Like many trends in popular culture, a once-passing fad is hot again. Over the past decade, vinyl records have seen a steady resurgence in interest. The Recording Industry Association of America reports that the sale of vinyl records continued to rise in the first half of 2022, with revenues from vinyl albums growing by 22%, and the advent of “Record Store Day” has continued to contribute to the booming sales of the glossy black disc. While some may point to nostalgia as the driving force behind this vinyl renaissance, a surprisingly large percentage of today’s buyers are under the age of 35. This increased enthusiasm is echoed by today’s artists, as they continue to issue vinyl for newly released music. In fact, Harry Styles was the top-selling vinyl artist of 2022. Worldwide, record labels have produced a steady stream of exclusives, special reissues, box sets and beautifully designed and packaged LPs. So, what’s behind this medium making such a huge comeback?
Vinyl enthusiasts believe the sound quality is superior to other forms of music. The depth and texture, not to mention the distinct crackling sound often heard, are appreciated by aficionados. A record can reproduce a sound that is as close as possible to the original recording — how the artist intended it — because it has more peaks and valleys than digitally compressed files, which can sound flat. “You hear sounds that you maybe wouldn’t notice if you were listening on Spotify or Apple, like an extra backup vocal or a little bass tone in the background,” says Zack Wolfe, store manager at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and an avid collector of vinyl.
Many describe the music as having a warmness or richness not achieved by other formats. For some, the sound truly is nostalgic, reminiscent of a different era. As records are played, the vinyl will wear, leading to some changes in the sound, which means that, in a way, your record will be unique, which fans say is part of its charm. Audiophiles often search for original pressings of records that were made from the original tapes, especially of older music. Current pressings are often made from tapes that are several generations removed from the original, which can result in a loss of sound quality.
While streaming music, listeners often skip around to different songs, and quite often only download a song or two from an artist versus an entire album. Listening to vinyl, on the other hand, is the activity itself.
Listening to an entire album is often one of the best parts of the experience because it leads to the discovery of other much-loved songs from that artist. It also allows for a richer, more in-depth experience that requires the listener’s full attention. Because records must be played on a turntable, the player must be present in the room, which means that there is greater awareness of the music.
Many vinyl devotees make the listening itself an event or communal experience, with a dedicated area of the house set aside for that purpose. For some, the experience is therapeutic, as it requires one to be physically present and totally focused on the music. “It’s a more involved listening experience: You go through your record shelf, and you pull out an album, remove the record from the sleeve, put it on the turntable, and on mine where the record arm is manual, I have to be in tune to what’s going on to raise and lower the needle, so it’s a whole experience,” describes Wolfe. “Then you get into gear. I have mainly vintage gear except for my actual turntable. I have big tower speakers and organize my records alphabetically and chronologically by how the album was released.
FOR THE LOVE OF ARTISTS
stands means that the entire process is put on display. People often buy vinyl because they like the tangible nature of all these products, which acts as a physical representation of their connection with an artist. “I think what a lot of people like about collecting vinyl, especially young people, is that they are starting to realize that you can display your fandom of an artist, or your dedication to being a music fan by having an actual physical collection,” notes Michael Sumser, multimedia supervisor and buyer at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. “Over the last 10 to 15 years, that seemed to fall by the wayside with streaming and iPods.
Many collectors aim to not only purchase every album from a favorite singer or band, but sometimes buy multiple versions of the same album that have different features or song lineups. Artists often offer exclusives, including limited editions, signed copies or bonuses like T-shirts or posters. In October 2022, Taylor Swift released a special lavender edition of her newest album, “Midnights,” available only at certain retailers. In addition to the 13 songs on the LP, the package included a collectible album jacket with unique front and back cover art, a marbled color vinyl disc, album sleeve with a different full-size photo of Taylor on each side, full-size gatefold photo and an eight-page lyric booklet with never-before-seen photos. An interesting record and record cover can have a huge impact on its sales because some collectors are more focused on the artwork than the music. The most iconic album covers of all time call to mind a specific band, era or genre and are difficult to acquire, commanding huge premiums.
Vinyls can be purchased from most artists on their websites or at concerts, which is a great way to support a favorite musician, who usually makes more from vinyl sales than from streaming platforms or chain outlets.
JOINING THE FUN
If you would like to jump on the vinyl bandwagon, the first thing you will need is a turntable. Audio brands like Audio-Technica, Crosley, Victrola, Pro-Ject, Sony, Denon and Pioneer offer turntables for just about every budget. “I tell people: ‘I guarantee if you buy a record player and buy records, you’re going to be hooked and get into the hobby,’” Wolfe offers. His advice, even for beginners, is to invest in a player that is a little better than entry-level to avoid the near-certain desire to trade it in for a better model quickly thereafter.
For first-time record player owners, an affordable hybrid player, capable of playing digital media and vinyl records, can be great. A suitcase record player is a good option for those who plan to take it on the go, as this all-in-one turntable is plug-and-play. Advanced audiophiles might look at machinery that is a step above these entry-level options, which may include a turntable with a separate amplifier and speakers to produce superior sound.
No matter which turntable you choose, the key is placing it somewhere you’ll really use it. And then choosing some favorite records and jumping into the vinyl revival.