By Lucy Bennett
Vinyl records were once the only way to listen to music. After being invented during World War II as a way to send recordings to POWs overseas, their use was widespread until the 1980s, when digital recordings made them all but obsolete. However, vinyls are making a comeback today. Vinyl sales have been consistently growing since 1993 and in 2014 9.2 million vinyl LPs were sold in the United States.
What is it about vinyl LPs that is causing them to make such a comeback? Is it the sound or the overall trendy look that is causing sales to rise, making every major record label want to release their albums in vinyl versions?
The real appeal is not with the older vinyl collectors, but with the college-aged listener. Jack White’s “Lazaretto” was the best-selling vinyl album of 2014, selling 86.7 thousand vinyl copies by Dec. 28, 2014, beating the ever-classic Abbey Road by the Beatles, which sold 38.2 thousand. Even when we have almost unlimited access to music online, it is astounding that records are still growing rapidly in popularity.
So, what is the appeal to the younger audience, especially when vinyl costs more than CDs (A digital download of an album will range around $10, but a vinyl can cost as much as $40)? On top of that, does the sound really change? With a decent turntable and needle, the sound supposedly fills up the room with a warm and vibrant embrace. Compare that to a YouTube download!
Amy Payan, an employee at Josey Records in Dallas, says that they have recently been attracting more of a young, college-aged audience, and has a theory for why that is.
“Today’s music is coming back on vinyl, and it’s all in the way history repeats itself,” Payan said. “There’s more of a connection with vinyl. You take the time to build your own connection. The different trifold of artwork and the appearance attract more people to it.”
But when modern vinyl is recorded from the digital masters, what is the difference in sound? Junior Javier Secaira has a mixture of vinyl albums, ranging from the ‘80s classic “Synchronicity” by The Police to the popular English indie rock band alt-J’s “That Is All Yours.” Secaira prefers listening to vinyls, and he agrees that vinyl’s sound is affected more in an older album like “Synchronicity.”
“Vinyls are recorded better on older albums,” Secaira said. “Some exceptions are those like Daft Punk, where [they] get into the technical stuff, so the vinyl is better than the CD.”
But it doesn’t matter to Secaira, because he believes that using vinyl is a celebration of the artist.
“It is the ceremony of it,” Secaira said. “I like having it and putting it down. You have to be patient, but it is worth it.”
Senior Selena Puente agrees that collecting vinyl is well worth the experience.
“It’s kind of like a time machine when you’re listening to vinyl and that’s why I really love it, and I knew my roommates did too, so we just bought one together,” Puente said. “It’s college! It’s fun! We can all listen to the records together after class.”
Puente has an abundant collection, ranging from rock to classical.
“You can go to Half Price Books here and just find these really kooky records that you never would have picked up otherwise,” Puente said. Like Secaira, she trusts in the musical expression.
“It is just a really unitive experience,” Puente said. “You’re just sitting down and you put on a record. Unlike putting on a CD or streaming music, you really have to pay attention to it, you have to clean it, and you got to [sic] make sure the needle isn’t scratching it. So it is definitely a full experience.”
I decided to try out a record player and listened to a vinyl copy of one of my favorite albums, “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” by Wilco. I slid it out of its sleeve and flipped it over on the turntable, carefully placing the needle on top and waiting for the warm embrace. I felt the ceremony Secaira was describing, traveling back in time to the way music originally displayed. It is an exciting sense of honoring the artist.
As Puente says, “Whenever you put a record on, you expect to be in the room for a while.”
-Christina Deal contributed to the reporting of this article