Break out your Pioneer CS-99 walnut speakers and Garrad turntables, folks! Vinyl has made its triumphant return and is here to stay. Everything old truly does become new again, though I doubt anyone expected the comeback of vinyl to be as fervent and massive as it has been. How massive you might ask? Try 40 million units by the end of 2017, nearly $1 billion in sales, and an annual April holiday known as Record Store Day on for size. According to 2015 data from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), vinyl record sales were up 32% to the tune of $416 million – the highest sales figure seen in over 27 years. The United States isn’t only country witnessing this format phenomenon. For the first time in history, vinyl LP sales surpassed digital downloads at £2.4 million ($3.03 million).
While sales figures across the board clearly indicate the popularity of LPs among consumers, they don’t explain why this vinyl revival has come to pass. However, I think I’ve pinpointed the five key reasons why vinyl records have made their way back into the mainstream.
1. The Sound
Ask any seasoned music critic, fan, or Baby Boomer what format sounds the best and they will all likely tell you that the LP reigns supreme. All perceived musical snobbery aside, there is a legitimate reason why records sound better. An MP3 file is considered a lossy format, which means that much of the audio quality is lost during compression in order to make the file small enough to download. Vinyl, however, is a lossless format, thus allowing the listener to enjoy the record in all of its warm, rich, soulful glory. Give it a listen yourself below. Although it may not be the most sonically perfect format on the market, vinyl is only format that provides the most authentic listening experience.
2. The Accessibility
Gone are the days of the local record store being the only place to purchase LPs. Today, vinyl records can be found on the shelves of large retail stores like Target, Barnes & Noble, and Urban Outfitters. In addition to making a splash in brick-and-mortar shops, the online vinyl market has grown into a goldmine with sites like VNYL, Vinylmnky, and Vinyl Moon offering subscribers a shipment of hand-picked records for an average monthly fee of $30.
3. The Tangibility
Much like any other piece of artist merchandise, a vinyl record is a way for fans to feel connected to their favorite artist. Vinyl records allow the most proud music fans, like Paul Mawhinney, to put their carefully crafted collections on display visually and audibly.
4. The History
Vinyl comprises a substantial amount of the history of recorded music, and every record is an artifact in of itself. Independent record store employee Chris Brown understood the importance of preserving and maintaining record culture, and sough to create an event that would do so. 10 years later, Record Store Day has over 1,400 independent record stores around the globe participating in the annual event by selling limited release albums, hosting artist meet and greets, and putting on live performances in celebration of the beloved vinyl LP. Fans of vinyl are more dedicated than ever to holding onto the sounds of yesterday.
5. The Experience
Music is an experience that intertwines with our emotions and memories like no other art form can. I can recall spending many afternoons listening to my mother recount the days of her youth spinning Diana Ross and Michael Jackson hits as a nightclub DJ. Vinyl records offer new listeners a chance to make memories with their records while taking older listeners on a trip down memory lane. My first record, given to me the night before Christmas Eve, was Loretta Lynn’s Full Circle and it is still one of my favorites. Novelist Adam Mansbach brilliantly summarizes the experiential draw of vinyl in this way:
“The genius of vinyl is that it allows–commands!–us to put our fingerprints all over that history: to blend and chop and reconfigure it, mock and muse upon it, backspin and skip through it.”
In addition to eliciting strong emotional responses from fans, records carry an unbeatable physical experience. Pressing a few buttons on an iPhone to make your favorite album play simply does not to compare to the sensation of pulling out a record, dropping the needle, and anxiously waiting for the first song on Side A to start. With a record, you don’t get to “cherry pick” or skip songs you don’t like. Instead, you agree to allow the artist to tell you their story by listening to the record in full. LPs ask listeners to have a certain level of devotion and appreciation that simply can’t be found on a digital platform. It’s engaging, exciting, and endearing. Perhaps the best explanation of the power of vinyl comes from rocker, producer, and proud vinyl pressing plant owner Jack White:
“Vinyl is the real deal. I’ve always felt like until you buy the vinyl record, you don’t really own the album. And it’s not just me or a little pet thing or some kind of retro romantic thing from the past. It is still alive.”
The tables have turned, music fans, and they’ve turned to records.