The vinyl format has always been popular between hi-fi enthusiast and music passionates. For these people the vinyl record was always considered to be the true release and the general opinion was that the format has a richer and more interesting sound. Despite of this the vinyl was loved by the few. However, over the last couple of years the vinyl record has increased its popularity enormously, which has manifested itself in a tremendous sales growth. This has partly given the struggling independent record stores a new chance and even huge retailers have started to sell vinyl records.
The question is how could a format that was virtually dead suddenly become so enormously popular again, especially with young crowd, who was not even born at the prime of the format. This article will take a brief look at the history of the vinyl record in order to understand what factors made this possible.
Vinyl was the first commercial physical music format and for a long time it therefore dominated the market for physical music. Several different types of vinyl records were developed, but in general, when people wanted to buy music to play at home there was no other choice than to buy it on vinyl. However, at some point the compact disc (CD) came around and that quickly put an end to the vinyl format for most people. The CD was smaller, cheaper to produce and some would argue that it had better sound quality. Also, people could easily bring the CD with them to play it in the car, while working out or on their Discman. At some point it also became possible to copy the content of a CD to another CD and a little bit later the content could also be copied to a computer and converted to mp3 files. The last part was the beginning of the end for the CD format.
As CDs could easily be ripped to mp3, people had better Internet connections and new file sharing services were developed buying music gradually became less of a necessity for the more technically savvy music lovers. It didn’t take long before whatever music you would want could be downloaded for free. So when the content suddenly was available for free, why should people then buy CDs? Well, of course there’s the moral question, but except from that the CD format did not provide any extra value that would convince a lot of people to pay for it. As digital music online has become even more convenient to consume and we’re living in a world where streaming music is the most convenient option this has become even truer. So the case is that the CD format has become a format stuck in the middle. It lacks the flexibility of streaming and the great physical characteristics of the vinyl format. The vinyl format and streaming are perfectly negatively correlated, and as a consequence of that perfectly compatible. While streaming offers superior convenience on one hand, vinyl offers the ultimate physical experience on the other hand by being a piece of art in itself.
So what exactly are these neat characteristics of the vinyl format? Well, one thing to start with is the cover art. The vinyl has much more space for cover art than a CD and is different from what can be thought of as cover art online. This makes it easier to enjoy the work that is put into create something unique. Another characteristic related to this is that people by nature are collectors. Everyone likes to collect something. Since digital music has no scarcity it just doesn’t make much sense to collect it. Vinyl on the other hand is perfect for collecting. Music lovers like to show their dedication and support to a band by buying the record and it fits nicely on the shelf just as books do.
Another, and often debated characteristic, is the sound quality. Many vinyl lovers claim that it is the cracks, pops and hisses that create the special vinyl sound and make vinyl unique. It is for sure true that this is an important part of the vinyl experience, however, whether or not this is important depends on two factors. First, a person naturally needs to have a preference for this type of sound and second; the record must be mastered specifically for vinyl, which means analog mastering.
A final factor which contributes to the attractiveness of the vinyl format is the listening experience. Listening to music on vinyl is a ritual in its own. Picking the right vinyl, putting the needle on the record, getting up to flip the record before picking up a new one. This physical listening experience stands in stark contrast to the digital one and too a higher extent require that people take time to actually listen to a record and listening to it in its entirety. In that regard listening to music on vinyl therefore often can be experienced as a break from the daily stress and routines.
The future indeed looks bright.