A look into the rise in Vinyl sales in a world where your favorite song is a click away.

By Lory Martinez

photo courtesy of http://jgallaghersblog.blogspot.com
          The music industry has evolved in a number of ways since “Video (supposedly) killed the radio star.” From cassette tapes and vinyl records to CDs and MP3s, the way we consume our favorite music has ultimately become a matter of which medium you prefer.
Now, personally, I love my CDs and I do, in fact, have a favorite record store I frequent in the East Village. But, I’ve always wondered why vinyl records are still so popular. CDs can be uploaded onto any music player and of course MP3s have long since replaced the need to even go out and buy those CDs in the first place.
So why do artists still release Vinyl LPs? LPs that even include free mp3 downloads, acknowledging the need for digital content, but in no way competing with it?


        Some researchers say the appeal is in the idea of purchasing something tangible that can be saved and or displayed. A common argument is that the music isn’t the only thing you’re getting. You get this giant album cover and liner notes, possibly even dust from ill-use. You are getting history, they say. It also helps that most old records now sell for less than $1 at your local thrift store.
           Even still, purchasing a contemporary artist’s vinyl LP has become something of a kitschy thing. People pay up to $40 for records by bands like Vampire Weekend and The Black Keys because, well, isn’t it pretty to look at those covers even though it is very possible to stream entire albums on music players like Spotify for…free? Skeptical and still confused about this phenomenon, I related this paradox to my 16-year- old brother, who explained, “You don’t get it, it isn’t about the money, it’s about having the music, in your hands, running home to listen to it for the first time.” There is certain something about hearing a song for the first time, or in my brother’s case hearing Kanye’s Cruel Summer album for the first time after he’d saved up to buy it the day it was released.
One blogger put it best by explaining t hat though they age and aren’t as easy to use, Vinyls have “a certain romance, like a hand written letter instead of an email. Email has its obvious benefits, but when you get a hand written letter, it is special.” (http://brokensecrets.com/2010/02/19/why-vinyl-records-are-becoming-popular-again/)


         In my search for an answer, I’ve got to say that was the most convincing argument I found. Even so, I kept looking and ran (surfed? Do people even use that word anymore?) into what popular culture has aptly named, ”The “Hipster Phenomenon.” I know, we can’t even begin to define the word ‘hipster’ these days because well, as they say, ‘reasons.’ However, I will explain the original meaning of the word, which, as it happens, has a strong connection to the music industry and can perhaps shed some light on the present cultural group that keeps record stores in business.
            The first hipsters, though many current ones claim they started the whole thing, were in fact jazz aficionados in the 1940s. In fact, the term was used interchangeably with the word, “hepcat” and described a person who partook in the emerging subculture of jazz music around that time. They were mostly musicians or people who were “in the know” with the latest and coolest jazz tunes.
Jazz history books often include references to these first ’hipsters’ with one apt description in Frank TIrro’s “A jazz history”: “The hipster is an underground man. He is to the Second World War what the Dadaist was to the first. He is amoral, anarchistic, gentle, and overcivilized to the point of decadence. He knows the hypocrisy of bureaucracy, the hatred implicit in religions—so what values are left for him?—except to go through life avoiding pain, keep his emotions in check, and after that, “be cool,” and look for kicks. He is looking for something that transcends all this bs and finds it in jazz.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hipster_(1940s_subculture)
        Of course this seems to have carried into the current subculture the term is based on; encompassing the contemporary idea that such a person has superior knowledge of music and in that, transcends all other beings that lack that knowledge.


            Does this explain why it is common place to hear someone who seems a part of said subculture say, “Vinyl just sounds better, man” and other things like, “I use Spotify but I love my record player way more, it’s more authentic!” 

Perhaps, but perhaps there is some semblance of truth to the feeling one has when you finally listen to music you’ve been dying to actually hold in your hands for months. Maybe Vinyl is cool, or hip, or whatever people like to call it these days. Or maybe it’s just another way we can listen to the music that has seen us through decades of the human experience, and no matter what medium we choose, we will always find some way to listen.