On Becoming a Vinyl Person

I’ve talked on this blog previously about how I really identify with the radio station, WXPN’s slogan “Vinyl at Heart” because I have always felt like with my love of my music being what it is that I should be a vinyl person, but I never have been. Until now.

I’m old enough to remember when vinyl was a thing the first time around. I remember having a little Fisher Price record player that I played little storybook records on. There were little picture books that came with little records in the back and you would play them and they would read the story to you. I remember my parents’ record collection, though I was too young to have ever had the experience of buying my first record. By the time I got my first album it was on cassette. There is something about owning a physical object. I remember my first cassette album (Madonna’s True Blue) and my first CD (Salt-N-Pepa’s Black’s Magic), but I couldn’t tell you the first album or song I downloaded from Napster or iTunes or streamed on Spotify. But digital music made it so much easier to get music and carry around a lot of it with you. So I moved on with the times and the formats. Listening to vinyl eventually developed a certain cache that I aspired to, but it never seemed practical and I am a very practical person.

There were a number of things that coalesced at the same time that have finally made me a vinyl person, at least for now. I did already have a couple of albums lying around that I had gotten as gifts from various WXPN fund drives. Then I supported a kickstarter for Christopher Paul Stelling’s album, Forgiving It All, last year. I didn’t actually give at a level that got me an LP because I didn’t have a record player hooked up to play it on, but I did do the bonus add-on where I also got some artwork from him in addition to the digital download and t-shirt. When the t-shirt and artwork came he had also thrown in an LP for free. So my collection was already growing.

I also started getting attracted to all the new pretty, colorful vinyl that they make now. I’m not sure if I would be as interested in vinyl if it was all just still plain black. I really liked the way the Hiss Golden Messenger holiday album that came out last year looked, and that sort of tipped me over the edge into wanting to have a way to play some vinyl.

This was about the time that we were finishing up our kitchen renovation/half-bath addition. My husband, who is a pack rat, had moved a bunch of stuff out of our basement into storage so that the contractor would have easy access to the pipes. One of the things that he brought back from storage was his old 1980s record player that had just been gathering dust in our basement. So I told him he should hook it up. Here’s where he makes fun of me, and it becomes evidently clear that I am not a real vinyl person.

We have Sonos speakers throughout the house. I wanted to be able to play the vinyl through the speakers because I wanted to be able to listen to it anywhere and not just in the dining room where the record player currently lives. The Sonos component that would let you add a record player to the system was like $800, so I found him a hack with a Raspberry Pi and put him to work creating that for me for way cheaper. A lot of people claim to like vinyl because it’s analog and not compressed like listening to digital music like CDs or streaming, while I’m over here taking my analog music and making it digital so I can stream it to my speakers. I don’t care. I cannot tell the difference. For someone who loves music so much, I do not have a very discerning ear. I once did a quiz that asked you to tell the difference between music at different compression rates. It had to get pretty compressed before I could tell the difference. I mean like I can tell the difference between listening to music over our Echo Dot versus the Sonos speakers, but then ask me how much I care. I’m a monster I know.

So now I have a record player set up and am slowly building a record collection. The first thing I did was go out and buy the The Cure’s Disintegration on LP because that of all albums has been the one in my life that has felt most wrong to not own on vinyl. And now when artists release new albums I want to own I’ve started buying them on vinyl instead of in a digital format (yes I was one of the few people left on the planet still buying digital albums instead of just streaming them via some streaming service). As I’ve mentioned I really like buying the pretty colored versions even if it costs me a few dollars more than the plain, black vinyl.

I have discovered that another way I am not a true vinyl person is that I do not have that collector’s gene. I never have. Not for anything, and this is not changing that. I don’t spend my time trying to fill in holes in my collection somehow, and I refuse to pay any kind of markup for people reselling stuff. When I got all this stuff set up, I had just missed the window on buying the new War on Drugs album, I Don’t Live Here Anymore, on colored vinyl. You could still get the plain black one, which I did, but the only way buy the colored versions at that point were to pay re-sellers at an incredible markup. Since vinyl is obviously a limited thing, there are lots of albums that if you don’t get them during the initial pressing, you’re out of luck. I’ve looked into a couple of those and again refuse to buy them if they’re not priced in the range of other LPs. I’m not a good collector like that.

I am enjoying listening to my vinyl though. It is fiddly, and not nearly as convenient as listening to digital music. That is part of what I’m enjoying about it though. I think it’s helping me channel some of my music energy during the pandemic when I still can’t go to concerts like I would like to, and I’m still spending way more time at home where I do have time to just sit and put records on. I do have questions about how when one day I hopefully do get to reenter the world more if I’ll still be this much into the vinyl. I do appreciate though how it’s making me listen to full albums again and actually relisten to things multiple times. There’s so much music out there that I often buy albums that I only listen to a couple of times, but with a finite record collection I have to listen to things more than I might have otherwise. I do wish that the record player were say next to my couch so I could just lean over and flip the record instead of having to get up and and walk into the dining room. But alas there is no room in the living room. At least it gets me up off the couch way better than my Fitbit buzzing at me ever has.

I’m never going to be the stereotypical vinyl person hanging out in record stores geeking out over records, but I am appreciating dipping my toe into the vinyl world and getting back to listening to music in a way I haven’t in a long time and that I realize now that I missed.

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