It’s Not Just About the Sound…MAN!
Felix Quiñonez Jr.
I’m not sure when or how my interest in vinyl first started, but once the idea planted itself into my head, there was no going back. Before I knew it, I was researching record players to find out where I should begin my vinyl journey and how much money I should spend. I wanted to know which brands were the most reliable and which ones I should avoid. I felt like I was entering an exclusive club and was worried that I wouldn’t belong there.
Eventually, in the summer of 2017, I bought my first record player. It wasn’t expensive or a well-known brand. I felt like I was testing the waters and didn’t want to spend too much money. But it turns out I didn’t need to worry after all. I was thrilled with my purchase.
One of the first things I should admit is that I’ve never had any problems listening to digital music. The compression or sound quality never bothered me. I never noticed it. To this day, I have no problem listening to Spotify on my headphones or laptop. To me, it sounds just fine.
The first album I bought was El Pintor by Interpol. I really wanted Turn off the Bright Lights by them, but it was sold out, and I didn’t want to wait to try out my new record player. Although the record sounded great, I have to admit that it didn’t sound much different from listening to the digital version. I was by no means disappointed, but it wasn’t the night and day difference that I expected. Maybe I didn’t have discerning enough ears to notice. But that didn’t stop me from enjoying my new purchase.
El Pintor was never one of my favorite albums by Interpol. In fact, I never really listened to it all that much. But listening to it on vinyl helped me appreciate it more than I ever have before. And that’s one of the things I’ve noticed about listening to music on vinyl. It’s made me a more patient and attentive listener. And this has given me a newfound appreciation for albums I had previously overlooked.
Listening to a new album is like taking a journey. It can seem daunting at first. There are times when we feel lost or even frustrated. Sometimes we want to give up, but eventually, we reach our destination. And sometimes an album that seemed off-putting at first can become a personal favorite.
Great albums and artists challenge our expectations. A great album can make us see an artist in a new way. It can change what we expect from an artist or even a genre. It can also change us as listeners and change what we look for in music. It can introduce us to new artists/genres/styles. But frequently, we have to get past the initial shock, confusion, or even disappointment and choose to go on the journey with the band.
I’m sure it’s no revelation to say that the act of listening to music is different on vinyl. When you listen to music digitally, you can switch a song at the click of a button. And you can pick from just about any song…ever.
But when you listen to music on vinyl, you have to go to the record player, lift the needle and manually switch it. Even picking out the song takes relatively more effort because you have to find the spot on the record where the new song starts. It might not seem like a big deal, but it does make a difference.
And I found that this seemingly minor difference has had an undeniable impact on how I listen to music. I don’t just listen to songs on my record player. I listen to albums. Before, I had only heard El Pintor in its entirety once or twice. Because it didn’t immediately grab me, I didn’t go back to it. Since then, if I ever listened to it at all, I would listen to one or two of the songs at most. But experiencing it on vinyl, I found myself listening to it all the way through again. And because I was now listening to it, in a way that makes immediately skipping any song impossible, I became more patient with the album. I found myself giving the album a chance to slowly grow on me instead of demanding it to win me over immediately like I did when listening to it digitally. It’s still not my favorite Interpol album, but I enjoy it a lot and regularly put it on. This newfound patience also led me to revisit and appreciate many albums that I had written off in the past.
The immediacy of streaming services is one of its biggest assets, but it can also stop people from devoting the effort needed to listen to an album fully. Streaming promotes a sort of instant gratification in listening to music. And because of that, we become less attentive as listeners but also more impatient.
Being able to pick from millions of songs instantly can lead us to keep listening to something we already know and love. This makes the prospect of listening to something that doesn’t immediately grab us seem less enticing. We are less inclined to put in the work required to listening to a new album.
Plus, when we have so many options so readily available, it makes us more distracted. And it makes it harder for things to hold our attention. A song could remind us of another one. And we suddenly think about that song for a second. But because the songs are so easy to get to when streaming, that second is enough time to get us to switch to the song we know and love instead of investing time into an album that’s still unfamiliar to us.
There have been many times when the vast amount of song options has made me incapable of picking something. I can’t count the times I found myself skipping song after song on Spotify, unable to pick one. Sometimes it can feel like I spend more time choosing a song than listening to music.
The fact is that, on vinyl, the simple act of putting on an album is more fun. Listening to a record is a thing you do not just play in the background. It’s also something that you can do with people. There have been more than a few nights I’ve spent at a friend’s house, having a few beers, sitting around listening to records, and catching up. “Come over, to listen to Spotify,” doesn’t have the same ring to it.
There is something that I’ve always found visually appealing about a record collection. It allows you to incorporate your music into your apartment in a way that is not too different from hanging up art on your wall. People are automatically drawn to it and want to browse through your collection. Like art, it can be a conversation starter or inspire a listen. A guest might see an album they love, hadn’t heard in a while, or perhaps never heard before. It can lead to a spontaneous listening session in a way that can’t happen from digital music. No one enters someone’s apartment and asks to look through their Spotify library.
And honestly, there is something that is just plain cool about holding a record, looking through the artwork. Not all records are extravagant, but with some, the packaging itself can add to the listening experience. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West is an excellent example of this. It has a tri-foldout sleeve, the artwork can be switched out between one of the multiple covers, and the general design of it is beautiful, and it even brings a couple of posters.
In the last couple of years, my record collection has grown considerably, and it’s my favorite method of listening to music, especially new albums. So, even if your ears aren’t discerning enough to notice the sound difference, vinyl is still a great way to listen to music. Who knows, maybe it could help you gain an appreciation for an album you overlooked.