Millennials may not have some things—decent job opportunities and pay, reliable social safety nets, a non-screwed-up ecosystem—but they do have plenty of options for consuming music. For the more technologically savvy, there are digital downloads and streaming. For the Luddites, there are CDs and cassettes (though finding machines that play the latter can be a bit problematic).
With all of these choices, why would a Millennial buy vinyl? As someone who qualifies as a Millennial—I’m on the older end of the spectrum—here are six reasons I can think of.
We should probably get this one out of the way now: Some Millennials buy vinyl because other Millennials buy vinyl. It’s the high school mentality—boys and girls want to sit at the cool kids’ table.
I imagine that some older readers are already firing off one of those oh-so-enlightening spiels about the kids nowadays. I would invite these fine folks to meditate on their own dubious aesthetic choices of yesteryear (Ultra-wide-collar shirts, anyone? Pet rocks? “Disco Duck?”).
Done? Good. Let’s move on…
People talk about how vinyl sounds “warmer” or more vivid than digital files or CDs do. To some extent, this is subjective. It also depends on recording and mastering, the quality of your speakers and so on. My point is that Millennials like vinyl for the same reason Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers do: They like the sound of it.
Mark Richardson put it very nicely in a 2013 op-ed for Pitchfork. Vinyl LPs, he wrote, “are beautiful objects and CDs have always looked like plastic office supplies.”
Records and record covers can be works of art in themselves. I once bought an old copy of Al Green’s 1973 album Livin’ for You. I’ve never actually played it—the record’s not in the best shape and I already had it on CD—but boy, it’s cool just to have the cover in 12” x 12”.
If you haven’t seen or heard Livin’ for You—a great album, by the way—the cover’s a painting of Green standing in what looks like fire with a golden, feminine arm handing him a rose. I’ll let you ponder the psychological implications of that.
For some Millennials, vinyl could bring back childhood memories. I can remember looking through my parents’ record collection when I was younger. They actually had a copy of The Velvet Underground and Nico (they’d peeled part of the banana and taped it back in place). They also had three copies of Born to Run.
In this age of kitsch and irony, used vinyl can be a godsend. One time, I bought a copy of Don Johnson’s 1986 album Heartbeat for 99 cents. The music hasn’t aged very well, but I figured it’d make a fantastic white elephant gift.
I ended up giving it to a twenty-something friend for Christmas. He was quite amused.
(Sidenote: Look up the credits for Heartbeat sometime. You’ll be amazed at who plays on it.)
At the same time, if you’re a Millennial of discerning taste, you can find some amazing stuff for ridiculously cheap. I once found a copy of Lefty Frizzell Sings the Songs of Jimmie Rodgers in good condition for only $2.50.
(Sidenote: If you don’t know who Lefty Frizzell is, there’s your homework assignment for today.)
Ben Schultz is an award-winning journalist and music critic based in Boise, Idaho. He started a blog in 2012 because he had nothing better to do and somehow managed to parlay that into a career. He has an intense love of James Brown that’s rather surprising for someone who can’t dance to save his life.
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