Vinyl records have been the most used musical medium since recorded music was invented more than a century ago, but with the introduction of the CD, many were ready to consider it a dead technology. The resurgence of vinyl, however, is only just getting started.
With the obvious decline in record sales and increasing use of digital downloading — both legal and illegal — record companies have started to recognize that a re-introduction of vinyl can attract fans back to the idea of purchasing physical copies of their favorite albums. Most new releases on vinyl come with a free MP3 download of the album, so buying the 12-inch will get you a download of all the tracks for your iPod. Vinyl may not be very portable, but the free MP3 that comes with a release sure is.
“We’ve had at least a 50-percent increase in the sale and stock of vinyl just in the past year,” Waterloo Records owner John Kunz said.
Waterloo Records has always carried vinyl records, but never this large of a selection since the introduction and rise in popularity of the CD in the mid-1980s, Kunz said.
“We’ve seen our CD sales flat to declining within the past eight or nine years. But the sale of vinyl has risen greatly since 2006,” Kunz said.
Many attribute this popularity to a human desire for physicality. To enjoy music on vinyl, one must pull the vinyl from the sleeve, place it on the turntable deck and put the needle on it. This human-to-music contact can connect the listener to his or her music in a way that the nonphysical alternatives can’t.
MP3s have placed a certain pressure on the single and a few standout tracks to do well as downloads on iTunes. However, this takes attention away from the album as a whole and ignores the longevity of an expertly crafted, and perhaps mixed, long-play album with a fixed order of track play. This allows the artists and their team of producers to decide the best track order to ensure cohesion and structure in the album as a whole.
Art direction is also emphasized with the return of vinyl. Instead of a two-inch album cover squeezed onto an iPod’s LCD screen, vinyl records come with a square foot of canvas for art. This places a pressure on artists to come up with an original visual theme that complements the sound of the album. Creative album art can be just as important as the music itself, since the album cover is often what entices browsers to purchase an album. Posters also fit nicely inside a vinyl sleeve, so many artists have begun to include extra artwork with their records.
If cover art weren’t visually stimulating enough, modern vinyl records can be colored, swirled, shaped or confetti-ed. One of the most exciting surprises records have to offer is the thrill of opening a seemingly ordinary cardboard sleeve to find a glittery disc waiting inside.
A decent vinyl collection can be supplemented with statement-making accessories. The fashion of a good turntable with an adequate set of speakers can’t be overstated. Modern turntables with a USB drive can be purchased to convert the sound waves into MP3 files, though this isn’t the ideal method, and the “free MP3 with purchase” concept provides better listening quality.
We stopped buying music because music stopped offering us anything worth our money — but the reinvention of vinyl has changed that. Buying a new record now means so much more than buying a new CD ever could.