Collecting vinyl is a disease, according to a few women I’ve known. (Most women don’t tolerate music played loud either—but you knew that.) In quantities vinyl is heavy, it’s fussy to play, and it scratches easily. Trying to move a big collection takes strong backs, a lot of boxes, and a truck. Vinyl fanciers do have to admit to these charges.
These attributes plus the advent of streaming music killed off vinyl for a long time. Now it’s having a renaissance as witnessed by growing sales numbers and lots of Kumbaya cyber celebration. Google News tells me in the morning about new vinyl pressing plants going online.
So what’s the appeal? I wrote earlier about the better sound of vinyl and how, for me, that makes all the fussiness worthwhile. With the advent of fairly cheap plug-and-play turntables, vinyl becomes accessible to a growing audience of mostly younger fans who relish its kind of tactile connectedness to their music.
But the physicality of picking up a record and placing it on a platter—and the need to get out of my chair to flip it when it hits the run-out groove on side A—has me appreciating each song all the more. Plus, the wonder of seeing a spinning disc with grooves producing harmonic sound never fades.
I’m too old and long in the tooth with vinyl to get a rush like that. For me it’s the warm sound, plus the psycho-physical need to focus on the music, as if you were in a concert hall. Streaming audio (even with expensive high-resolution downloads) forces music to fit into the mental background of what you are doing. The writer of the above quote gets this, and it’s a big factor: “The music isn’t hiding in the background, as it is when I’m streaming digitally. Instead, it’s front and center.”
London’s Financial Times, an unusual source, tells us that vinyl sales for 2021 went over a billion dollars, the highest level in 30 years. Investors rush to acquire music catalogs and copyrights. The calculus of payoffs to all artists (not just the superstars) changes for the better, and that’s been a long time coming.
A band with 1mn fans, each streaming their new album 100 times in a single month, need only get 20,000 of them to buy the vinyl record to gross the same amount. For consumers, vinyl albums resuscitate a culture of gifting and compilations that used to drive a fifth of all transactions.
So it’s not just the big stars but all the scuffling musicians who make out better with vinyl. And so do the listeners.