I’ve been hearing this declaration for a couple of years now, and it brings up mixed emotions every time someone mentions it.
“Vinyl is making a comeback.”
“Vinyl is back!”
Let’s get one thing straight. Vinyl is not back. Vinyl never went anywhere. It’s always been here. The interest in vinyl may have waned, but its presence exists. Which is why many think that vinyl, or LP records, are making a comeback. Technically, you could say that, but in certain close quarters, be they the casual LP consumer to the staunchest record collector, records have always been there. Always.
Records have been around since its introduction by Columbia Records in 1948 and its adoption as the new standard by the record industry, a format that slowly but surely gained its foothold among consumers in the 60s and especially in the 70s.
The LP’s product sibling, the 7’’ 45rpm record, took off as well, offering one song per side (thus, the term single) whose sales were soon surpassed by the 12’’ LP, wherein recording artists could put more music, at times turning their release into an artistic expression of their music.
Coupled with the great music on the LP was the creativity of the cover designs. Lots of thought was put into not only the cover itself, but in the packaging as well. Gatefold sleeves, inner sleeves with lyrics and colored vinyl were just a few ways recording artists flaunted their creativity, musically and aesthetically.
The LP record and single sales waned in the mid-80s with the introduction of the compact disc, heralding the switch from the analog to the digital format. The rise of the digital age was upon us and the CD boasted of a cleaner, clearer sound that offered an improvement over the LP’s oft times scratchy sound (if the record was old and beaten). But many attest to the LP’s rounder and warmer analog output which was easier on the ears than the CD’s harder, colder, antiseptic and too-clean sound.
Sure, it got rid of the scratches, the clicks and the pops inherent in records, but it also lost the warmth, more robust natural sounding bass frequency that was missing in the compact disc; and though the CD would eventually go on to outsell the LP record for a stretch through the 80s and well into the 90s, it did not outclass vinyl in the long run.
The boom of the Digital Age saw CDs overshadowing the LP record, whose production slowly dwindled, replaced by the small circular aluminum disc that now carried our music, made it more compact and easier to store on shelves than the bulky, space-consuming vinyl records we all grew up with and eventually discarded.
It not only changed the way we purchased our music, but also how we listened to it. In the late 90s, the CD itself contended with a newer form of music delivery, the MP3. Music could now be compressed into digital data, negating the need to store piles and piles of compact discs that now cluttered our lives like the LPs of old used to.
We could now compile our entire library of thousands of CDs into our PCs and/or laptops, and later, cram them into glorified external drives known as MP3 players. It was hard to imagine carrying and enjoying your music library in transit, while you walked to the office, on a bus or anywhere, in your ears, anytime anywhere.
You could still rip your CDs, turn them into MP3 files, rendering your old portable CD player and, in turn, your CD collection, obsolete. It didn’t take too much time until the MP3 players became old school as well with the advent of smartphones that could store and play all the music you would ever need. Now, the smartphone music player is merely an option to streaming services that everyone seems to avail at the moment.
Then, in 2010, the LP record miraculously made a comeback, if you want to call it that. Perhaps, this is where a lot of people picked up on the notion that vinyl is back, because of it being overshadowed by new and newer technology. But, really, vinyl never went anywhere; it never left. It has always been there, kept alive by those who believed that analog music still sounded far more superior than its cleaner digital counterpart.
Perhaps it was also because many people finally realized this fact and picked up the LP records and discovered the joy of listening to music on records and the inherent enjoyment of physically holding your music, touching the record sleeve, reading the liner notes without the need of a magnifying glass and full-bodied sound that only analog music can deliver.
Since then, LP record sales have skyrocketed. Previously unavailable titles were now released on records. The LPs were now of higher quality, pressed on 180g vinyl that offered better sound than its earlier pressings (though some attest that the older ones are still much better).
Word has it that by the end of this year or earlier, LP record sales will finally surpass the total of CD sales in music history. It’s safe to say that the LP is here to stay, and that records will always be a part of our musical culture and heritage.