The Re-emergence of Vinyl
Vinyl records have remarkably made a comeback in the music-listening world. What was quite recently thought to be an extinct form of audio has re-emerged and all but come back from the dead.
What is vinyl? What’s special about it? And why do more and more music lovers take up collecting, listening to and buying vinyl records?
Let’s take a deep dive into the new (and old) world of vinyl.
What is it?
A vinyl record is a disc that produces sound when played on a special piece of equipment. The disc itself is made from pressed and heated polyvinyl chloride. The grooves that are impressed into the thin vinyl material create the sweet sounds produced by the disk.
Often called just by the word vinyl, vinyl records are sometimes referred to as merely records, LP (more on this soon) and even 12-inch. If you wanted to be particular, however, you could differentiate between the different types of vinyl and use the right term respectively.
Types of Vinyl
Vinyl records come in several different sizes, levels of thickness and even materials. The basic or most common types are:
12-inch vinyl records are the standard size and are used for long play (or LP) albums mostly, but some are used for singles. These are the types of discs used most commonly by DJs around the world.
7-inch vinyl records are more often used for single tracks or the B-side of a particular album. Sometimes, 7-inch records are called 45s in reference to the number of revolutions per minute (RPM), but not all 7-inch vinyls are 45 RPM and vice versa.
33 ⅓ RPM
As the name suggests, these records spin at a rate of 33 and a ⅓ revolutions each minute. While this is the speed for most 12-inch vinyl records, it’s not necessarily the case.
As mentioned above, while 7-inch records often feature a 45 RPM, if you want to be precise and technical this isn’t always the case.
An LP vinyl means that it contains a full length record, in other words it is long play. Normally, this means somewhere between 10 and 12 songs but as with all of these categories there is some degree of variation.
A double LP means that the vinyl is actually pressed with two distinct and full length long play records.
A (Short) History of Vinyl
Back in 1877, Thomas Edison first recorded sound in the form of his own voice. Using a phonograph he recited part of the well-known nursery rhyme, ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’. Over time, starting with Emile Berliner’s flat disc audio playback recorder in 1887, audio technology was developed, improved and advanced.
It took around 100 years, until the 1970s, for record playing technology to reach the point of vinyl records in the form that we now know and love. Since then, over the last 50 years, the music industry has seen cassette tapes, CDs, MP3 players, smartphones and digital files all enter and (for some) leave the industry,
Vinyl Records Today
As of now, 22 years into the 21st century, vinyl records are generating record sales. In fact, it’s been a number of years since vinyls eclipsed CD sales. This isn’t just because CD sales have plummeted, but rather because the music world has seen a distinct uptick in people interested in and collecting vinyls.
Across all ages, demographics and geographical locations, there has been a significant and interesting upswell in vinyl re-popularity. In fact, according to the British Phonographic Industry, in 2021 there were 5.3 million LP vinyl records sold.
Of course, the question has to and has been asked: Why has there been a re-emergence of vinyl? Before we get there though, let’s take a quick look at why such a revival is so surprising and interesting.
The Disadvantages of Vinyl
- Vinyl is very easy to damage while using as its surface can be easily scratched and the audio affected.
- Unrepaired damage can cause even worse damage, often permanent, if it is continued to be played.
- Vinyl records are quite sensitive and work best when stored in balanced environments in terms of temperature and humidity.
- There can be a certain amount of surface noise present on even a new record.
- Vinyl can be permanently damaged by mold growing on it.
- Sound quality can vary from one record to another.
- Turntables and cartridges require significantly more maintenance and repair work than other music players.
- Records are significantly less convenient to transport than other forms of audio players.
- Vinyl records can be expensive compared to alternative options.
- Vinyl is a far less eco-friendly product and is difficult to recycle.
Reasons Why Vinyl Has Re-Emerged
There’s little doubt that nostalgia for the past and a love of retro trends has fuelled the re-emergence of vinyl to a certain degree. The general culture has romanticised the very concept of records and as with all trends and popular styles, people are wildly influenced by the story surrounding vinyls.
Ironically, in a world that’s only becoming more digital and thus more instantaneous, there’s something alluring and appealing about the deliberate ritual of removing a record from its sleeve, placing it in the player carefully and setting the stylus. From the initial crackle as the music begins to the inherent consciousness required around playing a record, there is definitely appeal to the ritual.
While there’s a lot of debate back and forth about whether the sound of vinyl is objectively better or of a higher quality, it is certainly unique. For many the warmth and richness of the audio is enough of a motivator to invest in and play vinyl records.
In a similar way to the ritualistic appeal, the tactile nature of vinyl (even more so than tapes and CDs) is very appealing in an ever-more streamlined, digital and virtual world. The visual and tactile senses engaged when playing a vinyl record complement one’s appreciation of the auditory experience in a deeply human way.
As with clothing and hairstyles, there’s an element of fashionable trend among vinyl enthusiasts. Whether it’s staying ahead of the curve or a genuine love for period fashion, vinyl represents an alternative way to consume music in a way that’s fashionable, in vogue and popular.
Thanks to streaming services online and the ease with which any song can be downloaded, the novelty of owning and playing a vinyl record has really increased. It is human nature to value the rare and the novel, and listening to vinyl records is most certainly one expression of this same tendency.
Coins, stamps, shot glasses, band T-shirts… People like to collect a wide range of items and display them accordingly to guests and visitors. Vinyl collection is another example of that same impulse. While there are many reasons for one to buy a vinyl record, it is exceedingly rare (given the investment in equipment required) for someone to only have one record. Thus, it’s not hard to understand why even a casual purchase can snowball into a full blown collection.
Belonging to a Movement
There’s certainly a movement behind the popularity and re-emergence of vinyl. While for some it’s just a way of identifying themselves or connecting with a community, for others it offers a real-world invitation into the movement in the form of local record stores and clubs.
Some vinyl records can fetch quite eye-watering price tags in the right market. While this doesn’t apply to all records, of course, there are many collectors out there who are tapping into the value investment of owning and selling records. Even the lowest rungs of LPs are often worth more in monetary value than any CDs and, especially, MP3 files.
Last but not least is the DJ world. There are still many DJs that use and prefer vinyl, especially now that the record world has surged with such popularity. For DJs who favour turntables and old school scratching techniques, owning vinyl records is an integral part of the job.
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There you have it: A breakdown of everything you needed to know about vinyl records and their astonishing re-emergence in the 21st century music world.