription fee of less than $10/month, users can have access to a colossal library of songs. Spotify currently boasts a library of over 50 million songs. You can bring that library wherever you go and connect it to pretty much any speaker system you want. It’s cheap, convenient, and simple.
On the other hand, a new vinyl record can cost $60. It’s big, unwieldy, and you’re likely not going to be able to play it in your car. Yet, vinyl sales increased by 12% in 2018 and 2019, which shows what people desire far more than efficiency and convenience.
The Emotional Connection
I remember asking my dad about records as a child, then watching in awe as he dragged two dusty boxes out of the attic. From them, he pulled out album after album, each accompanied by its own memory. Most of them were over forty years old and were far more than the songs inside. Each was a snippet of my dad’s life, and each was worth its weight in gold.
You don’t get that experience with digital media. The sentence, “I remember downloading this album! It was while I was on the bus to work!” doesn’t quite have that emotional resonance. The digital copy you have on your phone is identical to your mate’s copy. My dad’s weathered records, with tattered sleeves and an occasional scratch, are one of a kind. Sure my Spotify version might be cleaner, but it will never feel like it’s mine.
You don’t even need a family member to experience this connection. Go into a second-hand record store and hunt through the shelves for your favorite album. Pick it up and give it a look; it’s likely got a bit of battle damage on it, but don’t let that dissuade you. Unlike the copy on your phone, this album has a story behind it. Take it with you, and it’ll have a future. But if vinyl is making a comeback, why not CDs? Or cassettes? There’s a nostalgia value, and they both have a physical presence. So why, when vinyl sales are soaring, do CD and cassette sales continue to plummet?
Vinyl Sounds Terrific
The music you find on your phone and a CD is digital. This sacrifices audio quality for space. A higher-quality digital track takes up much more space than a lower quality track. Vinyl is analog, meaning it doesn’t have to make these sacrifices. This doesn’t make a “better” sound, but it creates a different one. Indeed, a digital recording is closer to the original sound. But that also does not make it “better” than vinyl.
Vinyl records have a unique sound that suits specific genres much better than others. Music with piercing highs or deep bass is lost on a vinyl record, which is much more suited to the guitars of classic rock than electronic synthesizers. It’s a “warm” sound.
The “warmer” sound of vinyl is a fundamental part of its nature. It’s a sound that is far more natural than digital; it’s one many people find aesthetically pleasing. Vinyl is not a perfect rendition of a recording, but its flaws are what make it so loved. We connect to vinyl in a way that we don’t relate to digital music.
Vinyl Looks Beautiful
Holding a record is like holding a painting. It’s big, cumbersome, and you don’t want to drop it. And like a painting, an album cover is a work of art. But by compressing it to the size of a matchbox, as they do for digital, the art is too small to be noticed. On a record jacket, this art is front and center, where it should be.
Compared to other media, the space on a record sleeve outclasses them all. The artwork by itself makes the record a collector’s item, displayed on walls like a painting. Even the vinyl itself can be spectacular, able to be treated in a thousand different ways to make an eye-catching record.
In the store, the cover sets up expectations of what you might find inside. Acting like a billboard, it serves to draw the customer in. It’s part art, part advertising, and all essential.
Vinyl Is an Expression
Vinyl represents a type of person. It’s not just your dad with an ancient collection of records; it’s the opposite. A study by Kantar Media showed that the demographic associated with vinyl is young, outgoing, and more independent:
“57% more likely to be aged under 25…48% more likely to say they like to stand out in a crowd, as well as 48% more likely to agree that the point of drinking is to get drunk, and 50% more likely to say they buy new products before most of their friends.”Kantar Media
Yet a vinyl owner must treat their collection with care, maintaining it to avoid damage. A vinyl collection is a labor of love, a collection built and maintained over the years. The new demographic of vinyl buyers might be more prone to take risks, but their collection isn’t!
Quite simply, enjoying vinyl is a lot more work. Everyone has a phone, and within a minute of release, you can be listening to a new album. But a vinyl buyer must wait to receive it in the mail or go to a store to buy one. You can’t go anywhere while listening to it, too; listening to a record means staying in one location.
So, to those who want to make their music an experience within itself, vinyl is the way to go. Vinyl endures because it makes us connect with our music in a way that Spotify or Pandora will never be able to do.