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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Why we’ve spun back to vinyl

The current popularity of vinyl records doesn’t seem to make any sense. As a species, humanity is defined by progress. Instead of just settling for what we had, we sought to find improvements so that our lives could be more convenient. This focus on the ‘new’ is stronger than ever: Even phones, which had a pretty singular and straightforward purpose for the entirety of the twentieth century, are constantly being redesigned and tinkered with. So, logic would dictate that old technology would have no place in the modern world. Then how have vinyls become a common technology again?
Vinyl records, thought to be outdated a few decades ago, have reasserted themselves in the modern music market. Despite the convenience and affordability of streaming services like Spotify and Soundcloud, record sales have been getting stronger and stronger. Last year, they outsold CDs for the first time in decades, making up sixty two percent of all physical music revenue at the time (September 2020). There’s even an annual record day, where record stores all across the country sell special releases. What was once a hipster niche has grown into something bigger.
Most would write this off as nostalgia, but that doesn’t quite make sense. CDs began replacing vinyl in the 1980s, and many record buyers in the modern day weren’t even born then. There are also those who would say that it has something to do with the sound. People welcome the crackle that can be heard in between songs and find a warmth in the audio that supposedly can’t be replicated. That doesn’t quite ring true either. Most people like music, but would most people go out of their way to pay roughly $25 for an album because of “warmth?” Spotify Premium can give you access to thousands of albums for less money than one physical release, so, economically speaking, that just doesn’t make sense.
The answer lies somewhere else. Admittedly, I am speculating without any hard evidence, but I think there are a few answers lying in plain sight. So, put the needle on the record, and let’s get this started.
First, I think this interest in older technology directly comes from the focus on ‘new’ mentioned earlier. If someone were to buy a high-quality smartphone now, they’d do so knowing that their purchase will be made obsolete in a few years. It can be quite exhausting. There’s a comfort in sameness, because regardless of the quality of the product, you always know what you’re going to get. Not everyone likes the crackling sound records make, but at least record companies aren’t looking to upgrade their product every year or so until you’re forced to buy your favorite album again because your copy’s been made obsolete. If I buy a record today, I could keep it for fifty years, playing it whenever I felt like it. 
There’s also a collectability to vinyls that streaming just can’t provide. Record collectors keep crates worth of albums that they’ve bought over the years. Regardless of the inconvenience of having to lift that weight every once in a while, there’s a real appeal to such mass collections. Flipping through old vinyls can remind their owners of where they bought them, the places they took them, or simply where they were in life when they first saw it on a shelf in a record store. Looking up an album on YouTube is certainly more convenient, but it just can’t bring with it the same sentimentality. 
Lastly, vinyl records are a complete celebration of buying media that you can hold in your hands. An album is more than just its music. There is the cover, the back-cover, linear notes, and whatever else the artist decides to package in there. CDs and cassettes may also include these things, but they’ll be condensed and altered to fit the smaller medium. You get both the audio and visual components of music. While the music plays, feel free to stare at the cover or watch the vinyl go round and round, transfixing you in the process. It can be an experience, and that’s worth the $25 you bought it for.

About the Contributor
Kyle Makkas, Humor Writer