Record Madness: An Unlikely Fad with an Uncertain Future

todayJuly 13, 2016 29

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By Kate Wiggins
Music Journalist

The first record I ever played was the soundtrack to Clint Eastwood’s 1966 classic, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, inherited from my older brother’s collection. I was 13, and the process of setting up the turntable and speakers appeared so complicated I was joyfully willing to destroy my mom’s work laptop with Limewire for music rather than try to figure out these expensive, dusty old things. I would have been shocked to meet someone younger than 35 who had a functioning record player and collection.  

The times have certainly changed, and records have become their own form of cultural currency; a disorganized stack is increasingly common in the bedrooms of music infatuated college kids and teens. Whether they’re being played on a shiny new Crosley or on an inherited antique with only one working speaker (that only plays when you smack it,) this improbable and inconvenient music player has effectively carved its way into 21st century hipster lore.

But with the availability of free, portable music-streaming at an all-time high, why would vinyl suddenly be embraced? I asked a couple young collectors what they thought:

“I feel a lot of young kids these days are obsessed with the past,” said Rhys Woodruff, a Texas State student and local musician. “Constantly huffing nostalgia” with records as their next hit,  the specific sound quality of vinyl only minimally factoring into the purchases. Rhys’s own reason for collecting is the tangible aspect of the records themselves as opposed to the invisible bits and bytes of digital music.

“I enjoy holding the physical product,” Woodruff said. “I like to see the artwork and how it’s packaged.”

Ryan Parr, a San Marcos resident, inherited the majority of his collection.

“The rest, I collected out of a code of honor I developed,” Parr said. “If I truly respect and love an album, I want to support the artist.”

But like Rhys said, many young vinyl buyers aren’t buying because they want to hold the music in their hands  or to support their favorite musicians.

“It comes down to the simple fact that for most young people, buying vinyl is just a trend,” Rhys said. “There’s a big difference between people who own vinyl and people who listen to it.”

Austin Record Convention. Photo by Kate Wiggins.
Austin Record Convention. Photo by Kate Wiggins.

Rhys isn’t not wrong to suggest that many young vinyl collectors will empty out $2 clearance bins of Elvis at Christmas Time and Conway Twitty’s deep cuts to buff up their stacks with no intention of letting those dusty records see daylight. So if vinyl’s specific charms, the sound that really sets it apart from other mediums, is not necessarily being appreciated, will the inherently temperamental cool-factor be enough to buoy an outdated and expensive music medium for much longer?  

Rhys is cynical about the future of analog sound.

“Even though vinyl is being sold in higher numbers than it was 10-15 years ago, it’s still not a lot,” Rhys said. “The slight fluctuation we’ve seen the past few years isn’t enough to keep record stores from closing.” As far as modern music availability, “people can just listen to it for free or for a small fee, why the hell would you spend $20 for 10 songs?”

Parr has a more hopeful outlook for the future of vinyl sales.  

“I can assume they’ll keep a steady pace and continue producing them,” Parr said. “It’s a nostalgia thing for most people, and that will always exist because the era of big vinyl is heavily romanticized at this point.”

In five years’ time, will millennials continue to embrace this alternative to the daunting infinity of instant streaming and pass on their collections to their kids, or will they start abandoning their records when they realize how heavy they are to move out of a fourth-story apartment? Hard to say; it will probably be a bit of both.

There will always be passionate record collectors, and this recent boom has surely created a lifelong hobby for many young people, even if the more trend-conscious masses will eventually part with their Conway Twitty. But if there’s anything to be learned from this current fad, it’s that we should all start collecting cheap CDs now, because soon the tinny, sterile sound and proneness to skipping we hated about them will be their claim to nostalgic glory in the future.

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