The Comeback of Vinyl Records

It’s not just your grandpa’s music anymore.


The look. The feel. The sound. The satisfaction of watching your favorite record spin on your treasured record player. The feeling you get when you know you have a scratch or imperfection on your vinyl, which ruins part of a song but it’s okay because it’s yours. Carefully tearing off the plastic on a new purchase and opening up the record to see all the posters and pictures that come with it. These are all things that vinyl collectors will relate to.

Lately, I’ve noticed that record players are making a resurgence in popular culture. I first detected this when I went into Urban Outfitters and saw a minimal assortment of record players and a bin of vinyl records. Later on this small selection turned into a plethora of records from artists in genres ranging from hip-hop to alternative to pop.

Listening to vinyl records has significantly changed my perception of music and has increased my appreciation for it. To me, each record I own means something. Whether I bought it from a merchandise booth at a show, Amoeba Records on Sunset Boulevard, or ordered it online, each one has a personality.

For instance, whenever I listen to my Bon Iver records, it is almost always raining or gloomy outside — not because the music is sad per say—but because when I smell the rain and hear raindrops dripping from the oak tree outside my window, I think of those records. The lead singer of Bon Iver, Justin Vernon, has a raw, yet angelic voice that is paired with evocative and melodious instrumentals and indescribable lyrics. The sound of rain combined with the comfort and tranquility of my own bed and a cup of coffee with caramel macchiato creamer made from my Keurig has become a ritual when it’s somber and dim outside. I don’t expect any other human to have the same associations to Bon Iver’s music as I do, but any vinyl collector will know exactly what I mean when I say that each record has its own personality.

The music industry is now digitally based. If you want the new Taylor Swift album, you can have it pre-ordered weeks in advance on your iTunes account and have it instantaneously downloaded to both your phone and laptop. If you want Beyoncé’s discography, you can easily download it for free off-of-file sharing websites, add it to your iTunes, sync it to your phone and sing “Single Ladies” on your way to work.

The accessibility of digital music has taken away from not only compact disks but also vinyl records. Music lovers no longer want to get up and flip a record, or click skip on a stereo when they can have thousands of songs on a smartphone at their fingertips. I love digital music and the convenience of carrying my favorite songs with me everywhere, but there is nothing greater than listening to my favorite albums from start to finish on my Crosley turntable.

Although I do hope people relish the sublime experience of records just as much as I do, record players and vinyl records seem to be a burgeoning trend. It seems like it has become a key component on the “How to be a hipster” list, along with Polaroid cameras, drinking tea out of mason jars, owning potted cacti and making sure everyone knows the overalls you’re wearing are from a thrift shop.

From collecting, to the commonly asked “digital versus vinyl” question, to dealing with the trendy aspect of listening to vinyl records, the following are the thoughts of those who religiously use their record players.

Vinyl Collecting

When you ask an avid vinyl collector why they started collecting, you will get many responses. Personally, I love having a physical copy of my favorite albums. I only buy albums that mean something to me, so they’re extra special. Many people are heavily influenced by their family to start collecting and they create extraordinary bonds over music.

Although we often associate vinyl collecting with an older generation, there is a wave of high school students that are just as passionate about listening to records. Kenzie Graham, a 16-year-old student at Ponderosa High School in Shingle Springs, Calif., said, “I started collecting because I wanted to connect with my dad and the majority of things he listened to were things we already had on vinyl.” Eddie Lobato, 16-year-old student at Arroyo Valley High School in San Bernandino, Calif., said that at a young age he thought his father’s record player was just a huge disk that was being read by a needle. Little did he know that he would also be lured into listening to vinyl records.

Whether it be parents, cousins, or grandparents, family influences are one reason why there is a current generation of young adults collecting vinyl records. Sierra Anderson, a 19-year-old film and media studies major at University of California at Santa Barbara, thanks her mother, who began collecting records at a similar age, for getting her into collecting. “I have an extreme passion for music and listening to albums on vinyl just seems like the most personal and sincere way to do so,” Anderson said.

Family also influenced Paulo Bautista, a 22-year-old business administration and media studies major at Santa Monica College. “My cousins actually got me into vinyl. They were more into underground hip-hop though, like J Dilla and Wu Tang Clan. And my taste was more indie pop oriented. I like the vintage feel I get from an LP.”

From generation to generation, music is infinite and eternal. Tony Amendola, a 62-year-old art collector and promoter, grew up listening to music from rock legends like The Beatles, The Doors and The Grateful Dead, and jazz and classical greats. “The reason I was, and still am so drawn to vinyl is that I believe this is the true vision of the artists and the process of them creating music. Vinyl gives a truer perception of what the artist is trying to accomplish musically.” Amendola added that he is ecstatic about the return of record players. “It’s just another way to appreciate music, it shouldn’t be considered a fad.”

