Crawford: Vinyl is back!

Colin Crawford, Columnist

I remember the first time I heard a vinyl record play. It was an album from my late grandfather’s collection — a cardboard box my dad and I found cleaning out the garage one summer. Filled with dusty classics from decades prior, I was fascinated by this box with these black discs that allegedly contained music. 

That summer, I asked for a record player for my birthday. As soon as I got it, I placed my first chosen record on the turntable. The needle slowly lowered onto side A of “The Best of Minnie Riperton” and the melodic voice of an angel floated up to my ears. Amplified by my Bluetooth speaker, I had never heard music quite like this before. It wasn’t soulless like digital streaming but something more — a richer, fuller sound. 

In the years since my first listen, I’ve acquired nearly a dozen new vinyl records. Artists like Adele, Beyoncé and Taylor Swift now grace the cubby in my bedroom, and their beautiful album artwork is always my choice for show and tell when I have visitors. The Prince, Tina Turner and Whitney Houston records, among the many others I inherited from my grandfather, allow me to appreciate artists who have created a lasting impact on music. Listening to these great talents, these icons of the industry, is simply better on an LP format. And it’s not just me who thinks so. 

It seems other people my age are catching on, as vinyl has become exponentially more popular. In 2021, vinyl sales eclipsed CD sales for the first time since the 1990s. Harry Styles recently broke the record for most first-week vinyl sales with 182,000 units. This was the biggest week for vinyl sales ever, but even more telling of vinyl’s resurgence is the fact that the record Styles bested was set by Taylor Swift with her “Red (Taylor’s Version)” release just six months prior.

With vinyl sales reaching new heights alongside each new release of an album by a major pop star, it is clear the vinyl community is growing and becoming an increasingly valuable market for artists. It wouldn’t be surprising if Beyoncé’s “Renaissance” sets a new record when it releases this July. 

Streaming platforms have decimated CD sales and basically eradicated the 99 cents model popularized by iTunes, but curiously enough, vinyl is gaining popularity even at an extraordinarily high price point. “Harry’s House,” the album that broke the sales record, is currently priced at more than $30, exponentially more than a digital music purchase. But the reason why is so clear to avid vinyl collectors. 

When you make a vinyl purchase, you don’t just get music, you get a listening experience. Vinyl releases often have liner notes and other tidbits of information that aren’t found elsewhere. And the sound produced from your record player cannot be compared to that of Spotify or Apple Music. 

There is something else at play here, though — the record store aesthetic. I’m not talking about browsing the music section at your local Barnes & Noble or Walmart. I’m talking about a real record store, a music lover’s paradise. 

A personal favorite of mine is Electric Fetus in Minneapolis. It’s got that eclectic charm and basically every genre of music on vinyl. Rows upon rows of records stretch down a deceptively small space. Music is everywhere in a way that almost overwhelms you; it’s in the air you breathe and in the brush of your fingers against a vinyl record, glistening with the sheen of plastic wrap. Browsing through genre after genre, gazing at the visual elements of an album, it just screams summer fun. 

Record stores are an important part of why vinyl sales are increasing. Record Store Day, an annual event that began in 2007 celebrating independent record stores, shows the impact this renewed interest in music on vinyl is having. For this year’s Record Store Day in April, independent record stores in the U.S. sold 1.012 million vinyls through the week, marking the highest week of sales for indie stores in a one-week time frame.

It is obvious that collecting and listening to vinyl is not accessible to everyone, but it’s a worthwhile investment. And you’d be surprised at what you can find at a record store for relatively little money. The “used” section almost always holds hidden gems.

Vinyl is back and it is better than ever. The superior quality of sound and the record store experience are moments everyone should have the opportunity to try, and it is apparent that, at least for now, more people are trying it than before. 

Colin Crawford is a Medill freshman. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.