The Appeal of Vinyl Records in a Digital Society


Stevee Kraemer

Cardinal Chronicle journalist Addie Johnson shopping for records inside independent Madison record store, B Side.

In the year 2021, streaming any and all kinds of music is at our fingertips for the small payment of  ten dollars a month. 

Long gone are the days of needing to buy cassettes and CDs from the record store around the corner to play the latest tunes. There is no need for the use of vinyl, but still, we find them all over Pinterest boards and the walls of trendy teens. In fact, “In 2019 vinyl records outsold CDs for the first time since 1986 according to RIAA.” 

So why have records stayed in style? The answer is easy. There are unique sound attributes that you are unable to get with digital music, forever-lasting materialism, and the fact that you hold that piece of music in your hand. 

The auditory feature that vinyl brings to the table is an indescribable warmth and richness. The warmth comes from the fact that the instruments that were used to create the music were analog, they were played in person by a person, and you as a listener are also playing the record in person. 

The richness comes from the deep grooves of the vinyl disc, which ensures that you pick up on every little sound, the good and bad. Notably as well, the recording is being done physically, meaning the instruments are physical and so is the voice. It makes sense that physical music is meant to be played on a physical device, not an electronic one.  

Instead of playing music with two clicks on a phone, vinyl takes many more steps. First, you need to make the intentional decision of buying a record. These days they can go from twenty to one hundred dollars per record. You need to make sure that you like at least a few songs on that album because you’re putting down a hefty chunk of cash. 

Next is the player. If Grandma did not leave you her antique turntable, you can buy a cheap one for about $50. But are you really going to play a thirty dollar record on a fifty dollar player? Probably not. Quality turntables can go for up to five hundred dollars

Next is the ritual. The records have to be stored upright and cleaned with a special brush and solution. Now, you are ready to play. 

The needle must be carefully placed on the record, and the pitch tuned to perfection. The sound reverberates all around the room, and the spinning of the record adds an extra layer of stimulation for the senses. After many plays, the quality of the record will start to worsen, so you only save it for special occasions. 

Independent Madison Record Store, Strictly Discs

This whole process may sound exhausting for just one album, however, the process is one of the facets that sets analog apart from digital. You need to spend time and money on achieving this nice quality of music, so when you finally hear it, it sounds all that much better. The convenience of digital is what makes vinyl special. 

When buying a record, the only thing more important than the record itself is the sleeve it comes in. That 12-by-12-inch  cover is so very important. These covers are gateways to the unique piece of music found inside. 

The art on the front may be a simple photograph of the artist or a more detailed piece of art that embodies the album in a much deeper way. This cover may store the record in the place where it resides, or it may take center place on an accent wall. Whether you put it on your wall to let people know that you are better than everyone because you listen to vinyl, or you foster a deep love for that artist, the art is up for everyone to see. 

If you buy the record brand new, then you will receive a few extra things. There will be a lyric sheet and additional posters. To add to the visual experience, vinyl can be produced in a variety of different colors. There is the classic black, but there is also a wide range of colors and designs across different vinyls . They can also come in a variety of shapes, an example being Lana Del Rey’s limited edition 2017 “Lust For Life” red heart-shaped vinyl. 

Vinyl will remain timeless for a variety of reasons. The sound quality cannot be matched, the fact that you can hold it in your hands and it can remain in your possession forever, and lastly, the visual experience that you cannot get with any music streaming service. You can argue how good the sound quality is, or how digital music is so much easier, but there is one thing that we know for sure. In the times where Spotify Premium and Apple Music have died, Grandma’s records in the corner will remain and continue to be played.