It's safe to assume at this point that vinyl isn't going anywhere anytime soon. Sales are rocketing through the roof in recent years, and among the masses taking notice of the culture shift is Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich.
Ulrich recently sat down with Classic Rock to talk extensively about his love of vinyl and why it matters, during which he touches quite a bit on how he feels the popularity is some combination of sound quality, anti-MP3 sentiments and the fun ritual of listening. He adds that his kid also loves listening on vinyl.
“It’s the ritual element of it. It’s running your finger down the side to try to open the plastic wrap, and usually cutting that part under your nail.
“Then pulling it out, and seeing if there’s an inner sleeve, and hoping for a gatefold. Nowadays, you just walk over to your computer, you click three times, and you have 140,000 songs at your fingertips. It was just a different kind of thing – and it still is.
“I still have all of my old records. I still occasionally take them out. I would be lying to you if I said there was no nostalgic undertone to the whole thing. It’s just nice to be able to sit down and listen to music for no other reason than to sit down and listen to music.
“When you’re in your car, music is an afterthought. You put some music on when you’re cooking in the kitchen, or when you’re sitting on an airplane and staring out the window, bored. It’s a background function to some other activity. You used to put a record on for no other reason than to sit down and completely immerse yourself in the music, the lyric sheet and the pictures; sit there and dream your life away. It was pretty cool.
“For every fad, there are a significant number of people who run in the opposite direction. So, for everything that is popular, there are people who seek out alternative ways to the mainstream.
“That’s the nature of pop culture, that is the nature of human beings and humanity in general. Now that most people experience music through compressed MP3s – in subways, in airplanes – I think there are a lot of people who seek out alternative ways just because.
“So vinyl’s resurgence is, in part, the anti-MP3. I think people are looking for better sound quality, looking for a more physical relationship to music, and probably a more one-on-one relationship with music rather than it being just a background element.
“I am not knocking it; I am just saying an increasing amount of people seem to want to experience music in a way that has a different depth.
“I have three boys. The oldest one enjoys walking to Amoeba Music up here in San Francisco on the Haight and looking at records; but also looking at books, looking at DVDs, looking at paraphernalia, looking at posters.
“Maybe it’s a broader experience than it was for me, when it was purely records. Most music that comes out now, especially by popular artists, enjoys a limited edition run of vinyl which is a huge collector’s item. It feels like it’s not only back again, but it’s probably not going to go away.
“I don’t think it’s going to come and go and come and go. Whether it’s going to keep increasing its presence or just level off at some point in the next few years, I don’t think it’s going to dip much.
“I do think there are a fair few people who enjoy the contrary elements of going to the store, buying the physical record, and dealing with the sleeves. Listening to vinyl is an experience that often has a social interaction attached to it.
“But more so than anything else, it involves a non-mobile, stationary requirement in the fact that you are not in a motor vehicle, you are not in an airplane, you are not in a subway. It’s an experience that requires more effort from you. It demands more attention.
“Obviously, there is an increased number of people who are falling back in love with this and embracing it once again. I can certainly see this in my 17-year-old. The last two Christmases and birthdays, he has asked for particular favorite records of his on vinyl. He has a little shitty $50 record player in his room.
“Occasionally, when I walk in there, I would say one out of 15, 20 visits, it’s actually a Radiohead or Arctic Monkeys or a Miles Davis on vinyl that’s playing, which certainly warms his dad’s nostalgic heart. So there is hope!”
Personally, I think it's pretty much everything Ulrich says – budding audiophiles and the ritual – but I think it has a lot to do with the fact that kids in my generation who were born in the late 80s and early 90s grew up when everything was being digitized. So a vinyl resurgence is the complete opposite of our childhoods – purely analog.