A turntable plays a vinyl record. (Wikimedia Commons)
It was a cold winter’s afternoon—a Friday—and I had just gotten home after school. Tossing my backpack on the dining hall floor, where it ends up on every Friday, I descended into the basement and plopped myself on the couch to watch TV. After a few minutes of silence, my gaze came across a small, red box—a record player. Beginning to smile, I got up, walked over to a nearby shelf, and grabbed an album. Removing an inner sleeve from the jacket and then a record from the sleeve, I placed one of Queen’s Greatest Hits’ two LPs on the turntable’s platter with Side One up, turned on the record player, and carefully lifted the tonearm onto the record. As I returned to the couch and “Bohemian Rhapsody” began to play, I smiled again.
This is the vinyl experience.
The turntable has its origins in Thomas Edison’s invention of the phonograph, which played music from wax cylinders, in 1877. The record player and vinyl record gained popularity soon after the phonograph’s invention, and turntables served as a main music player from the 1950’s all the way to the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, when they experienced a major decline due to their replacement with the Compact Disc. As time went on, CDs were replaced with digital downloads and music streaming, but for several decades, the once-common medium of vinyl was nowhere to be found.
However, in 2007, sales for vinyl saw a minor rise, and the next few years brought major increases in sales for a music medium many thought to have been gone permanently. Vinyl sales got to a 25-year high in 2016 and were boosted with a 20 percent increase in 2017. According to Nielson Music, more than 14 million records were sold in the U.S. throughout 2017—this number was as high as it had gotten since 1991, according to Billboard.
Now, more and more pressing plants and record stores are opening, and events such as Record Store Day, which began in 2007, are bringing music lovers both young and old back to vinyl. In fact, numerous modern musicians have begun to release their work on vinyl, feeding the fire that is the record’s revival. But what exactly is bringing so many to join this return to an earlier time? Why are so many people eagerly visiting their local record stores to purchase these clunky cylinders of polyvinyl chloride?
For one, vinyl gives listeners a richer, warmer sound than what is provided by digital sources (i.e. digital downloads, streaming, etc.); with the right turntable, speakers, and amplifier (as well as other equipment), vinyl’s sound can be truly breathtaking. Another reason is a feeling of nostalgia; you can still play the records your grandparents and parents first listened to decades ago, and the act of manually placing a record on the platter and lifting the stylus onto the edge of the LP takes you back to a time long before digital music’s reign. Furthermore, an album is a piece of art; from the artwork on both the inside and outside of the cover to the specific order of the songs on the record itself, exploring each facet of an album is an exhilarating experience. When a person listens to vinyl, they hear music as the artist intended for it to be heard—actively and in the correct order. Finally, records allow for connections with others. Your vinyl collection is a great topic for conversation when you have visitors at home, and the memories you can make at a record store with someone who shares your interest in vinyl can be priceless.
Music is something to be shared and savored, and in today’s world of instant gratification through digital downloads and streaming services, it can be easy to forget to give your full attention to the music you listen to once in a while. With vinyl, you are more inclined to do so, and with the enjoyment you feel from actively listening to a record comes all of the subtle sensations that only music can bring. As such, I would suggest that you explore the medium of vinyl . You just may find yourself a new hobby and a new appreciation for the music you love.