In our world today, everything moves quickly. Technology changes at a lightning pace and has become so sophisticated we need only touch our smartphone to talk, shop or watch our favourite film.
The same is true for music. Even the CD, once a technological revolution in its own right whose success left piles of discarded cassette tapes and vinyl in its wake, seems archaic now as we buy and stream music at the click of a button. In fact, as Apple Music, Spotify and Pandora continue to dominate, the CD itself is quickly fading into oblivion.
Yet despite our fast-paced lives and desire for all things new, it’s fascinating that we continue to feel sentiment for the past. From vintage clothing, hairstyles and endless movie remakes, we take great interest in resurrecting the ideas of yesterday (these retro style clocks are a classic example). This nostalgia has recently manifested into the resurgence of records and we’re now in the midst of a vinyl revolution.
During the 1980s and 90s, vinyl was in grave danger of disappearing completely. The popularity of CDs very nearly pushed vinyl out of the market for good. During the 1990s, major stores stopped selling vinyl altogether and by 2007, sales of vinyl could only be attributed to DJs and collectors.
But today, the truth is in the numbers. 2014 saw record sales double to 1.3 million in Australia and these are expected to exceed 2 million by the end of 2015. Younger people are discovering their parents' record collections and there has been an explosion of new and retro style record players enter the market.
The return to vinyl in favour of CDs or cassette tapes does beg the question… what is it about a record that makes it so special?
A tangible experience
Regardless of how easy it may be to stream music, many people believe there is something special about the quality of sound on vinyl that no electronic device will ever truly be able to replicate. But the recent vinyl revolution can be attributed to more than just nostalgia or sound quality. Music that is only available online or in steaming formats is intangible, and this generation of music fans wants more than just a “play” button. They want to feel something in their hands and experience a connection to their music that just isn’t possible through a screen. Musicians have responded to the call by releasing their albums in vinyl as a way to give their fans a physical product.
Music and art
Anyone who’s ever opened the cover of an album and taken a good, close look knows that there is more than just music to be experienced. Record albums are works of art. Large graphics, photographs, sometimes inserts, each one is unique unto itself. Compare clicking on a “play” button or opening a plastic CD or cassette tape to holding and opening a big, beautiful record album. It's like comparing the reading of an eBook to opening an old, leather-bound volume and feeling the paper between your fingers as you turn the pages. Vinyl records, like old books, hold a host of sensory experiences; sight, smell, touch, and these newer technologies will never be able to emulate these.
Listen to music as it was intended
Although there are music listeners who hear no difference between the sound produced by vinyl on a record player and other music players, others consider the sound quality of vinyl incomparable and unsurpassed. The experience of listening to vinyl is also wholly different. When you listen to a record on a record player, you are likely to listen to the entire album from start to finish. Today’s music fans listen to music by selecting one artist’s song here, another there, or by clicking on video clips or sound bites. Listening to music in the age of vinyl was not so granular, so separate. Songs were carefully crafted to lead into others as the artist brought you on a musical journey. The patient art of truly listening to an entire album from beginning to end is an experience to be cherished and it all begins with the lowering of the needle and that unmistakable crackle.
So it’s for all of these reasons, that a new generation is discovering vinyl. They are embracing the sound as well as the complete musical experience which is unique to this format. As with many antique or vintage items, many young people buy vinyl in favour of the new and shiny in order to continue to live more simply and deliberately and to keep a wonderful old musical ritual alive.