The long-awaited return of vinyl

Noah Wilbur | Opinions Editor

Imagine this scenario. You are taking an afternoon walk and stumble upon a record store on the corner of the street. In slight disbelief and genuine curiosity, you walk in the front door and observe as an employee carefully places the stylus of a turntable on a polyvinyl chloride disc.

After a few moments of warm crackle, “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin begins blaring across the store as a small crowd of eager shoppers peruse through hundreds of records on display.

I know what you’re thinking. An actual record store in my hometown? Ten years ago, this scenario would’ve been inconceivable as vinyl had taken a back seat to CD’s and online streaming amidst the digitization of the music industry.

That being said, with a nearly 450% increase in per unit vinyl sales in the U.S. since 2012, I am here to inform you that the record player has indeed made its grand return to center stage.

Not only did vinyl sales surpass CD sales in 2020 for the first time in 34 years, but the vinyl market also grew for its 15th consecutive year. Not to mention, as surprising as it may be, young adults under the age of 25 currently account for half of the buyers driving the resurgence of the record player.

Although it is unlikely that vinyl will ever eclipse streaming as the most popular format for listening to music, industry experts still project vinyl sales to maintain steady growth for years to come. In other words, the record player is here to stay and prepared to contend with the most formidable of competition — Tidal, Spotify and Apple Music.

The Vinyl Renaissance is of particular interest to me as I believe it is an excellent example of the retrospective trends that continue to grow in popularity amongst the consumer markets, and in all honesty, it sparks my curiosity as to why retro products are roaring back into style.

The reasoning behind vinyl’s unexpected rise in the past decade requires a twofold explanation. On one end of the spectrum, nostalgia has undoubtedly been a determining factor as older generations — those who grew up around turntables — are increasingly interested in experiencing the original analog sound and reliving their adolescence.

However, nostalgia alone fails to entirely explain the surge in demand of vinyl since sales hit a low in 2006, especially considering that one-half of this growth is attributable to millennials. If someone didn’t own a record player during youth, how can he or she be nostalgic about it?

This brings me to my second point. The most significant factor leading to this revival is the unprecedented enthusiasm by younger generations to experience the full effect of listening to a vinyl record on a turntable — the crispy sound, relaxed vibe, and romantically-charged aesthetic.

From visiting the local record store and studying the one-of-a-kind artwork, to opening album jackets and listening to the crackly but inherently smooth analog sound, a growing number of youngsters view the record player as an exciting alternative to streaming music.

For these reasons, coupled with the wide availability of turntables at fair prices and the emergence of record stores across America, consumers both young and old are rushing to get their hands on a record player to either reminisce on old times, or to experience music in a new way.

Although the heyday of vinyl is admittedly long behind us, I still find this renaissance as favorable and valuable to our society as it encourages younger generations to slow down, put their phones away, live in the moment, and listen to music as an activity rather than as a backdrop.

Since receiving my turntable as a gift this past Christmas, I have spent many hours listening to my collection of records with friends and family, and in many cases, even by myself. The truly immersive musical experience that accompanies a record player is truly unparalleled. It is my sincere hope that more young people continue to experiment with vinyl as in all honesty, they’ll never know what they’re missing until they try it.