The development of the record player dates all the way back to 1877, but vinyl as we know it truly became widely used in popular culture in the 1960s and 70s. It started to fade out moving into the 80s, as the Compact Disc rose in popularity. In the 21st century, MP3 players quickly took over, and soon came smartphones, wireless streaming, Bluetooth headphones, and many other gadgets that more or less rendered technology like turntables obsolete.
With music streaming being as seamless and easy as it is now, you would think that not many people would buy vinyl anymore. Well, you would be wrong. In 2020, for the first time in decades, vinyl sales surpassed CD sales, at over 27.5 million records sold. In 2021, that number jumped to 41.72 million. Record sales are skyrocketing faster than they have in the last 30 years or more. With so many more convenient devices available to us, what's the reason for this trend?
You probably think that there's a wave of nostalgic Gen Xers trying to reconnect with their past, but you would be wrong again. Surveys show that Gen Z and Millenials are actually the ones buying up records in recent years. So, what's the deal? Why are young people suddenly gaining an interest in old fashioned records?
This has a lot to do with how the way we listen to music has changed over the generations. Music has become exceedingly accessible, but we don't listen to it in the same way as we used to. With the convenience of mobile devices and streaming services that we have today, we hear music all the time without giving it a second thought. We hear it in the car, while we walk, inside gyms, coffee shops, and grocery stores -- it's all around us. It's common for us to not even notice that we're hearing it. Music as an activity, purposeful and thoughtful listening, is on the decline.
Vinyl offers an opportunity to sit and listen to a full album in ways that streaming services don't encourage. Vinyl is a chance to slow down and really appreciate the music, and that will never go out of fashion. While you may be able to instantly stream any of millions of songs from your phone, there is something romantic about pulling out a vinyl, opening up the record player, and carefully setting the stylus before hearing the warm crackle of the record grooves. Listening to music this way is an experience beyond what streaming services can offer, and for music lovers, it brings back the value of truly listening to an album.
Beyond the way we listen to vinyl, the physicality of records is also an attractive feature. In fact, the unique aesthetics of records are what makes them more popular than other physical music formats like tape and CDs. Being able to actually hold the record, appreciate the cover art, read the liner notes, and discover new fun colors is an activity in itself, and makes vinyls a fantastic collecting item. The act of collecting records can be a fun activity as well, especially for vintage collectors. Visiting the record store and flipping through hundreds of bands is the perfect pastime for a music junkie, just as thrift shopping is for a fashion junkie.
Additionally, records bring back a sense of ownership that has been lost in the age of streaming. Although we have access to millions of songs at our fingertips, we never actually own any of them. Buying a record means we will always own that album; perhaps there is something inspiring or comforting in being able to physically take the music home with you and keep it on your shelf. In an age of online connection where everything we do revolves around our mobile devices and the global network, it can be refreshing to take something like music and make it tangible. And in an age when it has become exceedingly difficult to support musicians you love, buying a record is a fun way to contribute to your favorite artists directly.
So, there are many characteristics of vinyl that are giving it staying power in a digital age. However, the way we listen to vinyl is also changing. Research from turntable manufacturer Victrola suggests that vinyl listeners today want a turntable that offers the convenience of a classic suitcase record player, but with higher quality audio than a typical entry level turntable, and a sleek look for a modern home. Additionally, modern features like compatibility with Bluetooth are becoming more desirable.
Regardless of how it is happening, the verdict is in: vinyl is here to stay.