Are we all just broken records?

  • Post Author
    by Talk
  • Post Date
    Fri Jan 19 2024
Madcity Music (Photo by Lily Spanbauer)

History repeated itself, when young people in Madison and beyond created a resurgence in the popularity of vinyl records. Young Madisonians and music experts believed that the medium's artistic value, tangibility and ability to create a different kind of connection to music were all driving forces in the revival.

By Lily Spanbauer

Defective vinyl records, whether scratched or warped, often repeated themselves over and over again. Much like a broken record, history too, repeated itself. Just as teenagers rushed to get the latest The Beatles record in the 1960s, in 2023, young people flocked to the record store to get every color variant of the new Taylor Swift album.

The resurgence in the popularity of vinyl among young people begged the question: If records were expensive, spacious and far from the most updated technology available, then why were they the second most popular mode of music consumption in 2022, according to The American Enterprise Institute?

Madison's youth along with vinyl experts, believed that there were a variety of factors that returned vinyl to the young zeitgeist. While some liked the tangibility of records, others enjoyed the art, storytelling or connection to music that the medium brings.

Popularity is apparent in Madison

Madcity Music, a staple for new and used vinyl and CD since 198, was tucked between small businesses on the recently revitalized Atwood Avenue. The last decade has seen record stores like Madcity Music increasingly populated by young people.

“I think there's so many people these days, especially young kids, that just naturally want to go to the record store to buy CDs and vinyl. The record stores have come back into the music listening ecosystem,” said Dave Zero, the owner of MadCity Music.

When he visited college classes to spread his musical wisdom, Music Public Services Librarian, Tom Caw, also noticed a revitalized young interest in vinyl. Caw worked at Memorial Library's best kept secret: Mills Music Library, a musical Mecca in the building's lower floors that housed around 80,000 vinyl records.

Out of curiosity, Caw always asked if the students knew how to use a record player and had listened to vinyl before. In the last 10-15 years, the numbers went way up, and the last time he asked this question, 70% of students raised their hand to indicate yes, according to him.

Side A: young perspectives
Georgie Laws, a 20-year-old amateur DJ, had an eccentric style, a perfect match for her unique hobby of mixing music.

Laws initially bought vinyl in high school as a way to explore different genres of music. “I would just go to thrift stores all the time and just buy dollar vinyl,s and I'd be like, ‘okay, I'll just see how this sounds,'” Laws said.

This period of musical exploration sparked Law's interest in DJing and a new perspective
towards vinyl. Now, Laws looked at records as a musical tool that was worthy of the abundance it demanded.

“I have two massive speakers that take up a quarter of my bedroom, and obviously you have to have to store your vinyls too,” Laws said. “I just feel like that's never going to go away for me now, like I think I'm just gonna take them with me wherever I go.”

Elliot Novak also grew and changed while collecting vinyl, but in a much more literal sense. In fact, one of Novak's first memories was learning to properly carry records to avoid damaging them with scratches or fingerprints.

20-year-old Novak was thrust into the vinyl scene at a young age because growing up, their parents worked at an iconic Minneapolis record store, the Electric Fetus.

Novak collected cassette tapes, CDs and records, in what they described as a “Triple threat for the wallet.” Although Novak collected all three of the main types of physical media, there were certain unique qualities that specifically allured them to vinyl.

“I love album art and I don't like it when it's shrunk down to the size of CDs. I think that being able to see that on a 12 inch record is really cool and it's a piece of art to have, rather than just a digital thing,” Novak said.

The markings on a well-loved used vinyl told a story, and Novak described that storytelling as another draw for them.

“I like being able to hear the wear and tear. I think something that's lost with digital media is that you don't get to hear how many times someone else has enjoyed this before you,” Novak said. “I love thrifting records and seeing what people have written on the inside of the sleeves.”

Side B: The experts' opinion

Vinyl sellers and lenders had their own ideas about the cause of this modern day vinyl boom. Caw said that for a generation used to listening to music through invisible modes like streaming, there's a draw to the tangibility of vinyl.

“I think there's something to it when you see the record, and you put the stylus, the tonearm on the record, it's still like magic to me,” Caw said, “it's like a magician who shows you how the trick is being done.”

Zero acknowledged the ease and popularity of invisible modes of music listening like Spotify and Apple Music, but ultimately identified a key advantage to buying vinyl and other physical media.

“You had access to everything in the world, but you really didn't have anything,” Zero said. “It goes back to the whole owning your music and owning your destiny thing, not having your playlists influenced by an algorithm.”

Besides shaping your musical destiny, a vinyl collection fulfilled the timeless function of representing your ever-changing identity, according to Zero.

“Your record collection is a sign of who you are and what you're doing, where you've started, where you're going and how you've changed,” Zero said.