Things were not supposed to turn out this way.
At the start of 2018, I signed up for Apple Music, the tech behemoth’s answer to Spotify’s subscription-based music service. It gave me near unlimited access to the entire catalogue of Apple iTunes, and I could save tons of money.
No more budget-conscious shopping. One monthly rate gave me as many downloads as I wanted, and I want a lot.
In theory, of course, this should save me money. And it does. There’s just one problem related to my music consumption habits.
I’m the new owner of a turntable.
That’s right. It’s a simple-looking Audio-Technica record player; go ahead, glance at your calendars, it still says 2018.
What’s more is a month ago I owned no vinyl records. Zero. Today, two dozen LPs proudly sit on a bookshelf, and I’m barely sitting in my seat right now resisting the urge to go to my living room. There I’d spin a gorgeous-but-used copy of Timepieces by Eric Clapton and crank the volume.
So much for saving money.
i’m not apologizing for buying vinyl
Go ahead, accuse me of being a wannabe hipster dripping with pretentiousness. I don’t care. I own copies of The Beatles best hits, the red and blue albums, which I bought used at a record expo for jaw-dropping price, and I’m having fun putting the needle to the groove.
My favorite singer-songwriter, Josh Ritter, that music goes to a whole other level when it’s played on a record. I thought his latest album, The Gathering, was okay by his standards, which means better than most everything else out there. Just not up to his best.
How wrong was I? Buy that baby on vinyl, spin it, and oh, have mercy, is it good.
The kids too love to lay all the album artwork on the living room floor to gawk at it. Our six-year-old son likes to call the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young So Far record with its Joni Mitchell sketch of the band my “crayon cover.”
These last couple of weeks buying and playing records have woken me up from the digital funk in which I didn’t know I was trapped. I don’t even own CDs anymore. My entire music collection lives on my iPhone or iMac, and who can beat the portability or the ability to make your own playlists?
Now, however, I’ve rediscovered what quality means over quantity.
why listening to vinyl is so much better
Let’s drill down a little bit more on why in this digital world I chose to go to physical music, and by doing so, maybe you’ll chose to rock out by going vinyl.
I can off the top of my head think of five ways listening to records is better than digital:
- Sound quality is unbeatable: I know you’ve heard this argument before, but let’s learn why vinyl makes listening to music an experience compared to digital music. Digital music is compressed, which means sound quality is sacrificed to make each file compact, otherwise we’d have rooms full of external hard drives to store all of our music. This from The Oregonian tries to explain it. “The analog format allows for artists to transport their music from magnetic tape to LP to your speakers or headphones without the complications of digital conversion,” the author says. “This, ideally, is the closest one can get to what the artist intended …”
- The joy of discovering a record: You forgot what it was like to go into a music store and make a discovery. Haven’t you? Returning to vinyl records means walking into a cool independent store and walking your fingers through the stock of new and used records. I love this. I’ve spent hours during the last couple of weeks exploring. And each time, I find something worth buying I didn’t expect to find. You don’t really get this experience shopping for digital music online. I think it’s worth having again.
- Resurrecting artists I used to love: During my early days as a music fan, I found myself enjoying music from my parents 60s-70s era. But when I became a young adult, records and CDs faded away as we went digital, and I forgot about those artists. Today, I’m spinning anything from Fleetwood Mac to Billy Joel to Paul Simon to Crosby, Stills & Nash. And the sound is so good, it’s new all over again. Seriously. Find a Beatles album if you haven’t listen to them in a long, long time, put it on a turntable, close your eyes, and it’s remarkable what you’ll discover.
- It’s not just about nostalgia, but that’s awesome too: New artists have discovered the rising popularity of vinyl. They’re issuing physical LPs along with their digital material. And oh my does it sound good. Sounds like I’m sitting in the studio with them as they record. I’m no longer just buying digital of my favorite contemporary artists when they release new material.
- Listening with intention: This might be the most important.
listening with intention
It’s easy these days to turn music, any genre, into background noise. We collect so much of it through iTunes or services like Spotify, it’s easy to take it for granted.
But when I put on a record, I’m paying attention. My wife and I can have conversations. When we chose to listen to a record, though, it’s with intent. We want to listen to it, rather than hit a shuffle button on an iPhone playlist and then go on with whatever I’m doing.
It turns listening to music into an experience. I’d forgotten what that was like.
Don’t turn your nose up at the idea of vinyl records. No, they’re not portable. But I don’t care because I have a subscription for portable music through Apple.
When I’m at home, though, let me hear the crackle of a needle in the groove. Then I’ll sit back and let the music draw me in.