One of the main criticisms of the so-called vinyl revival is that it has brought in a set of customers who do not even own the proper equipment to be able to play the music. They are accused of jumping on the bandwagon and buying vinyl just because it is a “cool” thing to do. This argument is flawed though because it is not the act of purchasing vinyl itself that draws in these turntable-less buyers, but the fact that vinyl is the “coolest” medium, as well as the most valuable one in many ways.
I have said for a long time that a major reason for vinyl’s resurgence is that music has reached the peak of portability. This trend started with iPods allowing you to bring your entire music catalogue with you wherever you go. And it continues with services such as Spotify and Apple Music allowing that same portability while expanding the accessible catalogue exponentially. The ability to have almost any work of music at your finger tips, at any time, and at any place is a truly amazing thing. At the same time, it is also very desensitizing to the process of music consumption. It used to be that listening to music required direct action from the listener: scanning through your collection for the specific album you want to hear, taking it out of the package, putting it into the player, and then flipping it over halfway through. That is no longer the case. Now we simply type in the specific artist, album, or song we want to hear and it will start immediately. While this is a truly empowering feeling, it is at the same time harshly depersonalized. You can even create playlists or put music on shuffle, taking virtually all human interaction out of the equation. But why not have the best of both worlds? With streaming services we can have it all at our fingertips and with renewed interest in vinyl we can have the most personal musical experience possible aside from a live show. But if is this intimate feeling we are searching for, wouldn’t owning a vinyl record be pointless without a turntable? Not exactly…
If you think about it, so much more goes into vinyl than just the music it holds. There is the artwork, which at 12”x12” takes up a whole square foot. And, when done right, it can be a true masterpiece worthy of displaying on your wall. To be able to see every detail of a piece of art that you are used to seeing as a small thumbnail can truly change the way that you look at it and the music it represents. The large open canvas that this packaging offers allows for so much creativity. Die-cuts, custom screen prints, and lyric inserts that are big enough to actually read just scratch the surface of what has been done to add extra flair to a vinyl release. Surely, this is worthwhile to experience, even without a turntable.
In a similar vein, the vinyl itself can be mystifying. There are some stunning variants out there, ones I have even considered purchasing without knowing the artist’s music at all. Colors that match the cover art or can just dazzle on their own are always exciting, and when you throw an etched b-side or custom shape into the mix things can get even better. Besides this, there is the fact that many records come in a limited pressing. People love to have things that are rare. Being able to brag that you have something only 99 other people own is a good feeling and saying only four other copies exist is an even more astounding feat! This makes vinyl a great conversation topic as well as a way to show your love for a band in a unique and tangible way.
And of course, it has to be brought up that many records include a digital download. So even if you can’t listen to the vinyl itself, you still have access to the music in some way. The added bang for your buck makes vinyl the most economical choice to own music. You can choose to buy a digital download for $10, or spend another $5 or so for the whole vinyl package, which still includes the digital! It’s pretty much a no brainer.
When it comes down to it, the reason anyone wants to buy and own music is because they love it and want to support the people who made it. Streaming services pay very little and digital downloads seem pointless to some since they can very easily be pirated. Vinyl is generally the most expensive medium (both to produce and to purchase), so the idea is that it is the most effective way to support your favorite artists. Maybe they won’t be around on tour any time soon or you’re just not into band tees. But you can always pick up the physical record, which offers a new visual experience, is collectible, and comes with a download of the music so you can take it anywhere. This provides more for both the consumer and the artist. What better deal can you get than that?
Of course, I would always recommend for any person who already owns vinyl to also make the leap and buy a turntable. While the difference in audio quality is something that is often argued about and not something I always hear, there are definitely some records that just have a different feel when listening to them on vinyl and have allowed me to see the record in a whole new light. There truly is something special about grabbing a record off the shelf, sliding it out of the sleeve, putting it on the turntable and letting that baby spin. It’s a very different experience seeing and touching the album art in person, examining and analyzing it, while hearing it play. Having to flip the record over in the middle of a play-through rather than barreling through on its own while seamlessly melding into the next song without you noticing makes it so much more personal. The increased interaction that vinyl forces you into brings the act of listening to music to a whole nutha level.
You can’t blame those who don’t own a turntable for wanting to take part in this. No matter how you look at it, vinyl IS cool!
… Just please don’t get a Crosley.