Dear vinyl haters,
I get you.
Vinyl has become as much a part of the hipster cliché canon as IPA’s and gentrified coffee shops. In an age defined by limitless access to the world’s resources, you scoff at a devoted minority clinging to a dying art form. On first stab, it’s hard to blame you. Vinyl is expensive, demands a ton of space and (despite what the snobs will say) sounds basically the same as a digital recording. It seems the medium is only reserved for the gatekeeping elites who will never fail to remind you how much better their music taste is compared to yours.
We’re not in the dark ages anymore. Sure, vinyl made a lot of sense when the only way to listen to music was to scratch a plastic disc with a diamond needle. However, when the LP for Red (Taylor’s Version) costs about the same as ten months of a Spotify Student plan, vinyl heads must surely be ripping themselves off. It’s become obvious that the big record companies are just repackaging an outdated medium and jacking up its price to scam the collector crowd.
Wait. Hold on. Let me get out my inflation calculator.
In 1977, during the heyday of vinyl usage, the average retail price of a new record was around $6.77 (about $39.78 in 2019), while the average new vinyl in 2019 sold for $28.40 on eBay. And that’s just new vinyl. Many modern vinyl collectors tend to frequent garage sales, vinyl shops and thrift stores where the price of a record could range from much lower to downright free. The recent vinyl boom has also given rise to many bottom-of-the-barrel, mass-produced starter record players for under $50 on Amazon.
But you, smart vinyl hater, may already know that. At this point, you might be screaming at your computer. This still doesn’t address the fundamental flaw of an analog medium in the digital age. Vinyl will never be a match for digital. For every record you collect, there will always be a thousand more in Spotify’s library.
However, I’d wager that most vinyl heads out there aren’t rushing to ditch their Spotify subscription. In the 21st century, record collecting seems to be more of an embellishment of a music collection rather than a downright replacement. It’s a way for devoted fans to show their love for a work of art physically. Although services like Spotify provide the listener with an abundance of music, customers act more like renters than owners. At any point, for any reason, these large streaming platforms could revoke someone’s membership or pull an artist from their platform. By actually owning a physical copy of an album, vinyl users will forever be able to listen to and enjoy their favorite music.
Vinyl may also allow smaller creators to supplement their income, which has been robbed recently by hegemonic streaming platforms. Take, for example, West Coast rapper Nipsey Hussle, who famously launched a successful “Proud2Pay ” campaign. Hussle quickly sold 1000 copies of his mixtape “Crenshaw,” which was available for free online, for $100. For his next mixtape, “Mailbox Money,” (another free digital download) Hussle sold 100 copies for $1000. Hussle recognized that vinyl was being used in the modern age less as a music delivery medium and more for fans to show their devotion to their favorite artists. It’s a premium product that provides mutual benefits for both listener and artist.
Vinyl haters, you’re right. Vinyl sounds basically the same as digital, it’s championed by the worst, most pretentious people you know, and it’s a ridiculously clunky medium. However, vinyl doesn’t deserve a place as the butt of every hipster joke, nor should it be written off entirely. At its best, vinyl gives small creators an opportunity to support themselves, fans to connect with their favorite works of art and small businesses to engage with an ancient craft.
Although it may never regain dominance again, vinyl still deserves a place in the 21st century.
Daily Arts Writer Kai Bartol can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.