Photo Courtesy of Caroline Gully
In 2020, 27.5 million LPs, or long-playing albums, were sold in the U.S.– up 46 percent compared to 2019, stated Statistica, a provider of market and consumer data.
But in an age where most people listen to music through streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music, why do people buy vinyl?
Perhaps it’s something about the physical consumption of music, or maybe what people say about everything sounding so much better on vinyl is true.
Vinyl’s impact on pop culture, specifically in movies like “High Fidelity,” is what sparked my interest in researching vinyl and why it has become so popular in recent years. Moments like when Sam, played by Emma Watson, said, “Everything sounds so much better on vinyl,” in “Perks of Being A Wallflower” has added to the allure of records.
Pop culture influence combined with parental influence, then, may be why many vinyl collectors start collecting fairly young.
“I started listening/collecting vinyl when I was in high school by first stealing my parents’ records along with my then-girlfriend (now wife) giving me a turntable as a gift,” Jonathan Pruc, art teacher, said.
Based on studies about when men and women develop musical interests could explain why high school can be the perfect time to start collecting vinyl.
“The most important period for men in forming their adult tastes were the ages 13 to 16,” stated Seth Stephen-Davidowitz in his Feb. 10, 2018, New York Times article titled “The Songs That Bind.”
In that same article, Stephen-Davidowitz noted, “The most important period for women were the ages 11 to 14.”
Caroline Gully, Spanish teacher, also started to collect vinyl in high school.
“Growing up, my dad stored his record collection in our garage,” she said. “I loved asking him questions about his collection because each record seemed to have a story: ‘Johnny Winkler and I stole this one from the Alfred University Radio Station…,’ or ‘I saw Springsteen play this whole album live. I was so close to the stage that Clarence (the E-Street saxophone player) was sweating on me!’ Listening to vinyl was one of the ways I bonded with my dad.”
While my dad doesn’t collect vinyl, sharing music with me has always been important to him. By ‘sharing music’ I mean his blasting The Clash, Talking Heads or The Ramones in the car. The Clash was my personal favorite.
Pruc, though, is among the group of dads who share their music tastes and vinyl collection with their children as well.
“I keep my records in my art studio and listen to them while I and/or my 4-year-old daughter paints,” Pruc said. “It has become our ritual to pick a record then make some art.”
Vinyl might not be very practical when compared to more modern options: it’s not compact or easy to travel with, and they need to be stored upright. Some might consider these aspects of vinyl an inconvenience, but others think it is worth it for the vinyl experience.
“ I love everything about the vinyl experience: the warm crackle and pop when the needle drops and starts to scratch the record, the unique sound of amplified vibrations and the movement break when it’s time to flip the record,” said Eric Billittier, a teacher and case manager in the Transition Center. “My wife and I also love the album art and enjoy framing and hanging up our favorite records at home.”
Billittier continued with his reflections on the vinyl experience.
“I don’t remember the last time I bought a CD, so I’m not sure what the price comparison is, but a vinyl record is much more valuable to me as it is more than just a piece of music to listen to; it’s a piece of art and a keepsake that I’m always excited to put on my shelf and share with others,” Billittier added.
Even though the vinyl experience is preferable to streaming in the eyes of many collectors, there still seems to be a place for it among analog lovers.
“Streaming is a great thing! I use Spotify for Spanish class, for getting through a workout and for outdoor get-togethers in the summertime. If I take the time to purchase a physical vinyl record, it’s because I love the album from start to finish,” Gully said.
Streaming makes sense if the listener doesn’t enjoy individual albums, just wants to listen to playlists where artists don’t typically appear twice or just wants to enjoy some singles. However, if the listener enjoys specific albums and listening to them from start to finish, records can be the way to go.
If people are considering starting a vinyl collection, they will first need a turntable. There are so many out there of varying price and quality, so deciding on just one might be a challenge, but Billittier has a recommendation.
“I have two Audio-Technica AT-LP60X turntables– one at home and one in my classroom,” he said. “It is a great turntable for less than $100 that is easy to operate and gets the job done.”
The next decision one would have to make when starting a vinyl collection is how big it should be. Some people, such as Gully, like to keep their collections smaller.
“I intentionally keep my collection pretty small,” she said. “Like any other collection, a vinyl addiction can quickly get out of hand. If I choose to buy a new record, an older one must go. Many record stores buy and trade, so keeping my collection small is easy, fun and more affordable.”
Other collectors amass large collections of vinyl. Pruc has more than 100, and Billittier said he hasn’t counted in a while but guessed his collection was around 500.
The final piece to starting a collection is where to buy the vinyl. Buying vinyl in a record store is another layer of why people love the experience so much.
“There are tons of great record stores in Chicago, but my favorite is Record Breakers, which is located on the northwest side in Avondale,” Billittier said. “It has an enormous collection of both used and new records, band merchandise, artwork, a listening nook in the storefront and a small stage for live performances.”
Billittier also shared a personal connection he has with Record Breakers.
“I’m also partial to this store because my college friend and roommate is the owner,” Billittier added. “He purchased the company after college from a venue on the South Side called Reggie’s. He and I then spent an entire summer fixing up an old storefront, and it’s been open for business ever since.”
Researching vinyl has led me from being interested in records because I wanted to be like Rob from “High Fidelity” to having just purchased my first vinyl. It’s a red and swirly vinyl LP of “Punisher” by Phoebe Bridgers. There is something to be said about the ritual of physically purchasing and listening to the music. Of course, one doesn’t have to buy CDs or records to ‘properly enjoy’ music, but for me at a time I consider to be an oversaturation in the music industry, sitting down and listening to a favorite album from start to finish offers a reprieve from that.
Here’s one last parting piece of advice about how to enter into the vinyl experience.
“Go find a record store, and talk with the employees or customers,” Billittier said. “You’ll be amazed at how many people at the record store would love to talk to you about records.”