The pick-up of the vinyl

Saturday, September 25

By Annelia Vakrinou

As music develops over the course of history, so does the way that we enjoy it. Many music listening methods have come and gone thus far but, while it all seemed to be going forward, there was a last man standing, refusing to step down permanently. Let’s hear it for the LP.

It’s 1948 and Columbia records releases their 33 ⅓ RMP, commonly known as the first official vinyl record brought to existence. A huge step up from Edouard-Leon Scott’s Phonautograph (1857), the vinyl started flooding the houses of music lovers. However, since Sony invented the compact disc in 1982, the vinyl record has been mostly considered obsolete, defeated by the accessible and easily-used CDs. Able to play music free of the scratchiness, size and fragility of the LP, the CD was much easier to carry around, write on, customise, had much more storage space and did not need to be stored a certain way or get damaged in the sun.  

The reign of the CDs was, quite unexpectedly, not meant to last. Almost thirty years after the CD stole the top spot from the LP, the vinyl revival was more than official. It’s in the numbers: in 2019 a total of 1.243 million vinyl records were sold worldwide, totalling a staggering amount of $224 million. Most notably, vinyl sales increased by 108% in the first half of 2021 and this monumental resurgence shows no signs of stopping any time soon.

So, how did that happen? why do we seem to be returning to an otherwise obsolete means of music playing? Well, we cannot know exactly if it’s the indie trend getting to us or just top-tier marketing. Some of the possible reasons why the crown has returned to the vinyl records, for the time being, have surely to do with its aesthetic, authenticity and the reversed psychology tuning the vinyl’s fragility into an advantage, making it the music listening method that needs to be handled with the utmost care.

Surely nothing can beat the simple procedure of just opening up Spotify, Apple Music or any other streaming service and just tapping on a song to listen to. However, The ritual of taking the time to pick out the record, placing it on the record player and carefully laying the needle on top of it to start the music, conveys a totally different type of feeling: It makes listening to music an experience rather than something just happening in the background of you doing something else. It brings a certain euphoria to sit comfortably with a drink and allowing the music to echo through your ears, earbud free. 

Usually, when listening to music digitally you just pick the song you want and probably skip the rest on the album; this is not something you can do on the LP version, making you think very carefully about buying a record as well as giving value to the entirety of an artist’s musical collection, instead of just some pieces of it. Even the process of going to buy a vinyl record makes it all that more special. Imagine going into a record store with a sense of anticipation, not knowing what you'll find. Spending hours searching through piles, looking back on memories from the covers you see, asking individuals nearby for their thoughts, and becoming friends with them is all part of the shopping process. It makes music an active and social experience. 

Additionally, the very thing that made them ‘unappealing’ in the past compared to the CD is what makes them sought-after now. Their size, weight, one of a kind sound, the perception of music becoming tangible in your hands makes you feel like purchasing something of worth. Buying a hard, physical copy of your favourite album is always going to convey a very different feeling than just downloading it online. Getting to touch the crevices of the record before putting it on display on your shelves (away from direct sunlight) and looking at the album art in front of you is the closer you will get to making music something more than just soundwaves.

Apart from the hardcore vinyl collectors that have been going strong since they started their valuable collections, the majority of vinyl purchases in later years has been made by the younger generations. Approximately 70% of vinyl sold the past few years have been under 35, making them Millenials or Gen-Z. The nostalgia factor, the diversion from being born in the wrong decade, the vintage aesthetic or just the enjoyment of dropping the needle on the first song and instantly hearing a faint crackle, whatever the reason may be for this attraction of the younger to the vinyl, it has surely made its presence known. 

I remember the day I spontaneously bought my first ever vinyl record, Whatever people say I am that’s what I’m not by the Arctic Monkeys. I was out with a friend and as soon I saw the cover art of one of my favourite albums I could not resist the urge of getting my hands on it. I thanked the heavens for having exactly the money in my wallet to pay for it so maybe it was actually meant to be. I went home and stared at it for a while before putting it on the shelf and I felt like holding a piece of my heart on my fingertips. My parents had bought me my technically first LP a few days prior (live at the Royal Albert Hall double LP by the Arctic Monkeys) because it made them think of me, but getting to do it myself was just all more worthwhile. 

In the days following, my parents brought back up their old records and we went through them together, reminiscing on the music they used to listen to when they were my age and it was a real bonding experience. I have to say I learned a lot about their music taste that day, it made them so much more interesting and exciting people than they already were in my eyes, like I was peeking at a piece of their childhood I never knew about. Since then I purchase an LP every time I have the chance, the allowance or I see an album I love staring at me from the shelves at the store. It is also a great way to support small business owners in my area as there are one or two small record stores near my house and getting to spend hours in there rummaging through hundreds of pieces of musical history is truly a unique experience. Either during a five minute stop on my way home from school or a three-hour vinyl-focused shopping spree, I know that I will walk back home with another great album I love in my tote bag to enlarge the collection I hope to keep forever. 

In conclusion, whatever the reason for this sudden resurgence may be, It’s here to stay, at least for the near future. I hope through this closer look inside the growing trend you see all around you that I have gotten a few people to get up and visit a vinyl shop; you never know what you are going to find and you can truly be surprised by how exquisite a simple shopping spree can get. Personally, it brings me a one of a kind type of joy I never knew until recently but it can be different for everyone. So get on your dancing shoes, grab a friend and have a walk down memory lane with a very interesting and hopefully unexpected soundtrack.

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