By Lindsey Rothering —
It’s no secret: vinyl records are making a comeback. Actually, vinyl has been making a comeback for a while, as sales of vinyl are higher than they’ve been for a few decades. This past year, vinyl had its biggest year in the U.S. to date, with 6.1 million units sold, according to Nielsen’s U.S. Music Industry Year-End Review for 2013. With CD sales declining and digital sales at a standstill, vinyls and long playings are rapidly expanding, with sales up 33 percent from 2012—the only music format with an uptick in sales.
In Menomonie this trend is no different, with many antique store and thrift store workers seeing more college kids raiding their vinyl bins. With smartphones that can hold thousands of songs in our pocket and access to millions more through online streaming, the question is: Why are we, a generation raised on Walkman’s and personal CD players, reverting to our parent’s and grandparent’s choice of music format?
Some say the audio quality of vinyls are better, though many critics argue this is debatable. Most don’t notice a difference. Mark Richardson, a writer for the online publication Pitchfork.com, which focuses on independent music, says that the “vinyl is better” myth may be due to a decline in audio quality for certain digital file types. “For some, ‘MP3s are cheap and bad’ turned into ‘[all] digital audio is cheap and bad compared to LPs.’”
With some vinyl reissues being made with files from an artist’s CD, rather than the original raw audio files, a vinyl may actually be even worse quality.
For others, vinyl is a nice throwback to a more nostalgic time. Caleb Harrington, a sophomore Entertainment Design major and vinyl enthusiast agrees that it is an old form of technology, but adds, “It’s an icon of an era.”
As far as who started the trend, Harrington simply says “Hipsters. They started it, and then people thought ‘Oh wait, we forgot how cool these were.”
As far as vinyls being “cool,” he may be right–some students I spoke with that don’t even own record players like the appeal of vinyl. With many albums containing digital downloads of the album along with posters or other extras, vinyl is worth the extra money. This is no surprise to anyone that has picked up Jack White’s Lazaretto album, which contained two bonus tracks only available on the vinyl albums, amongst several other features.
The reasons people choose vinyl over MP3s echo the reasons why some prefer “real” books over e-readers. With books, you have the smell of the pages, the cracking of a new book’s binding, the turning of each page, making it a full sensory experience. With vinyl records, it’s a similar case. Instead of taking out your phone or iPod and simply pressing “play,” you take the LP ever so carefully out of its dust jacket, feel the grooves on your fingertips and align the needle to that very first track. With each little bump of the needle and miniscule white noise sound in between tracks, listening to a vinyl isn’t simply an activity; it’s an intimate experience. With paper books still outselling e-books, maybe vinyl’s rise in popularity isn’t just a trend in the audio community but a complete callback for earlier times.