I've heard the naysayers for years, the ones that say vinyl is a fad, or that kids buy records just because they think LPs are cool. But the fact is vinyl sales keep going up year after year. I'd be the first to admit that playing an LP is more of a hassle than listening to Spotify, so why do people who grew up listening to CDs and files invest in a turntable, and search out their favorite music on LP? Why do they do it?
Recently, I talked with a few music lovers who grew up in a mostly digital world, and are just now starting to play LPs.
I first chatted with Ariel, a 34-year-old woman who just bought a turntable. I could hear the excitement in her voice as she recounted her memories of playing her dad's reggae records when she was 7 or 8 years old. Ariel has his collection now and appreciates the richness of those old LPs. The Rolling Stones "Beggar's Banquet" has been in heavy rotation lately, and Ariel noticed that when she plays LPs she's more likely to stop multitasking and really focus on the music. She kept saying, "Records are beautiful, they're beautiful," and noted that listening to 1960s and 1970s music that was originally released on vinyl is like reading literature in the original language -- the music makes more sense. Ariel still listens to a lot of music on the go, but appreciates how much more rewarding the vinyl experience is.
Matt, 40, just recently got an old Dual turntable. He grew up playing a boombox and a cassette player, then moved on to CDs and files. He had LPs from the Pearl Jam Club and from Jack White's Third Man Records, long before he had the Dual. Like Ariel, Matt discovered that he paid more attention to music when he was playing records than FLAC files. He's surprised how different and better the Black Keys sound on vinyl. For him it's all about the difference between background and foreground listening; digital is fine when he's washing dishes, but when he's really going to focus on the tunes, it's got to be on LP. Matt lives near Philadelphia.
Al from Colorado just bought a VPI Traveler turntable a few months ago, and he feels that with digital it's too easy to skip around, but with the turntable he's happy to sit and enjoy complete albums. Another guy, Patrick, tweeted me, "I just started with vinyl a little over a year ago. I'm hooked, I cut my craft beer drinking by two-thirds so I can buy more LPs."
Jonathan just graduated from college, and started to buy Beatles albums before he had a turntable. He now has 20 LPs, but he's adding to his collection, and shops at Amoeba Music. For vinyl he prefers older recordings, and with the Beatles records Jonathan felt like he was hearing the band, "for real," and digital never sounded as good. The music on LPs connects on a different level than it does with CDs or downloads. Jonathan and the others all noticed the same thing. That's interesting.
I also chatted with two brothers, Aiden (18) and Sean (14), who are both new converts to analog music. Aiden likes the ritual of sliding the record out of the sleeve, placing it on the platter, and putting the stylus in the groove.
He said, "It makes it special, and you appreciate the music more." He prefers the album format more than just listening to singles, and, like Jonathan, Aiden feels a connection to older generations when he plays LPs. Without any prompting from me, Aiden noted he could more easily hear the individual instruments on LPs than on digital formats. "That's a huge benefit."
Sean admitted he sometimes gets bored and skips ahead when listening on his iPod, but is less likely to jump around with vinyl. He's discovered a lot of good music on albums he played many times on his iPod. Sean scores his records at Soundstage Direct, and Aiden is hoping his uncle is going to pass on some vintage titles soon.
If you've made the switch to analog, share your experiences in the comments section.