You Spin Me Right Round, Baby.

By Andy Ver Steegh

Our generation, many claim, is the generation of the iPod. We no longer lug around those antiquated compact discs with their paltry ten-song capacity. Our post-modern lives are blessed with a device that can hold the entire musical output of the Western world since the end of the Cold War, not to mention last night’s episode of the Colbert Report, all while remaining small enough to choke on.

But some of us don’t like to choke; some would rather carefully position a small diamond-tipped needle onto a spinning platter of black vinyl, enduring a quick pop hiss before indulging in sweet analog melodies. No longer confined to car seats, as it was during the 80s, vinyl records enjoyed an underground revival in the late 90s and early 2000s, under the oh-so-tiny shadow of the iPod. Even now, in the back half of the first decade of the rest of our lives, the wheels of the vinyl revival continue to spin for a select group of Mac students. So why would somebody reject this dominant digital discourse, instead turning to the technology of our extremely recent (and still living) ancestors?
Answer: It’s not just about the music.

“There is a real sense of ownership you get from having records, as opposed to a digital library of music,” Debbie Cohen ’09 said of her penchant for vinyl.
In this view, a record— complete with cover art— is an artifact worth collecting in its own right; a digital music file is not. “With iTunes, people download albums…and don’t get the cover art,” bemoans Caitlyn Cohen ’09 (no relation).
For some, listening to a vinyl record comes with certain rituals, setting it apart from everyday life and making the act of listening an event in and of itself. This reverence for the music, they claim, is blurred by ultra-portable digital formats, which allow us to listen to songs while doing virtually anything.
“The way in which you listen to music changes the music itself,” Tom Phelan ’07 said, and with the ability to download any track for a buck and to jump from song to song with a mouse click, music listening has shifted away from albums and towards individual songs.
Some say this is akin to reading a chapter and throwing away the rest of the book.
“There’s not so much instant gratification [on vinyl],” Josh Whitney-Wise ’07 said. Caitlyn Cohen agrees. “Albums as whole entities lose their value on an iPod,” she said, “usually when you sit down to listen to a record you listen to the whole album.”

For cash-strapped college students, there are economic considerations as well.
“I started buying records because they’re cheap as hell…I could buy 10 or 12 records for the cost of a CD,” Phelan said. The Twin Cities, as pointed out in recent issues of this very publication, has no shortage of both used and new record stores, giving students a variety of cost-effective options.

And to top it off, some argue, vinyl provides a warmer, more organic sound than its digital counterparts. Vinyl is a completely analog technology, with sound being recorded onto a master disc. With digital formats, that analog sound is converted into tiny 1s and 0s, which many argue leads to a decrease in sound quality.
“Mp3 is not a lossless technology, you can hear a significant difference,” Phelan said.

But even cheaper, better sounding music is not enough for some. Caitlyn Cohen hit upon the real reason why vinyl has endured throughout the years: “You can hear the little cracklies between songs.”