When it comes to the media format wars, we all have those older items with which we simply can’t part or that we haven’t sold or thrown away yet – a CD here, a VHS tape there, here a laserdisc, there an iPod Shuffle.
Media, just like fashion, is cyclical, and although different formats fall out of favor with consumers as the years pass, you can bet that, thanks to the power of nostalgia, they’ll be back around again, maybe in our lifetime, maybe in that of our children or grandchildren.
And so it is with vinyl records. You might still have a large collection of records either boxed in your basement or displayed proudly somewhere in your home. Well, I have some great news for you: They’re cool again.
Well, they’ve seen a resurgence in popularity for a little more than 15 years now. And last year, in 2020, records finally outsold CDs for the first time since 1986, according to the Recording Industry Association of America.
When I was a teacher and it came time to discuss music in my Mass Media and Society class, my students were visibly bored by my lectures on both the record player and the CD. They were the first generation raised solely on a steady digital music, much of which they didn’t have to pay for, thanks to the preponderance of streaming services and piracy software. These youngsters were amazed that anyone would actually pay for their music.
Of course, I shared with these students that music in the mid-20th century and later provided a vehicle for socializing, and that record stores, both standalone and within shopping malls, were gathering places for young people to discuss music trends, the latest albums, and more. Teenagers would stand around, don a pair of headphones, and listen to albums from their favorite musical artists. Later, in the same way that families would gather together around the TV for that week’s episode of their favorite program, groups of teens would gather at the home of a friend for a listening party. The era of records was an era of being brought together by the power of music, and now that records themselves are now popular again, it feels like that natural socialization that came with them has returned, too. Pop into any record store sometime and you’ll see what I mean.
Some purists insist that music published on records actually sounds better than other formats that came after it. I’m not sure about that, but one does have to wonder when (or if) we’re going to see the triumphant comeback of the 8-track or the cassette tape.
I hope this month’s cover story on the surge in vinyl’s popularity puts a song in your heart and a hum on your lips as you remember the albums that have remained most important to you. And if it inspires you to add to your collection, be sure to make a trip over to the independent music seller in your town, because small merchants always need the support of the community in which they operate. Help them keep the music alive and on the turntable for years to come.
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