Anyone who really knows me knows I love music. I get emotional when I think about the Beatles breaking up, and I get mad when people say they don’t like Kanye West’s music because they think he is a jerk. You could say I love music to an extreme. It runs in the family.
When I was a kid, my dad would quiz me on Beatles’ songs, asking if I could match lyrics or identify a song within its first few seconds. I would spend hours listening to my older brothers talk about different bands I needed to listen to, their members, the cultures they came from, and where they fit into their own music scene and the music industry as a whole. My brothers and I still email about music we have been listening to. My dad and I still call each other to share Beatles trivia.
For me, music is emotional. Certain songs and albums evoke memories of dancing around the house with my sister as the jukebox played, of driving to concerts with my brother, of singing along to Billy Joel during road trips with my mom. For me, music is personal.
Entering 2015, we are well into the digital age of music. Services such as iTunes and Spotify have remolded the music industry, particularly with the rise of singles and the decline of albums. Album sales dropped immediately after the development of MP3 stores in 2003. The best-selling album of 2004 — Usher’s “Confessions” — sold just under 8 million copies. The 2014 best seller — Taylor Swift’s “1989” — sold 3.6 million copies. In contrast, the Beatles’ final album, “Abbey Road,” released in 1970, sold over 4 million copies in eight weeks.
As a result, we are in the midst of a “throw-away music” culture. It is a culture in which we pick our favorite songs and ignore the rest of the album, and Pitbull is constantly on Billboard’s Hot 100 somehow. Swift spoke about her disdain with today’s music culture last year.
“Music is art, and art is important and rare,” Swift wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “Important, rare things are valuable.”
Even in the midst of this digital age, we are witnessing the “vinyl revival.” It is a time in which a generation of listeners conditioned to pick and choose their favorite tracks are choosing to listen to an album in its entirety as the needle drags across the record. In the 2014 half-year report, Nielsen reported vinyl sales had increased by 40 percent since the 2013 half-year report. That was after they reported that vinyl sales had increased by 30 percent in 2013. According to Statista, vinyl sales increased from 1.2 million to 9.2 million from 2004 to 2014.
Over the summer, I traded my old bass guitar for a vintage sound system, including a record player. Since then, I have been slowly building my record collection, flipping through stacks of old records at thrift stores and keeping an eye open for sales on newer releases. Over Christmas break, my dad gave me several of his old records, and my brother bought me a vinyl copy of Wilco’s “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” — an album I fell in love with after he introduced me to it when I was a kid. I have a small list of newer albums that I want on vinyl because they mean something to me, such as “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” by Neutral Milk Hotel, which motivated me to learn to play guitar, and “Graduation” by Kanye West, which helped me realize that not all hip-hop is entirely worthless.
I am not trying to convince anyone to quit listening to MP3s or to only listen to albums in full; I pay for Spotify Premium and make so many playlists that I have run out of names for them. I think Taylor Swift is exaggerating; I disagree that streaming services are robbing music of its value, and I believe that the increased accessibility to music she complains about offers more people an access to art. I am not an audiophile; sacrificing quality for the ability to put every Beatles’ song on my phone is a trade I am perfectly willing to make.
I do believe that listening to vinyl offers a unique experience. Because music is personal. Albums are intrinsically emotional. I love listening to “Plans” by Death Cab for Cutie on my record player and remembering driving to Memphis with friends to see them perform. I love putting on my dad’s old copy of Jim Croce’s “Photographs and Memories” and hearing through the music why he loves the album. In our non-stop culture, it is so tempting to remove our favorite songs from their albums and ignore the larger creative concept to which it belongs. Listening to the whole album offers the listener a new perspective and a more intimate connection with the artist.