How vinyl became popular once again

Hayley White's record player and record collection.
Complete collector’s set of Chicago’s “At Carnegie Hall” complete with a list of tour dates, an album booklet and three posters. (Photo by Luke Smith)

By Luke Smith

Who would have thought a medium that was killed by the rise of CDs would have made such a powerful resurgence? MRC Data reported that 2.11 million records were sold in the final weeks of 2021. In an age where technology has advanced so far and now listening to your favorite song can be done by the tap of a screen, it’s fascinating to see vinyl records rise to such high levels of popularity in recent years.

In 1988, the CD took over the physical music market leaving record discs in the dust. Michael Napolitano, a former radio disc jockey based out of Providence Rhode Island, reflects on what it was like to see records go out of style as music format trends began to shift.

“Because I worked in radio, I we had promo copies of a lot of stuff,” says Napolitano referencing the records he got from his days on radio.

“I’d get an autograph when all the celebrities came to our station because Pro FM was a big station back in the day. All the celebrities would come through and then they would autograph the albums and they do voice shoutouts for you on the radio and that kind of stuff,” says Napolitano.

With vinyl having resurfaced the way it has, could this mean a revival of other mediums such as CD or cassette? While cassette and CD are still available in most stores, they are not as popular as they once were. The RIAA reported in its year-end sales report that records surpassed CDs in sales for the first time since 1986. Napolitano remarked that this could be due to the record’s timeless nature.

“The problem with CDs is vinyl lasts forever,” says Napolitano. “Some CDs last only like 10 years some the last 20 or 30 But when they oxidize, you can actually see them kind of fall apart on the inside they get like these blacks, patterns in them and everything. It’s really weird to see a CD oxidize

CDs don’t last forever but LPs do.

In the age of digital music, its unique to see the format becoming popular once again. A big reason for that is for how records sound.

“It has this fuller sound,” says Napolitano. “It has this fullness to it that a CD doesn’t.”

In 2007, as digital music services like iTunes were beginning to change the way we listened to music, other music fans decided to take a step back and listen to something a little more familiar. It was around this time the vinyl record resurgence began. The biggest contributor to this resurgence were rock bands and rock artists. Jake Prewett, an avid record collector shares his thoughts on collecting and listening to some rock records.

“I think like listening to a lot of records from the 70s is really fun,” Prewett says. “A lot of the same artists hung out with one another, and they just made records together. And you start to realize all these guys were just friends. I would never have realized that unless I sat and read the liner notes.”

Another draw to records is what comes with the record.

A first pressing of The Beatles “The White Album” owned by Jake Prewett

Each record has something unique and fun about it that makes it more than just another album to add to the collection. Sometimes its liner notes, other times its posters. Sometimes the record disc can be different colors with intricate patterns.

It is one of the things that makes collecting records so special. However, these special exclusive copies come at a cost. A cost in which pressing companies are having a difficult time keeping up with.

The Cost of Collection:

While the popularity of record collecting has grown, there are some collectors who are hesitant to buy. One of the reasons if cost of the product. Data from eBay given to CNBC reported that from when the resurgence began in 2007, the average record cost $4.80. By 2017 that cost rose to $24.40; a 490% increase in cost.

One of the large reasons why these records have risen in cost is due to the nature in which they are produced. Worldwide there are only 341 vinyl pressing companies. Keeping up with the demand for records when sales reported by the RIAA have risen to heights of $1 billion is not easy. With demand this high, some wonder why the demand for more pressing factories is not a consideration.

“With those numbers, you can clearly imagine why records are so backed up right now,” says Nicki Gallop, a heavy metal record collector from Brookline. “With record sales being that high, that means a ton of them are being sold. And over the pandemic, a lot of those factories couldn’t function because people weren’t coming in to actually make the damn things. Like, as beautiful as it is to have the physical piece. That means you need people to make them. And when the pandemic happened, and that largely couldn’t happen, backups out the wazoo.” Gallop has been collecting for nearly a decade.

However, he’s not just a collector. Gallop is also a part of a band that distributes physical copies of their music. But with the demand for records being so high, it is hard for them to even have product to sell.

“They wanted that record and upon ordering it, had to wait a year and a half for those to be actually delivered to their doorstep.” Gallop continues, “that is not uncommon. Unfortunately, only the biggest bands right now are getting a steady flow of records because you know, capitalism they have to make their money the record labels are prioritizing them above others and it’s just it really sucks for like mid-tier and lower tier bands right now. So how that’s affecting the fans right now, at least in the heavy metal scene, is lots of us are pre ordering these vinyl’s because we know we want them and it’s just kind of like hoping they’ll show up one day and not really knowing when that’s going to be which is really frustrating.”

But while it remains frustrating that the physical copy of the music has yet to arrive in the mail, it doesn’t detract from the artist’s artistic vision when creating a body of work. It says less about the level of content the artist is putting out and more about how the demand for records should be leading to stronger focus in more pressing companies.

Mary Castle is from the Allston neighborhood and recalls what records used to be like before they were brushed aside for CDs. “I remember when I was younger and my family had a nice record player in the family room,” says Castle. “I remember the crackling of the record and how it would skip every so often if you didn’t take care of it right. I think vinyl is more unique than a CD because it felt so special taking it out of the package flipping it around when the first side was over, it was just great.”

About Luke Smith 4 Articles
Luke Smith is a graduate student studying Journalism at Emerson College. He worked for his college's radio station as the promotions director and co-founded his college's news network organization. He also operates a music review page called Scratch Entertainment. This page began on Instagram on July 24th and he would review three different music albums five to six days a week. Today, he publishes video reviews once a week on YouTube.