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To me, a vinyl record is a musical journey worth taking. Vinyl records are said to be making a big comeback in the music industry. Although for most music fans – myself included – vinyl records never went out of style, just out of circulation. There have been several formats that have sought to replace the vinyl record – 8 track tapes, cassette tapes, then CD’s, and now we have the digital music formats.
Let’s face some facts about vinyl records. Vinyl records need to be played on a record player – which needs to be plugged into your wall and is often big and bulky and of course is not portable. Record players have become the preferred item at neighborhood garage sales for years and are a common item displayed in consignment shops as well as antique stores. As for the vinyl records themselves, mishandling is a common problem and the vinyl gets scratched and/or warped over time. Vinyl records do not collapse and are properly stored in the album jackets that are sold in. So, vinyl records and their record players take up a fair amount of space in your apartment, basement, dorm room, etc.
Cassette tapes, then CD’s, and now digital music have become a more practical way of obtaining and listening to music – not only at home, but anywhere. For example, you can elect to purchase a single song online as opposed to buying an entire album in a store. It takes just a few dollars and a few minutes to download a song to your phone, computer, or iPod device. In our society’s lust for instant gratification, digital music has become the go-to format of how most music fans buy their music. Vinyl records are still sold in stores – whether a physical store or online – just like all other types of music formats. However, you will need to wait until you get home to play your record, which is not always the case for cassette tapes, CD’s, and certainly the ever popular digital music downloads. Most of us just don’t have the time to drive to a store, look through vinyl records, pick one out, pay for it, drive home, and play it on their record player.
So, vinyl records are not portable, take up too much room, are not convenient for the busy world we live in, and a require a record player, which may or may not exist in your home or within reach. My answer to this statement is – So What?
Vinyl records come in album jackets. On the outside of the album jacket, there is often beautiful works of art, photography, and self expression. Album jacket covers have been a featured part of pop art for close to 50 years. In addition, on the back side of the album jacket, is the list of songs on the album – sometimes with additional information such as songwriting credits, length of song, etc. The vinyl record sleeve houses the vinyl record and often times includes similar information – songwriting credits, sometimes lyrics, even complex stories about the album itself. These record sleeves often reveal undiscovered truths. Personally, I love reading that Eric Clapton played on this song, or Paul McCartney produced this song, or that Stevie Ray Vaughn played guitar on this particular track. It makes the songs more personal and interesting to me.
As for the whole experience, vinyl records force me to slow down and I’m grateful for this. Yes, there is a process to the concept of the vinyl record. I have a number of favorite record stores that I love to visit and shop. I live in RI, so no store is more than a half hour drive. I take my time sifting through albums – fan favorites, imports, concerts and those highly desirable obscure albums. Albums are priced accordingly based on their age and musical importance. That being said, albums are very much affordable. I have a reconditioned record player at home that was a special Christmas gift – thanks Rachel – and some Bose speakers that produce amazing sound quality. I still get goosebumps when the record player’s needle hits the edge of the vinyl producing that familiar sound just before the actual music starts. I love sitting down and reading the album sleeve end to end, learning all that I can about the album and the musicians playing on it. As long as I live and remain as busy as I am, I will always look forward to those precious moments of bliss.
For me, a vinyl record is not just about the sound it produces. It is a musical experience that will never be duplicated simply by downloading a single song to my iPod. Listening to a vinyl record brings me closer to the music. It is the most delicious morsel to feed my hunger for musical knowledge. So, dust off that record player, grab your favorite Barry Manilow album, sit down, have a cup of something sweet, and enjoy. You won’t be disappointed.