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  • Tammi Joy Chenard

Why Listen To Vinyl Instead Of Digital

Updated: Oct 14, 2021

The Vitality Of Vinyl

I was into vinyl when I was a teenager, a thousand years ago, in the mid-1990s. Well, I never did any actual vinyl buying, but my boyfriend at the time was a musician, DJ (yes, on the radio, like a Neanderthal or something) and vinyl collector, and I was completely along for the ride.

I learned about collecting vinyl as a hobby and a lifestyle as part of a glorious system of vinyl worship which, quite unfortunately for humanity in general, seems to no longer exist. Used vinyl, at that time, was plentiful and, most importantly, cheap, because vinyl was dying or dead, and aren’t cd’s more modern and much shinier than vinyl?

Vinyl Then: The Vinyl System

vinyl records on sale at a flea market

Vinyl album collecting, as a hobby, might seem to be something that would take up the same amount of time as listening to an album, but that would be wholly untrue. Having a vinyl addiction was a full-time obsession thanks to what I call the Vinyl System (I don’t, really), and it was a beautiful system indeed! It would take up an entire weekend, and bleed right on into the next.

Start At The Flea Market

The first step is you take the time to go to flea markets—looking for either the guy whose tables are all albums or, even better for finding gems, the everyday person selling a whole bunch of stuff that happens to include some albums.

I say this choice is even better because these people would likely not know about the potential value of the albums, just that they take up space and want them gone. They would let them go for ten or twenty-five cents (yes, cents!) each, and if you said “I’ll take them all for five bucks,” they’d gladly give you the whole crate.

Sort Through The Haul

So, you spend all day at the flea markets, then it’s time to go home and sort. This is where you set aside the albums you have no interest in, duplicates of what you already have, or ones in which you don’t have any interest in at all. These go in the pile of re-sells. Then next weekend, or the next day maybe, you go to a record store and sell those for store credit, which you would of course use to get more vinyl.

Enjoy The Listening Party

We’re not done yet, because now is the sweetest part of the Vinyl System, the listening party. That’s when you listen to what you bought. Since we usually went to the flea markets with a group of friends, we’d listen as a group also, with everyone choosing a few nice ones they got that day.

This would take hours, and that was just fine with us. It was a cheap, exciting, fun, social hobby all about music. Perfect and pure in my memories.

Vinyl Today: An Expensive Revival

Vinyl records on a bookshelf and floor

Flash forward to 2020. The pandemic was keeping the world quarantined, so I bought an entry-level turntable, eager to start buying mountains of used vinyl. I went looking online, since flea markets and the few record stores that were still in existence were out of the question. I was very excited to go looking for gems. That is, until I actually saw the going prices.

Gone are the days of cheap vinyl, apparently, since used records in good condition go for around ten to fifteen dollars (not cents) each. Plus shipping. Very good, or mint condition albums are more like fifteen to twenty dollars each. If you want to take a chance on albums that are unrated, or as-is, they are around five dollars each. Plus shipping.

No more getting an entire crate full of vinyl for five bucks. No more finding the stray Beatles or Stones in mint condition. No more piles of vinyl to sort. No more amazing surprises. When did this happen?

Well, the industry, and consumers, decided the format was dead sometime in the 1990s, and the vinyl revival didn’t happen until around 2010, so for twenty whole years, no major label released albums for their artists, besides small batches in special runs.

Everyone was convinced digital music was the future. As someone who had a large collection of CDs from the 90s, I know for a fact that they sound like garbage. Absolute, hot-stinking garbage. Mostly due to antiquated mixing methods, the compression necessary for digital conversion is nearly audible on these abominations, as every instrument sounds the same, coming from the same place, at the same level.

Rise Of Digital Streaming

digital streaming iphones and airpods

As soon as streaming became a thing, most abandoned those accursed CDs. But streaming, while very modern if not futuristic, doesn’t result in the consumer having an actual, physical product, and as it so happens, most consumers want an actual, physical product.

The notion of vinyl (analog) music sounding “warmer” than digital music has never been proven. The few studies I’ve seen seem to indicate that people can’t actually tell the difference, even audiophiles who insist on the existence of analog’s signature warmth when compared to modern digital media.

Although it’s not yet been proven, those who have been bitten by the vinyl bug will insist with their last dying breath that vinyl is superior to digital, and they have proven their beliefs with their dollars. In the first half of 2021, according to the Record Industry Association of America (which apparently is a thing that still exists), profits from vinyl sales grew 94% over the year before, resulting in $467 million in revenue in the US alone.

Step Back Into Vinyl

Why? Vinyl is warm. Vinyl sounds good. Vinyl is a physically pleasing thing when pressed into flat discs and gouged with grooves. Vinyl has amazing cover art. Vinyl is a physical product that is just more real to many people than digital streaming. Vinyl is here to stay, and the next revolution in music media might just be a step BACK into vinyl.

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