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The Return of Vinyl: A Movement In Music and Presence

Music is a big part of our culture here at Culture. We come from backgrounds deeply entrenched in the music scene and families for whom music is not just a part of our lives but also part of our livelihoods.

From an anthropological point of view, music is an essential fiber in the fabric of our social lives and lifestyles. In every sphere from religion to recreation, music notes our values, issues, dreams, fears and emotions. It is the soundtrack to our ever-changing world and a source of undeniable energy that brings us together as humans. It is a source of light that somehow helps to explain this thing we call life while we spin around, feet on the ground, about three rocks from the sun.

However, even though music has historically helped us to somehow make sense of our increasingly complicated world, our experience of music and its role as a part of our day-to-day lives has also somehow managed to become more and more intricate and complex. There are genres and sub-genres galore, an industry that has mastered the art of the commercial musical formula and a digital culture where music can be created, consumed and shared faster than the speed of sound.

Our experience of music, much like our experience of life, has also gotten increasingly digital. Certainly this enhances our existence in so many ways, allowing us to weave a soundtrack for our lives that makes our worlds a bit warmer, more creative and even productive. Our playlists have indeed become a part of our multi-tasking checklist. The music is always there – moving in the background while we work, play, travel and even sleep.

This brings us to a trend we have been noticing (and actively participating in by virtue of our own music consumption habits) here at Culture: the revolution (pun intended) of vinyl! For those too young to understand the reference – vinyl is that synthetic material the old folks used to use to make these round disks called record albums. 😉

One example of this trend in action:  Record Store Day!

For the last 8 years this movement has been spinning under the radar; it’s an annual campaign of sorts that was designed to celebrate the culture of independent, community oriented record stores. We happened to be conducting fieldwork in April (for another category essential to our wellbeing – Beer!) during the annual festivities and saw several posters and points-of-swag at local pubs and it reminded us of earlier, simpler times.

You see, years before iTunes, Amazon.com and other online music retailers, if you wanted to get up to speed on what was new in music, you headed to the nearest record store to listen, learn, and buy (yes, actually pay for) the music that interested you. Every Tuesday, the new releases for the week came out, and if you befriended the workers in the store, they would turn you onto new music that you might not have heard about otherwise. It was an immersive experience where you could browse for hours with a constant stream of stimulus: album display artwork, posters, t-shirts and other swag complemented the bins full of records, CDs and cassettes.

According to a press release on the official Record Store Day website:

“ Record Store Day’s impact has been felt throughout the music industry, fueling what the New York Times has called “a small renaissance.” Created at a time in which community record stores were in peril, Record Store Day has been instrumental in the resurgence of both vinyl as a format and local stores as the preferred place to purchase it. Vinyl sales surged to 9.2 million in 2014 – a 52% increase since 2013 and the biggest number in the entire Soundscan era – and independent record stores in the US averaged a 645% sales growth overall on Record Store Day 2014.”

 

But Record Store day and the re-invigoration of vinyl isn’t just about supporting local business and independent music. At least not to us. We see a direct connection between a trend toward appreciation of records as a listening-medium-of-choice for music lovers and the cultivation of presence.

As we are beginning to look up from our smartphones and laptops in our spare moments of respite from an outside world delivered in binary code that has seemed to slowly take over our inner-experience, we are starting to long for something more than background noise. We are looking for connection – the kind that happens here on the Earth where the people are when you allow your mind and your body to exist together in the moment – conscious and engaged with the physical world around you.

In the many conversations we have had about this phenomenon, we have identified several elements of the record-playing-ritual that tie directly to this hypothesis of presence:

  • Touch and attention: In order to listen to a record, you have to remove it from its sleeve with two hands. You have to be careful not to scratch it and lay it down with care on the turntable. You select the correct speed and gently lower the needle into just the right groove. Then when the record is done playing, if you want to listen to more music, you have to either flip the record over or pick a new one and begin the process again. It requires you to pay attention and operate in “handle with care” mode. This is a lost art for many of us who just hit “repeat” and “random” when we start our day of digital digestion.
  • Appreciating the art: One of the best parts of enjoying a record is reading the liner notes and looking at all the pictures, lyrics and other bits of information that give texture and context to the experience of the music. We get to have an intimate experience with handheld art and unearth the mysteries that inspired our favorite artists to make the music that shapes our lives. And album covers themselves are often works of art in their own right, designed by famous artists to honor the music. Check out some examples of album art here: 50 Coolest Album Covers
    If you are lucky enough to have a record collection still in rotation at home, you also have your own private art gallery that no doubt rivals  any museum collection.
  • Conversation and connection: It happens whenever you break out your records – at least I know it always does at our homes and seems to be the standard: the moment you pull the thin sleeve out from its spot on the shelf you are transported back to a time when the music you are about to enjoy was part of the creation of a memory. You talk about old times, remembering both the music and the moments. The music is the focus of the conversation and a conduit to both reconnecting with a point in time and with the other humans around you. We all have experiences that have their own soundtrack. Listening to a record brings you back to the past and the past back to the present. It gives us an opportunity to share our experiences of this human life with others in a way that doesn’t seem to resonate as strongly when you are multitasking with digital media.

Don’t get us wrong; here at Culture we are absolute digital music junkies who couldn’t survive without our iTunes, Pandora, Spotify and the like. But we appreciate any good trend that helps us forward our mission to cultivate human connection in the spirit of shared thriving. And this vinyl renaissance ties directly to the very first theme in our vision of what it means to live this kind of love: presence. For us, presence means showing up and making space for core human truths to emerge – listening and being aware.

So the next time you are seeking a moment to be in the world and really listen – grab someone you love, head to your local record store and go find some memories. Then sit back and let the world revolve around you and the music for a while as you exist in harmony with the energy of life and give yourself the gift of presence.

 

photo credit Pinterest

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