Collecting Vinyl Records: Why do we do it?
An outdated musical format or a potential connection?
“The four building blocks of the universe are fire, water, gravel and vinyl”- Dave Barry (comedic columnist, vinyl record collector)
Many students in St Andrews alone seem to own a turntable and at least a few records. I, among these students, packed my turntable and records neatly into a box ready to move in as a first-year student. In fact, it was one of the first things I was sure I was going to bring to university with me. But why? How does such an outdated and impractical way of engaging with music manage to resonate with so many of us?
Over the last few decades, we’ve abandoned cassette tapes and CDs in favour of digital music and music streaming platforms like Spotify or Apple Music. Even more so, the record vinyl was a thing of the past with a drastic decrease in sales since the 1980s. And this makes perfect sense, streaming has made music much more accessible to anyone with a functioning internet connection and a speaker of some kind. Anything else is totally obsolete when any musician from any decade is right at your fingertips.
So, in the age of digital technology, what no one was expecting was the sudden and seemingly inexplicable rise in record sales, particularly among the young adult demographic. But according to the Entertainment Retailers Association, vinyl LP sales amounted to £135.6 million in 2021, a 23.2 per cent rise since 2020, and a figure which is still rising in 2022.
The question is then again: Why? There are so many cons to this outdated system, for one,the turntable alone is big and clunky, made even worse by having to carry around a stack of records so that it can perform its function. The turntable/vinyl combination is totally impractical. You can only ever play a maximum of five songs on each side of a record before having to get up from your seat or excuse yourself from a conversation and walk over to your turntable to carefully flip the record and resume the music. Does anything else remove you from a listening experience in a worse way than this? Why not just play whatever you want on Spotify, “I can play this song twice off my phone in the time it would take you to walk over to your turntable”.
These are conversations that I am sure many who collect records have had to participate in more than once. But what if this ‘inconvenience’ is charming rather than just that, an inconvenience? The set-up alone, while in some way tedious, is a joyous process. It allows me to pause and really pay attention to the music. The appeal is similar to that of shopping vintage, which I know we students love! Sifting through vinyls in a record shop is like digging through old clothes in hopes of finding a gem. I cherish acquiring a Beatles record from a random music shop in Moscow, pressed in the 90s right after the fall of the Soviet Union when the Beatles first became accessible to people in Russia. An old vinyl is a piece of history, a relic of the distant past.
You are able to engage with your music not only auditorily but also in a very tangible way, being able to feel the disc in your hands and (although not advisable) run your fingers along its grooves. This also brings about a new appreciation for the art of the album itself, as you are now not only listening to the music but physically and closely engaging with the album art, in many cases the thing that first draws you to pick up the record. No playlists, or shuffles, just the album in the way and order it was set up by the artist.
But for students, the appeal of the vinyl record doesn't stop there. Records are a way into social interaction. A fresher will find any way or reason to strike up a conversation and make a connection, so you go through the basic conversations — What’d you study? What music do you listen to? So, having this little hobby is instantly attractive as a means to interaction — Hey wanna see my vinyl collection? Seeing a turntable, because of its odd and outdated nature, is a conversation starter that attracts attention and curiosity. New people can physically engage with your music and sift through your collection looking for what they might like. In some ways, this opportunity beats pulling up your Spotify playlist and swiping through innumerable playlists.
Illustration: Calum Mayor