By Joshua Kalenga
There is something poetic about a black disk spinning on a turntable. This, at least, is the shared feeling among a new generation of vinyl lovers.
It is not uncommon to see technological advancements imposing obscurity upon items of the past. But while devices such as tape recorders, typewriters, and MP3 players have all met their demise, vinyl has stubbornly resisted any permanent descent into nothingness.
According to Forbes, vinyl sales grew by double digits in 2018, a year in which nearly 10 million units were sold. Astonishingly, this growth, according to SNJ Today, was led by “millennials and those who are designated as Generation Z.”
In other words, it is mainly today’s younger generation — not the generation that grew up with turntables in their homes — that are falling in love with vinyl.
Modern day technology offers its users an incredible vastness of song choice in a single location. Spotify, for example, reports having over 50 million songs in its library. At the expense of a single click, users are able to listen to any song on the platform. This raises the question of why young people would turn their back on such convenience.
Some audiophiles have suggested that vinyl’s appeal is its superior sound quality. As the music website Vox explains, “most of the music [on streaming apps] is broadcast in some lossy format, where details are missed, and the overall quality is reduced.” In contrast to this, no audio data is lost when vinyl is made.
However, if music lovers are only concerned with audio quality, they could simply make use of programs that allow for lossless compression — a technique that retains the quality of audio files. Thus, it appears that there is more to the fascination around vinyl than just sound quality.
Another reason for vinyl’s appeal is that it allows a user to own a physical copy of their music. Music on streaming platforms, on the other hand, exist only in a virtual space. In this digital age, certain aspects of music, such as album art, are often easily forgotten.
It is thus not difficult to see why vinyl would attract a typical music lover. The medium allows users to collect physical copies of artist’s music, covered in the art and words (liner notes) of their favorite artists.
The vastness of song choice that comes with apps such as iTunes or Spotify can be as overwhelming as it is useful. If songs are easily accessible, it is because they are just as easily disposable. After all, a user has over 50 million more songs to choose from at any time.
When listening to vinyl, the user usually focuses on a single album at a time. Of course, they have the option to change records, but this would take significantly longer than with digital technology and it is unlikely that even the most passionate vinyl lover owns 50 million records. Thus, some may argue that vinyl is a much more engaging means of listening to music.
One issue that may have millennials reconsidering their newly found allegiance to vinyl is its effect on the environment.
Vice News reports, “When it comes to vinyl, there are environmental impacts related to anywhere energy is used. This includes the extraction of crude oil from the ground, refining it, the subsequent processing of [turning] that refined oil into PVC, then using PVC to manufacture a vinyl. The black color comes from the addition of carbon black, which is also made from fossil fuels.”
It therefore may be the case that environmentally conscious millennials could stop supporting the vinyl industry.
The rebirth of vinyl is proof of the nostalgia that is part of the human condition. As is common in the fashion industry, trends appear, disappear, and then appear once more. It is unclear how long vinyl’s rebirth will last.
Some may feel that there will always be vinyl lovers because the poetry of a black disk spinning on a turntable is something that can never be recaptured in the digital age. However, if human history is anything to go by, we know that trends rarely last forever.