Vinyl records are not just for DJs to spin any more.
These hunky, 12-inch pieces of wax are quickly becoming the physical medium of choice among music fans.
In an age when thousands of songs can be stored on a miniscule device like an iPod Nano, younger consumers are discovering that perhaps their grandparents were right all along: Vinyl is the way to go.
And artists, too, are taking note. From smaller bands like Punchline to mainstream artists like Katy Perry, it clearly behooves artists to release a record on vinyl.
Though the landscape seems nearly apocalyptic for CD sales in the wake of the digital downloading revolution, vinyl records are providing a glimmer of hope in their niche markets.
Since 2006, vinyl record sales have grown from 858,000 per year to 3.9 million in 2011, according to SoundScan.com. In the span of five years, vinyl sales have enjoyed more than a 350 percent increase.
Why such a meteoric rise? After all, it takes effort to play a vinyl record. Record players are cumbersome compared to MP3 players, and costly — the least expensive models, such as the Numark PT01 Turntable, tend to cost more than $70.
Then there’s the issue of sound quality. Vinyl records are known for their popping, crackling noises — caused by minute amounts of dust and grime on the record — that can kick in at any moment while the album is playing.
Vinyl records also need to be meticulously cared for, as the wax can be damaged by lying flat for too long or by being exposed to excessively hot or cool temperatures.
Ironically, these downsides are what make vinyl so beloved.
There is a great amount of satisfaction to be had by setting time aside to listen to an album on vinyl because doing so makes listening to a record an immersive experience as opposed to a background activity. Vinyl records often come with especially impressive packaging, containing enlarged artwork and unique liner notes with lyrics.
As a result, vinyl records encourage people to listen to new releases as a whole instead of disjointedly listening to a few tracks before moving on to something else.
Crackle and pop noises aside, the sound quality of vinyl is remarkably warm and superior to something with digital sound — listeners with a fine ear for music will surely notice.
The sound quality is superior because digital files distributed online for download tend to be compressed versions of the songs themselves. And even the highest quality downloads cannot match the pure sounds of a vinyl record.
Though digital files are by no means bad, a careful comparison of the two media will yield the understanding that vinyl records allow people to experience all the nuances of the recording and production process to the fullest extent.
These benefits are subtle things that the casual music consumer will not notice. Vinyl needed outside support to get to the prominent standing it enjoys today.
This support is evidenced in causes such as Record Store Day, an annual event co-managed by Michael Kurtz and Carrie Colliton. Now in its fifth year, Record Store Day claims to be a “celebration of the unique culture surrounding more than 700 independently owned record stores in the USA, and hundreds of similar stores internationally,” as stated on its website.
It is a day when artists and independent record stores team up to release special albums on vinyl — available for purchase only in participating stores — that contain unreleased songs.
Naturally, avid music consumers have responded to this support, and the event is expected to post its highest sales yet when it takes place this year on April 21.
Thanks to events, such as Record Store Day, and artists’ support of the medium, vinyl will only continue to grow as years progress. As more people are discovering, flaunting a new vinyl record is becoming a lot cooler than showing off an iTunes library.
Perhaps Matthew Pryor of punk band The Get Up Kids said it best when he gave his thoughts on vinyl in an interview with AbsolutePunk.net in August 2011.
“I think [vinyl is] the slow food movement of the music industry. They are bigger, more difficult to maintain, take longer and cost more to produce but they just taste (or in this case sound) so much better,” Pryor said.
As this trend continues, record players are likely to become dorm-room essentials much like they used to be in the 1960s and 1970s. So make some room in that SUV for the next move-in day: Record players, after all, take up more space than iPods.
Nick Mindicino is a sophomore majoring in print and digital journalism. His column “Industry Ballads” runs Fridays.