Woman browses through a stack of records (Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com).
NEW YORK, NY — Believe it or not, before the rise of streaming services like Spotify and Apple music, people listened to music through hard, physical discs, known as records. Record stores could once be found on almost every corner, and provided people with a seemingly very accessible way to listen to music. However, after the rise of digital music, records had virtually disappeared from people’s lives. Why listen to music on a large, expensive, immobile, and — according to former record player owner Sarah Heckman — “furniture-like” contraption, when you could just use Spotify? Yet recently, this once outmoded way of listening to music has been making a shocking comeback.
According to Statista, record sales have been going up for the last 16 years, and in 2020, vinyl sales were higher than CD sales for the first time since 1986. “I probably first noticed record players for sale in Urban Outfitters in the mid-2010s,” stated music enthusiast Lily Gellman. As more and more people continue to buy them, records and record players have once again become accessible within big box stores. Today, walking through Target, Walmart, Barnes and Noble, or even scrolling through Amazon, one can quickly find themselves in the “Vinyl” section. In order to gauge this fascinating new cultural development, and answer the question of “is it worth it,” I myself purchased a record player.
I bought my first record, played it, and was hooked. I was surprised by how different the listening experience was. For instance, today’s virtual streaming services allow users to make playlists and jump from one artist to the next. However, on a record player, only one album can be played at a time, and only in one specific order. It’s similar to the difference between watching TV or seeing a play. Listening to one album at a time forces one to fully absorb the work of musicians, and provides a break from stress and screens. Yet this tradition has sadly been lost in modern times.
The non-digital and tangible quality of records is another aspect of music that has been lost in modern times. The act of buying a physical album is an irreplaceable experience. Records often come with blurbs about the album, pictures of the musicians, and more. All of these special additions included with records give listeners an even deeper look into the music, and with that a fuller appreciation. Gellman elaborated on the uniqueness of this physical quality, stating, “There is something special about having the physical, material artifact to associate with the songs you most love.”
Buying a record player allows for a certain rare listening experience and insight into music, which together make this purchase worthwhile. It is unclear what the sudden comeback of such an old way of listening to music means for the future of music delivery. However, the resurgence of vinyl may be an omen of future developments in the music industry — including for the manufacturers of record players and streaming services — as well as for the way in which artists decide to present their music, or a sign of how trends recycle. Whether record players make a permanent comeback, or are merely just a current craze, my recommendation is to get one while you can.