How have vinyl records stood the test of time? Today cassette tapes are no longer heard of, CD popularity is declining rapidly, and even illegal music downloads are being tested by legal music sites such as Spotify and Pandora. Is it the obsession with all that is vintage that has brought back LPs (Long Play), or is it simply that our generation is realising that the original music carrier is truly superior?
It is generally agreed that records produce better sound quality than CDs and other digital recordings. Not everyone is bound to notice the difference between sounds, but most audiophiles insist that records provide a sound that other music-playing devices cannot replicate. This is because original sound is analogue; CDs, MP3s and the like are digital recordings. These take snapshots of the analogue sound. Therefore, digital recording loses some information along the way and does not capture the complete soundwave. Vinyl records, on the other hand, have little grooves that capture the entire waveform of the original recording, thus making the sound entire. Even so, is sound quality the true reason our generation is turning to vinyl?
According to Ian Woodward, Griffin University Associate Professor, who is writing a book about the resurgence of vinyl (due to be released this year), vinyl is “more often about demonstrating one is a serious music listener”. We may covet music more than ever: we relate to it, it suspends us from our life, and it affects us emotionally. I asked my grandfather why my generation likes vinyl, and he said we value musicians more than ever. We put them on a pedestal and wish we possessed the same talent to express ourselves with such beauty. His generation and those before criticised musicians, saw them as lowlifes, and did not acknowledge making music as a career. Even the likes of Mozart and Beethoven only came to fame and legitimate appreciation after their deaths. It only makes sense that we desire to prove ourselves as true music-lovers – to boast our appreciation to receive appreciation. Consequently, vinyl sales have increased by 32% since 2012.
Vinyl records declined in popularity between 1988 and 1991 when major label distributors restricted return policies, placing difficulties on record stores that relied on the ability to return and trade stock of unpopular music. Major labels decreased the availability of vinyl as they made CDs widespread, but today we value ease of use today, so it comes as no surprise that CDs have been fading out as digital download takes over. The founding of Record Store Day coincides with the uprise of vinyl in 2007. It largely involves independent record stores and hosts performances, special appearances, art exhibitions and music releases by the likes of Lady Gaga and Kings of Leon exclusively on vinyl. During Record Store Day week in the UK in 2013, 68,936 records sold (an 86.5% rise from 2012). Records, however, are not about to replace digital download. Flipping sides and changing records constantly would drive many insane if it was the only way to listen to music (other than the radio). New record albums now include digital download or a CD to satiate our need for easily accessible and portable music. This creates a clean compromise between pure quality sound and transportability for music-lovers.
Young people are undoubtedly preoccupied with vintage items, they’re heavy influencers of modern-day. In using vinyl, we transport ourselves to developmental musical eras that have brought us to today’s sounds. Vinyl is what our grandparents and parents used to listen to the revolution of blues, jazz, rock and roll and so on. Handling a Led Zeppelin record places us back in the ‘70s – fighting the man, flower power, special brownies and experiencing real music. Vinyl lends us a physical item to appease our nostalgia for a time we did not have. The process of playing a record becomes personal – handling it, tenderly placing the hair-thin needle on the edge, hearing the crackle before the music, and finally the warm sound. It requires more attention and care than playing a CD or streaming music; and, in the process, you pay more attention to the music itself.
It is clear that vinyl is here to stay. It is not a fad or a trend that will dissipate with the invention of an alternative being because it isthe superior vessel to transport music to our eager ears. It may not be the most convenient avenue, but it is sure to attract music-lovers. No matter the reason you turn to vinyl – it is hipster or mainstream, your favourite band endorses it, or you crave a fuller sound – head to your local record store, flick through, ask for recommendations, share yours, and submerge yourself in this reviving music scene.