By Colin Halliburton
My first LP was A Night at the Opera (1975) by Queen. When I sat down to listen and enjoy the album, I understood why they are still around. Interacting with the physical versions of my favorite albums created a more in-depth experience, with more character and soul. Before I had first encountered vinyl records, I thought they were nothing more than old tech, something we had created CD’s and streaming to replace.
Music has been a constant and recurring source of entertainment throughout history, but the way music has been captured and enjoyed has changed drastically. Vinyl records were first invented and released in 1930 as a way to record and listen to music and audio outside of a live performance. This brought music and joy to many homes across the world, and that continues today. Over the decades since new technologies have been invented, and the record’s purpose has changed.
In the 90’s vinyl records experienced a sharp decline, partly because record labels/corporations became stricter with their buyback policies, which many record stores relied on to keep a rotating stock of popular items. They also stopped releasing many of their albums on vinyl, and closed some pressing plants. Many saw this as a ploy to get consumers to buy more CDs, which were more profitable for the corporations.
However since 2007, vinyl sales and general popularity have been on the rise, passing CDs once again in the first half of 2020. Almost in spite of the meteoric rise of streaming services (currently the cheapest way by far to listen to music), vinyl continues to grow. Many audiophiles or anyone else who appreciates sound quality often prefer vinyl records to digital streaming, because of the compression.
They are also very popular for collecting. Many (including myself) find the artwork and physical disc of music alluring and captivating. A lot of record sleeves come with previously unseen photographs or art, and some record discs even have art on them. In a few rare cases there is vinyl exclusive music on them as well. For example on Tyler the Creator’s 2019 album IGOR (Columbia), the song BOYFRIEND is only available on vinyl, making it a more fulfilling listen.
The almost therapeutic process of sorting through record bins to find a specific album or even anything that catches my eye is addicting. It’s also just like any other collection hobby where building the collection, seeing the shelves full of your favorite albums is enough for a lot of people. The nostalgia factor is also attractive, as vinyls are a way for many to relive their memories.
Interestingly, despite Hip-Hop/R&B being by far the most popular genre in streaming numbers (29.8% of all streams across platforms in the U.S. as of 2021, via Headphone addict) and just pop culture in general, Rock dominates the vinyl market with a staggering 41.7% of US sales as of 2018 (according to Statista). This further shows that a lot of the vinyl LP’s popularity comes from nostalgia and tradition.
For me, I have always loved music, and I think my dad fostered that love by always playing music around me and encouraging me to learn to play it. When we got a record player for Christmas a few years ago, the records really felt like a more tangible way to listen to music. To feel, see, and hold my favorite albums in front of me. Of course streaming and modern technology has its benefits of being less expensive, easier, and quicker to use, but for when you just want to really enjoy the music and have the time, I find records to be the perfect medium.
Some of my favorite albums to leave you with, along with the aforementioned IGOR, are: Gorillaz’ synth heavy statement on modern consumerism in 2010’s Plastic Beach (Warner/Parlaphone); Pink Floyd’s classic 1979 concept rock album The Wall (Columbia); the rare, limited, and sample-filled French Exit by Tv Girl in 2014 (Self); Childish Gambino’s modern soul/R&B of 2018’s “Awaken my love!” (Glassnote); the classic funk/soul of The Beginning of the End’s 1971 album Funky Nassau (Alston); and the technical jazz of Clifford Brown and Max roach on 1955’s Study in Brown (EmArcy).
From left to right: Study in Brown, “Awaken my Love!”, IGOR, The Wall, and Plastic Beach