Graphic Design Editor
Imagine the tedious process of listening to music 30 years ago.
First, you had to trek out to a record store and purchase a vinyl record about the size of a small pizza. Next, you had to either find or own a working record player. You then had to load the disc onto the turntable, put the needle on it and essentially listen to the entire side. In order to listen to the other side, you would have to flip the record over. All of this work just to listen to a few songs by your favorite artist? Why would anyone ever want to go through with all this work?
Today, the process to acquire and listen to music is seamless and instantaneous. With a few clicks of a mouse, users have the ability to download (either legally or illegally) hours and hours of music. They also have the ability to skip through gigabytes of data to select any particular song to listen to.
Digital media has virtually taken over the music industry in terms of how we listen to music. The days of Walkmans and tape cassette players have become seemingly outnumbered. However, within the past decade, there has been a resurgence of consumers going back to purchasing and listening to vinyl records. How can that make any sense during a time where digital media is so easy to listen to?
In a PBS Off Book series entitled Dust and Grooves, photographer Elion Paz explains why so many people have been turning back to retro media.
Paz theorizes that many music listeners can get lost in their media devices, such as an iPod, because there is simply too much music to shuffle through. Songs and artists can deviate from our hearts, because we are overwhelmed with the amount of music that we possess on a single, all-encompassing device.
Moreover, it is the physical process of playing a vinyl record that attributes a sense of pleasure from listeners.
“You have to take it out, you have to put it on the turntable, you have to put the needle on — these are all actions that demand attention from you,” Paz said in the documentary.
It is this attention that correlates with a fan’s love for a particular artist. A U2 fan, for example, may feel a stronger sense of devotion and connection with the band if they have a tangible, individual piece of their music. Just having U2 songs on an iPod in a digital file format may not be as enticing. Having the vinyl record makes people appreciate the music more because of its individuality.
Paz also noted that digital media is simply combinations of zero and one electric switches fused together to play back sound. A guitar strum that is recorded in a studio is converted from an analog sound to a digitized byte. Vinyl, on the other hand, is an analog format, so when they are played on a turntable, that same guitar strum is heard very similar as to how it sounded in the recording studio. Our ears prefer analog—meaning that listening to a vinyl record offers a more rewarding and enjoyable musical experience.
While other technologies such as typewriters have fizzled out, the recent resurgence of vinyl records has permeated the music marketplace. It is rather refreshing to witness a trend where we take a step back from dominant technology and resort to old practices.
In a world where almost everything seems to be a digital file, we often get lost in that virtual universe. The vinyl comeback is not just a positive sign for music listeners, but for the Luddites of the world who fear the perils that the digital world may have on society.