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Millennial Minded

Vinyl records: It's all about the experience

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For my Christmas gift to myself, I'm going to spend this blog talking about vinyl (records, not siding).

I’m not being terribly selfish, though. There’s a real pertinent business reason to discuss vinyl records: Sales are up 49 percent from last year.

And record companies know who’s purchasing these dinosaurs of the audio-medium: millennials. To this end, they’ve started providing download codes with the hard copy to allow customers access to a digital copy as well. It’s the best of both worlds.

But why are millennials buying records?

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The general consensus is that it sounds better, but I’m willing to bet, dollars to donuts, most people aren’t picking up the intricacy of difference in sound with those turntables that come with built-in speakers.

An article over at Huffington Post links millennials’ interest in vinyl to their broader interest in “experience.” It cites the immersive 12-inch artwork that sometimes comes coupled with gatefolds and inserts with lyrics and other artwork. The experience forces you to pay attention to the music in a way that playing a new album in iTunes while you mindlessly browse reddit just can’t compare to.

Then, of course, there’s the experience of actually trekking out to a record store and rifling through the entire alphabet, pulling aside anything that catches your eye before coming to Z and forcing yourself to do the ever-impossible process of elimination to narrow down the one or two records you honestly don’t think you could do without.

It’s a search, and every trip to the record store is an adventure.

But there’s also the ritual: Going through your shelf, finding the perfect record, pulling it from its sleeve, polishing it and placing the arm down to hear that subtle, satisfying thud as the needle finds its groove.

Beyond it being an experience, there’s a relationship that you foster with your vinyl records that would be impossible to form with any other medium of audio consumption. In a way, it speaks to another millennial trend: Individuality.

The state of every record reflects the care its owner has given it. Some record collectors are fastidious about polishing, cleaning the record before another spin. It’s a sharp contrast from the way my father treated his copy of the White Album, tossing it around like a piece of disposable plastic (they sort of were back then, weren’t they?).

I know that’s how it was treated, because I have it in my collection now.

To my knowledge, there’s no other generation that has cornered the market on retro-nostalgia quite like millennials have. Fifties-themed diners are one thing, but millennials have seen rebooted cartoons and movies, remakes after remakes, and now even vintage arcades and video game systems are making a comeback. I know I still have my NES.

In that way, vinyl is a connection to the past; it’s a portal to a time when music seemed to play a bigger role in our culture (I’m really not trying to be inflammatory here, but have you seen [non-vinyl] album sales this year?). There’s a scene in “Almost Famous” (set in the 1970s) in which the main character’s Simon & Garfunkel-loving older sister is leaving home to become a stewardess. As she gets into the cab, she tells him, “Look under your bed. It will set you free.”

She encourages him to listen to “Tommy” with a candle burning and, if he does, see his future.

My actual Christmas gift to myself this year was a copy of Elliott Smith’s self-titled album. When I got it home, I carefully unwrapped it, polished side A and put on headphones.

I sat in a chair and just listened.


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