Imagine this scene: you are perched in the shade, away from the sweltering summer sun, and enjoying a choice beverage. Somewhere in the background you hear an almost-imperceptible crackle before your record player emits the dulcet tones of the late John Lennon. You exist in this blissful state indefinitely, having attained nirvana. Or do you?
There are many who hark back to the 1970s, the golden age of vinyl, romanticising an era which they did not experience first-hand. While records may not be, scientifically-speaking, higher quality than CDs or digital audio, they do possess an X-factor unmatched by anything on Spotify. Perhaps it is the borrowed nostalgia a record may induce in the listener, or maybe it is the supposed authenticity of the sound. In a musical age where lo-fi hip hop beats reign supreme, it is unsurprising that audiophiles yearn for vinyl’s unique flavour. In the modern era of excess, people are beginning to value authenticity and style above measurable quality, and vinyl is undoubtedly the paragon of musical authenticity. Despite the significant costs associated with owning records, music lovers of all ages are now willing to pay a premium for aural authenticity. This fad is akin to the popularity of wild camping, with adventurers willing to fork out for an authentic experience. Thus, if living in tents, which are materially inferior to houses, is not decried as pretentious and overrated, why should vinyl be subjected to different standards?
Although the re-emergence of vinyl can be attributed to the different sound projected by phonographic technology, the role of trend-following is likely to also be significant. There is little doubt that many music fans engage in group-think, given the blatant influence of peers on music tastes, which is perhaps the root cause of the revival. However, those introduced to vinyl will stick with it because of its allure and not because of peer pressure. Records allow the listener to experience the music in a different way since they incentivise longer attention spans and active listening. The former results from the difficulty in switching between songs, meaning that the listener is likely less to skip or change mid-way through tracks. The listening is more active in the sense that the physical process of playing the music requires more conscious effort than mindlessly putting on an online playlist, which makes you more aware of the tracks that are playing. With the proliferation of pop-genre singles and fickle music fans, vinyl takes the listener back to an age where albums were the norm. A deeper emotional attachment with the artist is achieved as the high sunk cost of purchasing albums means that those albums end up being frequently listened to.
The aspect of supporting artists also comes into play here, since musicians notoriously receive little of streaming royalties. Buying records, on the other hand, allows fans to listen to music without threatening artists’ livelihoods. This is especially true in the case of up-and-coming music artists, who receive little in the way of advertising income. An advantage of vinyl over CDs, which also serve the same function, is that the former is more likely to retain its value over the years, especially if it is an earlier pressing. Therefore, buying vinyl is an investment which supports the artist, resulting in a win-win scenario for the listener and artist. If you feel emotionally attached to the music of a particular musician, the best thing you can do is to purchase, rather than stream, albums. Of the purchasing options, vinyl is both financially and aesthetically superior.
Furthermore, much like stamps, records have a certain collectability associated with them, meaning that building a vinyl collection can be as enjoyable as listening to it. While this is also somewhat true of CDs and cassette tapes (read: defunct), there is no such equivalent when it comes to digital audio. Sure, streaming has made music more accessible and affordable as ever, but this proliferation of free music has actually made it less rare and therefore less collectable. Listeners often form emotional attachments to music, with its inherent link to people’s moods, and vinyl enhances these attachments. Digital audio may now have flawless playback, but who wants to live in a world where music only exists as a string of ones and zeros? Ultimately, vinyl replicates the imperfect nature of live music and that is something that can never be replaced; in the end, nothing beats listening to a 1970s-pressing of Strawberry Fields Foreveron a summer’s day.