In the spring of 2018, I was staying over with a friend in Germany as part of a cultural exchange programme. After a day of exploring the town he lived in, we came back to the sofas in his living room and sat, for a moment, in silence. He asked me what kind of music I liked listening to. Having recently discovered A Night At The Opera, I told him I had been listening to Queen. He opened a cabinet and pulled out a pressing of Queen’s Greatest Hits. I was fascinated because I had never seen a record before. After a few seconds of letting me examine it, he placed it on his turntable and moved the needle to play ‘We Are The Champions’. The music filled the room. It crept into every nook and crevice, between the cushions and under the furniture. We sat back and listened. 

The vinyl resurgence started in 2007. An increased cultural fascination with retro aesthetics and shifts within the music industry led to an increase in sales, reversing a decades-long decline. The subsequent growth continues into the present. In 2021, revenue from EP/LP and Vinyl singles was 1 billion USD. After adjusting for inflation, this is the highest revenue from sales in this format since 1986. 

The vinyl resurgence started in 2007, but I didn’t realise it was back till 2018.

Growing up, I thought records were a relic of the past. I had only seen old-timey turntables on TV, and considered the prospect of getting one in the same way that I considered the prospect of getting a Remington typewriter. I owned a cassette-and-CD player which I used for most of my music, besides the CD player in my car. When I got my first mobile phone, I started listening to music digitally through YouTube. Instead of carrying around multiple CDs, I could now play whatever music I wanted in the car with just an AUX cable. Soon after, I shifted to Indian music streaming apps. I had to use a combination of apps since none of them had all the music I wanted. In 2019, Spotify launched in India. I had been waiting for months, and I got it on the day it was released. That’s what I have been using ever since. Somewhere between the shift to dedicated music streaming apps in the early 2010s and getting Spotify in 2019, I sat in a living room in Germany and heard my first record. 

That first experience left me somewhere between amazed and sceptical. The music had a fullness I had not heard before, but I could not pinpoint why. Was this something unique to vinyl, or could it be recreated using speakers and my computer? 

There were practical concerns here. Turntables, especially good ones, are expensive. A beginner’s set-up can cost hundreds of pounds, and one can easily spend thousands upgrading. Evangelicals say it’s worth it because vinyl is better quality music. This is true, but only to a degree. Vinyl is better quality than most streaming music because it does not use the same lossy compressed file formats to store music. (This isn’t intrinsic to vinyl though, you can get digital music of comparable quality with a little bit of legwork.) 

That wasn’t it though. It wasn’t that the vinyl simply sounded better. Nor was it the crackles and pops, which I tried to replicate using a filter on top of the music I listened to at home. It took me a while, but I realised that it wasn’t anything about the sound quality itself. It was the process, the experience, of using a turntable and listening to analog music. That’s what gave it weight and presence. It was unique to vinyl, not easily replicated using speakers and my computer.

A turntable became an item on the running list of things that I would love to own at some point. Then, last Christmas, my friends gifted me one. (I hadn’t talked to them about this at all, so I was very pleasantly surprised. One of the best gifts I have ever received.) I immediately went out and bought a vinyl of AM by Arctic Monkeys, my favourite album at the time. I think I chose well: it’s a hypnotic album and the spinning vinyl made it feel so much better. 

As my record collection grows, I’m learning how listening to music this way is different from listening to songs on Spotify. Fundamentally, vinyl is intentional. An album is picked off the shelf. The record is pulled out and placed on the turntable, the needle moved over, and the speaker turned up slowly till the sound of John Coltrane playing ‘My Favourite Things’ fills my room. While it is playing, I’m aware of it. It doesn’t fade into the background the way music tends to do if it’s on my headphones. 

I only have a small collection of albums. Since the records are expensive, I put some thought into choosing them and I end up listening to them over and over (I’m hoping to grab a few over summer, recommendations appreciated!). It makes me think about my music, and I love that. 

Vinyl is also slow. It is focused. The turntable has but one purpose. That is important, though I’d be hard-pressed to explain why exactly that’s an advantage. There’s a je ne sais quoi to listening to music the old-fashioned way. 

Of course, I suspect my emotions towards my turntable also come from a healthy number of nostalgic and aesthetic reasons. I like writing and I like Hemingway, and I can’t deny that I like the fact that he listened to jazz on his record-player much like I listen to jazz on mine. 

That’s how, I suppose, it happens. Brushing up against a turntable somewhere, discovering that it feels special, realising why you want one, and then one day you’re sitting around a table playing poker with old friends with Miles Davis playing in the background. That’s how people become part of the vinyl resurgence.