The recent interest in records may have come as a surprise to most. After all, the LP was a system of music storage that seemed to have been made obsolete multiple generations back. The transition from record to the cassette tape to digital files to streaming suggested a clear path towards music as a convenience.
Some would say a new generation seems to crave a connection with retro ideals that predate their births. But there’s more to it than that. Records provide a means to connect with music in a tactile and analog manner that’s not present in more recent formats. Just as importantly, records allow young people to connect with the musicians and fans that preceded them.
It’s been over 70 years since the creation of the first LP, but it’s hard to understate how revolutionary the format was for the music industry. When Mendelssohn’s Concerto in E minor was stamped on the first LP, it signified the first moment where people could listen to extended selections music without having to attend a live performance.
While we often talk about the ways that the digital model has democratized access to music, the LP was in many ways more revolutionary. An art that was gated by the price of travel tickets, geography, and the limited space in a theater was now theoretically accessible to anyone in the world.
It’s true that LPs weren’t the first musical recording format in existence. Wax cylinders created by Thomas Edison first pioneered the process in 1877. But earlier recording devices only allowed up to three minutes on any side. With the LP, entire albums could be constructed. In the years to come, this would form the whole model for the musical process, and in the decades since, a musician’s output has been defined by their albums. It’s a model that’s remained even as music moves to a purely digital format.
Perhaps it’s the alchemical process that goes into LPs that make them such powerful artifacts. The British Phonographic Industry estimates that original vinyl sales have increased by nearly 2000% over the course of ten years. To some, it signifies a pushback against the notion of music as a utility. While streaming services like Spotify provide an all-you-can-eat buffet of music, the LP is something else entirely. It’s a conversation directly between artist and fan, printed on 12 inches of flat wax.