The concept of digital music is mind blowing. The fact that you can have 2,000 songs stored on a phone that weighs only 6.07 ounces is astonishing. But in spite of the accessibility, watching a record spin and hearing every nuance of the song being played is also special. Nadine Oliva, a 19-year-old public relations major at University of Florida, said that having a tangible copy of an album is more engaging than a file on her laptop. Melissa Massey, a 20-year-old communications and American studies major at Cal State Fullerton University prefers being able to hold her albums. “I wanted to collect records because it is something I can hold onto forever,” she said.

Digital Versus Vinyl

I love vinyl records. Love. Love. Love. Whenever someone asks to see my collection I become as giddy as a kid on Christmas. One of my favorite things about reissued records is that they often come with a digital download code to transfer the album onto your iTunes account.

Chloe Davis, an 18-year-old music technology and communications major at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, Calif., is a fan of digital recordings but has a special connection to vinyl records. “There’s just something about the sound of a vinyl that no digital recording can beat. I feel like with vinyl you can hear more mistakes. It just sounds a lot rawer and I love that.”

For Cindy Miller, 51, who grew up listening to vinyl, there is something special about listening to a record on a record player. “It adds to the listening experience and you also have the added bonus of album art,” Miller said. The tangibility of the records are something that she has always been attracted to.

“I think there will always be people who appreciate owning something they can physically hold and look at instead of just downloading it.” -Cindy Miller, 51

I find that playlists filled with hundreds of different genres of music, shuffling the order of songs in a music playlist, and the fact that most people can’t listen to a song, let alone an album all the way through, takes away from the experience that an artist wants us to have when they compile an album. It’s an experience, one that I hope that many people get to participate in because it makes you enjoy music so much more.

The Newest Trend

When I log onto Tumblr and see photos of record players used as a prop, I become disconsolate. To me, they are joyous creations that provide me with so much happiness. When they’re just left around and abused, I want to go rescue them and hear the sweet sounds of whatever song I choose from my collection of 17 records.

But I must say that it is amazing to walk into a mainstream clothing store like Urban Outfitters and see records there. The pretentious music lover in me wants to go and buy them all so I can hoard them and give them a good home; not just make them a wall ornament. It is funny to see frames sold to display record albums. It’s really not what they were meant for.

There is a subculture surrounding every side of vinyl records. It is powered by the passion and devotion of listeners, so it is clear why there can be bittersweet feelings towards records being considered a fad or trend.

Rumours, Fleetwood Mac, 1976

Vintage records are usually worn and scratched. To the common person they would look aged and unattractive. Bautista said that before the so-called LP boom, some of his friends were die-hard vinyl collectors whho looked for certain gems and rarities to add to their collections. “Some of those records have been mass copied, so it’s much harder for the original to retain its value. Like ‘Rumours’ by Fleetwood Mac, consumers would generally buy the anniversary edition over the vintage edition of the vinyl.”

Visuals are a main reason why vinyl records were popular back in the day and are coming back into style. Records can come with whatever an artist wants to include. It makes for a more personal connection.

The popularity of anything, from a fashion accessory, to a band, to a hairstyle is dependent on the media and how people pick it up. Urban Outfitters and their market for records is one of the main reasons that so many people are aware of them. Massey said it’s wonderful that stores like Urban Outfitters sell record players and records because it makes it easy for people who love them to get them without trying to search for a record store. She also has purchased 11 of her 15 records and her record player at Urban Outfitters.

Oliva agreed that the attention given to record players and vinyl records is something that should be praised and not looked down upon. “So many people who would have never thought of records are buying them and buying record players and giving them a chance and I think it’s a great thing.”

The trendy and cool aspect of owning vinyl is something that true vinyl lovers will never understand. “They stack their records and take pictures and stuff and it bugs me so much because that’s not good for the record!” said Davis.

For Amendola, who comes from an older generation, he believes that an entire generation has missed out on incredible artwork and that this new wave is wonderful. “Having records sold on a popular platform opens up not only a true listening experience, but also allows younger people to encounter many great visual experiences. So I say, collect away!”

The Binding Aspect

No matter what genre, music is a binding art form that people of all ages, race, and gender can share common ground. Each person has their own favorite album of all time.

For Lobato, it’s ‘LP1’ by Grammy nominated artist FKA Twigs. Bautista chose ‘Goddess’ by BANKS while Oliva went with “Parachute” by Coldplay.

Amendola chose “Waiting for Columbus” by Little Feat and “Crime of the Century” by Supertramp.

Massey and Davis both agreed on The 1975’s self-titled debut album, but for different reasons. Massey said, “It’s so much more than an album; it’s the last two years of my life put to music and every note has a different memory attached to it.”

My favorite vinyl is “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” by Kanye West, which is also one of my favorite albums. Being able to hold a record with little etchings of music on it means a lot to me. It’s probably one of the albums that made me truly appreciate music. The packaging is beautiful. I can hold it. I can hug it. I can listen to it. I can do whatever I desire with it.

Substance is a publication of the Mt. San Antonio College Journalism Program. The program recently moved its newsroom over to Medium as part of a one-year experiment. Read about it here.