Why Vinyl?

In December of 2016, vinyl records, a medium once thought extinct, outsold CDs and digital albums for the first time since 1988. For the last decade, digital music has been the mainstay of the recording industry, so what happened in 2016 that suddenly turned this around? Why would someone choose to spend their hard-earned cash on a musical medium that’s larger, heavier, and potentially more expensive than a digital download?

To understand the vinyl resurgence, you must understand the foundations of the format. The LP, or long play, was pioneered by RCA Victor in 1930. The format was further refined by Columbia Records in 1948, culminating in the pinnacle of sound recording and transfer technology which remains virtually unchanged to this day. For many decades, vinyl records enjoyed being the only game in town. And literally every piece of audio someone wished to record and distribute, from music and spoken word to sound effects and instructional programming, was recorded onto and sold on a vinyl record.

The evolution of musical formats can be traced simply enough by following the trend of downsizing. In 1964, the 8-track tape was introduced, followed by the compact disc in ’82 and the advent of the MP3 in ’89. Each subsequent medium offered better sound quality while taking up less space. As with nearly all outdated technology, vinyl records and the sound systems associated with them soon began to find their way into garbage bins.

With so many indisputable facts against the format, how did LPs manage to make a comeback?

First and most importantly, vinyl has been embraced by many artists, big and small, due in large part to the nostalgia associated with the format. With more and more big names releasing projects via record, the industry received a much-needed shock to the heart. Second, the aesthetic component — namely the fact that records offer a much larger canvas for album covers, as well as more room for lyrics and inserts — means records can easily serve as centerpieces for décor. Finally, there is an argument for the overall sound quality of records being superior to any competing format, though this is often disputed by enthusiasts of other formats.

While the sound quality debate has yet to be concluded, the war between digital and physical media seems to be over — for now.