Computers surround me and the digital realm is a huge part of my life, but there is so much to love about records. They are analog, old-fashioned and so yesterday, but I am not the only one. During the last few years there has been a resurgence of interest in records.
1. They are Fun to Look At
This summer we visited my in-laws in Vermont, and they have a fairly large record collection. My son Dylan was fascinated with their record player, and especially with the pictures inside the foldout record cover. Every day, he wanted to listen to Annie and read along, singing the whole time. Sorry, but it is just not as fun—particularly for a toddler—to read along with a tiny CD booklet. If you want to get kids interested in music, this is the way to do it.
2. They are Fun to Browse Through
I don't relish browsing through my CD collection. Admittedly, digital browsing is fun, but it's still a huge chore to see liner notes (if they even exist), lyrics and so on. There is something both thrilling and relaxing about holding a colorful album cover in your hands and not having to squint. I imagine that aging baby-boomers will start to wish they kept their record collections when they get older.
3. Better Sound
This is probably the most dubious claim: do records really sound better? No one will argue that digital tracks (track—a quietly antiquated term, like splice, or groove) sound much cleaner: no pops, hisses and usually no skipping, unless you have a toddler who regularly handles your discs with grubby fingers. My theory is that people think records sound better because the noise helps your years focus, and the fuzzy lack of clarity in the analog realm mellows out the high frequencies, making the sound waves seems less harsh. Call me crazy, but my ears tire more listening to CDs, particularly if I am forced to listen using cheap headphones or speakers.
4. You can Raid your Parent's Collection
My dad has an amazing classical record collection. He has recordings that I am certain will never be re-released, particularly ones that were put out by indie record labels. Recently, for our Food & Music American Modern Ensemble concert, I went online and purchased a recording of Three Place Settings by Barbara Kolb on the long out-of-print Desto label, for the whopping grand total of $1.00. This is the only recording that is currently available. I used a service I found online to transfer it to a CD to use as a reference recording for a few of the players. Although we played it quite differently, it was great to hear this recording to give us an idea.
5. More Music for Less Dough
If money is an issue, you can't beat records. You can find some real treasures in stores that still sell records. Even trolling garage sales will turn up some great finds, usually for no more than a dollar.
6. Fewer Anti-Piracy Restrictions
If you have the right equipment, it's very easy to make a mix tape of a record, and a hell of a lot of fun. Time consuming, but so deliciously retro. You can immediately see why piracy is a much bigger deal now: you cannot easily upload a record onto a file sharing service and distribute it to hundreds or thousands of people, and you cannot rip a record in less than five minutes—like you can with a CD—without severely harming the sound quality.
7. They Make You Slow Down
We live in the age of "fast". Listening to records takes more time than scanning tracks on your iPod, and again, you can not easily load them into your computer. I think it is nice to chill once in a while, and records make you do just that.
8. The Memories
The smell of vinyl brings back so many memories. When I was playing records for my son Dylan at my in-laws house, the smell instantly reminded me of my father dancing with me and throwing me up in the air when I was his age, playing me Stravinsky, Bach and Shostakovich, three of his favorite composers. Those are some of my happiest memories as a child.
9. The Machinery
One detail I miss with CD players, iPods and so on is being able to see what's happening. I love seeing the needle approach the record, looking at the grooves and actually seeing where a track ends and the next begins. Dylan also loved this, and I am certain that the mechanics of the record player are part of the reason he loves playing records so much.
10. The Concept Album
As much as I love the convenience of only downloading the one track that I like from an album, the idea of a unified album is gradually disappearing, particularly with pop music. Even the idea of putting out a release (antiquated) based on the length of a CD, let alone a record (doubly antiquated) will eventually disappear. If it was not for the limitations of records, we would probably not have concept albums.
11. They Are Just Plain Cool
There is something deliciously retro about playing records; movies like High Fidelity remind me how much of my daily life as a teenager was built around this medium: waiting for releases (not downloading tracks before a band releases them—whatever happened to delayed gratification?) and actually going to a record store (will those exist in ten years?)—a real record store, not two isles in Barnes & Noble or Wal-Mart.
I do not suppose that an analog renaissance will last long. The digital age is too convenient, and as much as I love to slow down and smell the vinyl, I love having a hundred albums on-hand when I am traveling even more. Even so, I am so glad my parents and in-laws have their collections, waiting for us to enjoy when we visit.