You’ve likely heard about the resurgence of vinyl, how music lovers old and new are ditching digital and returning to analog turntables to satisfy their aural desires. Record stores are popping back up and becoming cool and hip again. In fact our local Barnes & Noble has a new vinyl section right smack in the middle of the store. They have maybe 200 different albums for sale with most costing between $25 and 35 dollars. The vinyl revolution might not be televised, but it also apparently won’t be cheap. (Now, I’ve never seen anyone actually buy a record at B&N, but, to be fair, I hardly see anyone purchasing books there either. The entire book section seems there to just support the Starbucks, but I digress.)
I personally witnessed this resurgence at my store last week when I had three separate clients inquire about purchasing a new turntable, all within a four-hour period. Now that might not seem like a lot, but to put it in perspective, that is about the same number of people that have asked about buying a turntable in the previous 17 years combined. This has led my partner and I into discussing whether or not we should set up a vinyl demo area in our showroom.
Now, I’ll be honest, I never owned a turntable, and neither did my parents. So I never developed any emotional connection to vinyl, and records have no sense of nostalgia for me today, so I don’t feel any pull toward running out and purchasing a turntable.
My longest exposure to records was going through my uncle Max’s record collection: sitting on the floor of his closet and flipping through his stack of albums, opening up the interesting ones to look at the pictures. The Allman Brothers’ Eat a Peach stands out in my mind. I never listened to the records, mind you, just looked at the artwork.
But after talking with these customers that had me order them turntables—one who hasn’t owned a record player since the '80s—I think I get what this “movement” is about. It seems to be far less about the vinyl or the player or even the supposed warmer, richer, and fuller analog sound, and more to do with reconnecting with the music and experiencing it on a more emotional level.
There is something about a record that involves you in the listening experience far more than any other medium, but especially more so than the stored/streamed digital music collections must of us typically use. Enjoying vinyl is a process that requires active user involvement and engagement at every level.
First is the step of actually choosing which record to listen to. This requires the physical act of getting up, walking over, and flipping through your collection, physically touching every album. While doing this you can’t help but notice and appreciate the artwork. Almost like flipping through a photo album, this will doubtless bring back memories for many listeners.
Opening the album cover reveals more photos and liner notes, and releases that strangely-sweet aroma embedded in the cardboard lining of the album cover and of the record itself. More senses engaged and involved.
Sliding the record from its plastic sleeve and judiciously cleaning the vinyl surface. Placing the record carefully onto the platter, picking up the tone arm and gingerly resting it onto the first groove of the hypnotically spinning record. Those first few clicks, scratches, and pops announcing that the performance is about to begin. Then that glorious period when the needle has settled into its ride just before the first music-filled groove swells to life.
That tension is the culmination of what all of the acts before have been leading to. And that sound and those moments are a bit like the lights dimming, the audience murmuring and the curtain opening—they all signify that something possibly great is about to happen.
In a time where everyone is busy, distracted, and multitasking, and where music generally plays as the background, white-noise soundtrack to modern life, vinyl is the exact opposite. Experiencing vinyl promotes active listening as it requires effort and attention to get to the music and then to sit and enjoy it, knowing you’ll have to get up and flip the album in 20 minutes or so. There is no “shuffle all” button to mindlessly press and just proceed.
In the way that I can most closely relate to, the whole vinyl experience reminds me of the passion I and so many others had for LaserDiscs, especially the feature-laden offerings by Criterion. The two really share so many commonalities, right down to the disc flipping. Something tells me we’re still a ways away from an LD resurgence though…