The nostalgia of vinyl

There’s nothing like slipping a record out of its sleeve, placing it carefully on the turntable, and hearing it play.

You may have become aware of the resurgence of vinyl. Popular artists have started releasing their albums as exactly that, albums, and it’s clearly something buyers want. Purchases of vinyl are increasing, whereas CD sales are decreasing.

As a testament to how popular records are, April 21 was Record Store Day. Many artists participated by releasing music on records. Even the queen of pop, Katy Perry, re-released her latest album, “Teenage Dream,” on vinyl. Record Store Day was first celebrated in 2008, right when record sales began to take off.

There are several reasons why records have suddenly come back into fashion. After all, the ’90s seemed to have spelled its downfall: CDs had taken over, and even cassettes were more popular. Later on, digital music was newer and more accessible. In the late 2000s, however, records were selling quickly, despite an overall decrease in album sales. By 2010, the trend became evident: Album sales decreased by 13 percent, but sales of vinyl increased by 14 percent. CD sales fell almost 20 percent that year, and digital sales only increased by 1 percent.

Opinions on the reasons for this resurgence vary. Connoisseurs of music go back and forth on whether records have a superior sound. Some say you can hear the nuances of the music more easily and the sound is “warmer,” a phrase that gets thrown around a lot. Others say it doesn’t make enough of a difference — or any difference at all — and digital is just as good.

It isn’t really the quality that matters to most people. If you ask the average record-buyer what the difference is in sound, they won’t have a particularly detailed answer. They might have vague thoughts on quality, but it’s doubtful they can explain why. Full disclosure: I love records, mostly due to the influence of my dad. I’ve heard about why the quality is better many times, but I couldn’t possibly explain it. And really, that’s fine, because it’s not the primary reason we’re buying records.

In the age of digital music, we can shuffle through hundreds of songs in no time at all. Convenience seems to be the hallmark of the 21st century, but in the past few years, music lovers have started to latch onto the trend of nostalgia that’s taken hold. However, instead of watching “Mad Men” or wearing vintage clothing, they’re buying their favorite albums on vinyl.

For the average listener in this nostalgia category, it’s all about the experience. When was the last time you sat down and just listened to an album? Not while you were doing homework, or driving your car, or walking to class, but just sat down and listened to the music? It might seem quaint, but not so long ago, people used to spend time alone or with friends listening to records.

For the most part, we don’t listen to music in the same way anymore. Music is all around us, but it’s rarely at the forefront of our minds. When you’re flipping through songs, it’s easy to default to your favorites and not bother to give a second listen to the other tracks. When you’re playing a record you can skip tracks, but I seldom do, and that draws you into the music. You notice things you wouldn’t have otherwise, and you start to love songs you might not have taken the time to listen to before.

Where is the fun in a digital library on your computer? I might own thousands of songs, but I can’t put them on a bookshelf and examine the album art. I can’t hold them in my hands or pass them on to someone else to enjoy. Despite growing up in the digital age, I would rather have a record than a collection of MP3s, and it seems like the same goes for many people. If I like a song, I’ll buy it digitally, but if I truly love an album, I’ll buy it on vinyl. I’ve got a small collection going which I count as some of my prized possessions. I would never give up my Sex Pistols albums, and Ben Folds holds a special place on my shelf.

Flipping through songs on your computer is great for background music or a brief distraction, but if you want to be forced to sit down and truly enjoy it, try listening to records. It could bring an element of depth to the music that you didn’t know existed.

Reach opinion writer Indigo Trigg-Hauger at opinion@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @OpinionDailyUW

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