There is a reverberation of ourselves in the music we choose to listen to, but do people always hear it? In a digital world where everything is simplified, it’s easy for music to become lost in the background, and while our ability to access any and every song we want to hear with the click of a button may seem like a great thing, there are some who feel that part of the listening experience is muddled by the need for immediacy. These are the people that find solace in the world of vinyl.
“We spend our whole lives scrolling through lists,” said Dave Crain, 54, owner of Dave’s Records. “It’s different making a choice with a physical thing.”
Dave’s Records is an exclusively vinyl shop in the heart of Lincoln Park. As his profession implies, Crain is an avid collector of records, a hobby that has seen noticeable growth in recent years among a generation that has never known the analog side of the music world. Vinyl sales have been on the rise for the past six years, with 4.6 million units sold in 2012, according to recent numbers released by Nielsen Soundscan. However, Crain argues that the interest in records has been steadily developing for a while now.
“It’s been happening way longer than that, but they sound scan at major box stores,” he said. “Stores like us have never been counted.”
With Crain’s store filled to the brim with albums by contemporary artists likes The Black Keys, Adele, Fun., Muse and Amy Winehouse, he has also noticed a change in his customers. “I think it’s more diverse. There’s a lot more younger kids, a lot more women.” Crain confesses that his clientele was predominantly middle-aged men before the recent youthful interest in vinyl. “Twenty years ago it was heavily male,” he said. “But I’m all good for everybody getting into vinyl.”
With a gradual increase in sales and the induction of a new generation of younger record collectors, the question arises: why? What is so special about a dated music medium?
“For a lot of people, when they put on a record, it’s no longer the background music,” said Nolan Chin, 21, a promotions director for Loyola’s radio station WLUW 88.7 and a business marketing major. “Music becomes the main thing that you’re doing as if you’re watching a movie or you’re going to see a play. You’re listening to a record.”
Jenna Goode, 21, advertising and public relations major, finds a similar satisfaction in the active participation that comes with playing vinyl.
“The habit, the whole routine you go through when you put on vinyl, pulling it out of its case, flipping it; there’s just a beauty to that routine and I like it. You have to listen to it all,” she said. “You get the whole artist’s story.”
Others believe that the presence of larger, tangible cover art is a big draw for vinyl collectors. Large department stores like Target have started selling frames exclusively designed for records, so you can flaunt your favorite album’s art. Many new releases also come with a digital download, allowing you to listen to your purchases on the go. With most new vinyl releases selling for an average of $20, the combination of a physical copy, a digital copy and the album artwork, makes the purchase of a vinyl record seem viable.
Crain wholeheartedly believes that vinyl possesses a certain intimacy that is lost on other forms of music.
“The physical act of going to a store and building a collection is different from the 10,000 downloads that you don’t even know how you got,” he said. “Having a physical marker of your music is different. I think the younger generation has taken to that.”
“I think people are getting more into connecting with their music again,” said Crain. “That’s what vinyl helps them do.”
The Loyola community is no exception to the growing interest in vinyl. Chin and the rest of the WLUW crew have taken advantage of its recent popularity by working with local record shops.
“Here at WLUW we started a contract with Reckless Records totally out of the blue,” he said. “We had a promotion where we gave away one vinyl record every Monday of the semester. It’s one of the most successful promotions we’ve ever done.”
Even with the current record trend being so exciting, Crain still thinks it’s important to keep things in perspective.
“4.6 million is still only a single percent of the whole story,” he said. “I’m grateful, but vinyl is a very small part of the market. It is growing, it will continue to be around, but it’s not like everyone’s going to do it.”
Regardless of its rising popularity, Chin is confident he will be collecting records for a long time.
“I will definitely collect records for the rest of my life,” he says. “I’m an avid fan of not just music, but also everything that the artist has to offer, and that’s one thing vinyl has going for it.”
Chin is one of many who believe there is a special link between vinyl and the music it contains. There is a mysterious power that lays hidden in the grooves of a record. All you need to do is listen.
by Jim DeLuca