If my memory serves, I got rid of my last vinyl records in about 1995. Back then it was popular to believe that vinyl was as obsolete as 8-track tapes, that it would never return, and that there was no reason to keep it. I don’t think there was anything truly valuable in that box I brought to the thrift store. There were some Beatles pressings from the 1970s (the US versions that weren’t available for a couple decades), as well as pristine unplayed versions of Rush’s “Moving Pictures,” Dire Straits’ “Brothers in Arms,” and the Eagles’ Greatest Hits, all still in cellophane. I suppose if I’d lugged them around for another 20 years I could have gotten some minor reward for my efforts.
But no, I like most of you moved to CDs, then to MP3s, then to streaming. And for the most part I haven’t looked back.
Trying hard to recreate what had yet to be created
It isn’t often I lay my eyes on a vinyl record or its sleeve. But when I do, I feel real nostalgia. I miss the days when album covers meant something. I miss having the lyrics on the back of the cover or on the sleeve. There’s something there that I can touch, something that reminds me of a different time. It’s a tangible reminder that existence isn’t just a constant stream of day-to-day. Our lives leave imprints that persist for years.
About three years ago, someone played me a vinyl record. Yes, there was that warm feeling as you heard that particular sound of the needle drop, the warmth I felt from the slight crackles and imperfections. But I didn’t feel as if I’d heard anything I couldn’t get from a good digital file.
You spin me right round baby
When CDs started to become popular, music lovers complained that they sounded vaguely robotic. They lacked warmth compared to the records they were used to. This was due in part to the mastering process of the day. Engineers were still learning how to translate master analog recordings into digital ones. So yes, it was a valid complaint back in the days of big hair and shoulder pads.
In the ’20s, though, that argument just doesn’t hold water. A modern remaster of an old album is sure to be the best possible representation of the original recordings. If you prefer to listen on vinyl because it’s how you remember the thing, that’s fine. You do you. But I have a feeling that’s really not what drives vinyl sales.
All I’ve got is a photograph
A lot has been made of how millennials aren’t “owners.” In the last decade we’ve seen a lot of things transform from a purchase to a rental mentality. Remember, you used to buy movies. You used to buy CDs. You used to buy software. Hey, you even used to buy books. These were physical things that you sought out, brought home, and enjoyed. The tactile experience of it all wasn’t the point, but it was all part of what you got when you purchased something back in the 20th century.
Today, purchases are easy and fast. More often than not, they’re not even purchases. I can’t tell you the last time I bought a song, even from an online store. I bet you haven’t done it in a while either. For a modest price per month, I get access to a library of tens of millions of songs. I’ve yet to search Spotify and not find the exact thing I was searching for.
Yet, it seems even millennials somehow yearn for the physical representation of the ownership experience. They, not us old folks, are the ones buying records, which they call vinyls. And what’s interesting is that they don’t buy them just to listen to them. Most people buy records after having streamed the music first. They’re buying for that tangible experience we all remember. I don’t blame them.
It’s not just me
This article was inspired by the following video, which makes a lot of the same points and adds in a little bit of science. It’s sponsorded by a company that sells online courses, which is not endorsed by Signal Group. (They make me say that.)