Next Saturday (April 19, not tomorrow) is Record Store Day. This annual celebration of independent record stores has been taking place since 2007, and gives special attention to the vinyl record, which happens to be the main reason independent records stores are still in business. As music consumption moves away from CDs and increasingly toward MP3 downloads or direct streaming, there has been a movement back toward buying records the old fashioned way. Vinyl sales have been on the increase for the last few years, and show no signs of slowing down.
In my opinion, this is great. In fact, I recently bought a refurbished Pioneer turntable, dusted off my old vinyl records, and have begun to pursue vinyl as my music format of choice. It’s like coming home again. There are at least four reasons that I suggest that music lovers should consider going vinyl:
1) Vinyl sounds great.
The word typically used to describe vinyl is “warmth,” and that’s exactly what occurred to me when I recently put on my first vinyl record in about 25 years. Of course older records might have some crackles and pops, but some listeners actually prefer the vintage ambience produced by the wear and tear. I’m not going to make the argument that vinyl is technically better than digital, but I doubt any untrained ear will notice much of a difference.
2) Vinyl encourages community.
One of the sad developments of the digital culture is the demise of book stores and music stores. Sure, it’s easy and convenient to buy music on Amazon or iTunes, but I suggest it is more rewarding to actually travel to a record store, walk into a physical place, talk with a living and knowledgeable sales clerk, and who knows, maybe even get to know some fellow music lovers who happen to be in the store. There is an excellent independent record store right here in Muncie, called Village Green Records. It is located at 519 N. Martin in the Village and it will be celebrating Record Store day next week.
3) Vinyl requires you to slow down.
In Kevin DeYoung’s book Crazy Busy, he recommends that we “deliberately use old technology” as a way of fighting against our overly frantic lives. For example, he suggests we write a paper letter, or look something up in a dictionary. To this list I would add: “buy and listen to vinyl records.” Listening to music on vinyl requires me to be more personally invested in the process: I have to get the record out of the sleeve, place it on the turntable, carefully drop the stylus on the record, and be prepared to flip sides. There is something in this ritual that demands my personal involvement and requires attention I might not otherwise give to the music.
4) Vinyl records are beautiful.
One of the biggest deficiencies in acquiring music through digital downloads is the loss of album art work. Yes, I know you can download the art, but it’s just not the same as holding a 12.5-inch by 12.5-inch album in your hands. Even more impressive is the glorious gatefold sleeve. The case could be made that even the appearance of a shiny black vinyl record spinning on the turntable is something to behold.
Of course there are some disadvantages to vinyl: new releases tend to be expensive, costing about $15-20 an album (keep in mind, however, that rights to the digital download almost always comes with the record, and used records can be really cheap); you can’t play them on your smart phone or in the car; and they do require maintenance. Those reasons alone might be enough to convince you that vinyl is not the way to go. That’s understandable. But maybe a quote from Amos Lee will help: “I love vinyl, man.” That pretty much sums it up.