With music as close as the touch of a button thanks to streaming services and digital downloads, here's a crazy thought: a world where manually flipping a 12-inch disc and lowering a needle to listen would be the choice of a growing number of music lovers.
Well, it's a crazy world. Records have had a cult following for years, but lately vinyl is booming. Although records sales haven't surpassed those of CDs just yet, vinyl is closing in. Last year, sales of CDs slid below the $1 million mark for the first time since 1986, when compact discs were in their infancy. Vinyl sales now account for more than a third of all physical format sales, which include CDs, cassette tapes and vinyl records.
Buyers like the warm, mellow sound. Or they like the permanent feeling of a large record. Others buy them used and like to feel a bond with a relative or friend who used to own them. Some reject CDs based on the packaging — a small disc in an easily-broken case for $15-$20. For a few dollars more, LPs come with a poster or lyrics booklet, large artwork, even a T-shirt. Some vinyls come in colors besides black. And used ones can be had for, well, a song.
Major retailers are switching out CDs in favor of vinyls and factories can’t keep up with demand. Stores like Target and Walmart are limiting the number of compact discs they stock. That space on the shelves is filling up with vinyl records and other accessories such as record players, cleaning kits and album storage crates.
Best Buy stopped selling CDs in its stores last year, but it carries vinyl. Target, usually known for working with artists on “Target exclusive” CDs, released an exclusive vinyl press for Harry Styles’ sophomore album, which dropped in December.
Although customers can buy LPs at major department stores, most prefer small, locally-owned record shops with a wider selection.
In Baton Rouge, Capital City Records does not see the vinyl trend dying out anytime soon.
“I remember 10 years ago that certain vinyl pressing plants, like the one in Nashville, went from their regular shifts to 24 hours,” said Dana Labat, Capital City's owner. “They added a new warehouse, got 10 more machines, started working 24 hours and they still can’t keep up,” he said.
Labat blames the price of the once-popular music discs as its main downfall.
“If the price of CDs would have been lower, they would probably still be your main format today,” Labat said.
CDs also have a different sound than vinyl. Vinyl’s warm tone comes with tiny pops and cracks that intrigue younger listeners. Patrick Hodgkins, owner of Lagniappe Records in Lafayette, believes that the sound quality of CDs may be one of the reasons they have fallen out of popularity.
“CDs are just compressed digital formats,” Hodgkins said. “In the age of streaming, if you’re going to listen to a compressed digital format, you might as well just stream it instead of listening to a CD. If you want the full analog sound, then vinyl records are the preferred medium.”
Hodgkins also credits the durability of vinyl as another reason for the resurgence. Vinyl records were made to last, unlike other physical forms of music which came in later years. Flimsy CDs made of plastic are more prone to breakage and scratching.
“Vinyl is the longest surviving physical format of all the formats,” Hodgkins said. “It’s like a wheel. It’s a design that doesn’t need improving. It’s the ideal format that everyone can agree to. It doesn’t get better than the vinyl record.”
Logan Cullop, an LSU sophomore, said she prefers shopping for older records at smaller shops. Cullop recently started buying vinyl after inheriting her grandfather’s collection. Listening to old records puts her in touch with older generations despite her young age.
“I only buy original pressings of records, so I also feel a strong connection from people who have sold their used albums,” Cullop said. “Some of the records I own even have previous owners’ names on them, and I think it’s really cool that I get to bring new life to them.”
Although Cullop is a young customer, Labat said that there isn't one age group that frequents Capital City Records more than others.
“It’s ages 11 to 80,” Labat said. “I have a lot of teenage and college-aged customers who are into music, so that may be the biggest demographic.” he said. “But then there are many who are middle-aged and have been interested in records all their lives. It’s really all over the board.”
Hal Lambert, an LSU student and KLSU DJ, found his foothold in vinyl after tapping into the Baton Rouge music scene as an artist. When selecting tunes for his audience, he frequently plays vinyl instead of music from his computer.
“I play vinyl on KLSU because I have vinyl at home,” Lambert said. “I’m very serious about supporting artists in material ways, so that means buying their records when they come out, either at a shop or through the mail. Also, sometimes the music that I want to play isn’t available through other means,” he said.
Although Lambert enjoys buying vinyl, he said he is uncertain how this resurgence affects smaller artists, like himself, who stayed with vinyl but generate low sales.
“Records never really went away,” Lambert said. “And it’s a bummer to hear about artists who never stopped releasing their music on vinyl having to face delays due to corporate acts.”
Go ahead, call it crazy, but the generation that may own driverless cars is dusting off their grandparents’ records and appreciating music in the most unexpected form.
Covington native Olivia Deffes is an LSU student studying mass communication with a focus in journalism.