In December, I bought my 32-year-old daughter the gift she really wanted: an easy-to-use turntable and amp with built-in speakers. She asked me if I still had my David Bowie vinyls, and I happily handed them over. Then, afterwards, she wondered if my Steely Dan and George Harrison albums were still there.
It turns out that several of my baby boomer friends receive similar requests and have found themselves hauling heavy boxes of vinyl records out of storage at the behest of their adult children. The vinyl revival began over a decade ago, with low-budget turntables and a limited selection of albums sold in fashionable clothing stores. But last year the format’s popularity surged in the US, with 41.7 million units sold, up from 21.5 million in 2020. LPs outsold CDs for the first time in 30 years, as well as digital albums, according to a report by MRC Data-Billboard.
The spike was prompted, in part, by young listeners nostalgic for a time when music — and perhaps life in general — seemed more practical and fun. Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020, young people have been forced to postpone many of the things they’ve been most looking forward to: campus life, parties, travel, weddings, and even have children. During this period, records became a nostalgic lifeline. In 2021, 87 new albums sold over 50,000 vinyl copies, compared to 51 new albums in 2020. Millennial favorite Adele topped the list, selling 318,000 vinyl copies of her album “30 despite a price tag of nearly $40.
““Being able to hold an album that went through this period makes me feel close to a time that felt happier and friendlier.””
Lauren Halliday, 31, started listening to vinyl in 2011 while in college. Ms Halliday, a Houston-based financial analyst in the energy sector and Instagram influencer known as @record_lady, grew up in a home where albums were constantly playing. Today, she buys new and used vinyl, but when it comes to albums from the 1970s, she looks for vintage pressings. “Being able to hold an album that went through this period makes me feel close to a time that felt happier and friendlier, although that’s not necessarily true,” she said, adding that slight pops and pops on used albums contribute to their authenticity and mystique.
Since many millennials are now almost their parents’ age when they were born, vinyl also creates a bridge between baby boomers and their millennial offspring. “I bought my first turntable after my parents left me their boxes of vinyl records,” Ms Halliday said. “After buying a better turntable recently, I gave the old one to my mother. She took her records back. Now I buy my parents vinyl records for their birthdays, and they bring them and we listen together.
Stressed by fears of climate change, political strife and pandemic variants, a growing number of young adults are spending more time nesting and seeking refuge in their past. Many have fond childhood memories of parents playing vinyl records in the 1980s and early 1990s, and they yearn to regain that sense of security.
“For millennials who prefer vinyl albums, the format can offer them control and stability,” said Dr. Becky Kennedy, a clinical psychologist in New York with many patients born between 1981 and 1996. “You can hold the vinyl, you you’re responsible for getting the music playing, and it’s maybe reminiscent of a more certain time in their lives. With vinyl, there’s no decisions to be made. You put the record on, you sit down and you listen.
Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok have played a big role in the format’s growing popularity, allowing vinyl lovers to build a following in spaces where most new music is discovered today. In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, 29-year-old Alex Kaplan, speech pathologist and Instagram vinyl influencer known as @vinylgoneviral, posts high-production videos of her latest finds. Most of her purchases, she says, are at local record stores, where she can talk music with clerks, ask for recommendations and comb through bins of used vinyl.
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“I’m an outgoing person, so it was really hard not being able to socialize or go to workout classes or restaurants,” she said. “Listening to records was an escape. So did the Instagram account I created in March 2020. The best part was connecting with other vinyl enthusiasts and discovering new music.
The vinyl market was boosted by the introduction of affordable, easy-to-use high-end turntables and playback systems. Andover Audio in North Andover, Mass., makes a SpinBase system that includes an amp with built-in speakers to allow a turntable to sit on top without distortion. All of its systems are plug-and-play, without any of the wiring hassles of vintage and high-end equipment.
“Millennials have made up half of our customer market since we introduced the SpinBase range in late 2019,” says Andover Audio Marketing Director James DiPaolo. “It is also interesting to note that women represent 25% of our buyers. The stereo equipment was a guy thing. Not anymore.”
Then there is the different sensory experience. “Vinyl is an audio, visual and tactile format,” said Jim Henderson, co-owner of Amoeba Music, Los Angeles’ largest record store. “In my conversations with young clients, vinyl has a similar emotional appeal to candy, especially picture discs and albums with colored vinyl,” he said. “The art is often striking, and many use the covers for wall art. The thrill factor drives the vinyl frenzy. Last April, Amoeba moved and dedicated half of its 23,000 square feet to vinyl.
In Portland, Oregon, 30-year-old Matt Wicker took his passion for vinyl one step further in 2015 by starting WickerWoodWorks, a company that makes furniture for vinyl users. His Irving Turntable Station, for example, is a modern, open console with steel hairpin legs that supports a turntable and amp on the top level and stores albums on the bottom and in two flap bins on the sides.
Since 2020, Mr. Wicker said, his business has grown significantly and he recently tripled his space and hired seven new carpenters. Originally a collector of rock vinyl, he branched out into soul and funk, with bands such as Earth, Wind & Fire and Tower of Power. “At the dinner parties that my wife and I throw, nobody wants to hear my punk records anymore,” he said.
-Sir. Myers is a regular contributor to The Wall Street Journal and the author of “Rock Concert: An Oral History as Told by the Artists, Backstage Insiders and Fans Who Were There”.
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