Vinyl Revival

Album-subscription services are not just for hipster music snobs. We swear.
Vinyl Revival

Illustration by Rob Wilson

I had a bad day at work last week. You don’t need to know the details. Just know that I was cranky and wanted to get home and feel sorry for myself. On the way, I stopped at the UPS store where I have my packages delivered, as I hadn’t been in a few weeks. 

That’s when I instantly felt better. Because nine of the vinyl albums I’d ordered — from an eBay-like online place for vinyl, from a vinyl subscription service, from Amazon, from a small label overseas — had arrived. I rushed home, ripped them open, made myself an adult beverage and played my cares away.

That’s how easy it is these days to get myself in a good mood — heck, often a great mood, one complete with singing and dancing in the comfort of my living room (or, as it’s more accurately known, my “listening room”). Because one year ago I bought a turntable, new speakers and three vinyl LPs. Now I have about 150 albums, a subwoofer, an amplifier and newer speakers. My new hobby has not been cheap, but it has been rewarding. 

I’m not the only person to (re)discover the appeal of vinyl: Sales in the U.S., which dipped below a million units in the mid-aughts, hit nearly 12 million last year and are set to top that again in 2016. But the vinyl revival is not only being driven by the nostalgia of aging Gen Xers and boomers. Last year, 50 percent of U.S. vinyl buyers were under 25. 

Some enthusiasts, however, are more enthusiastic than others. 

On Thursdays, I get a weekly e-newsletter from The Vinyl Factory, a British outfit that works with musicians and artists “to create ultra-premium handmade limited editions” of albums and singles. I read through its features (the best record shops in Oslo, Norway!), then check out its list of best new releases for the week. Recently, I was intrigued by a rerelease of the only album from the 1971 jazz-rock band Air. I clicked on “Listen.” Wow! What a voice the lead singer had. Cool, trippy rock. I had to own it.

When I clicked on “Buy,” however, I saw the small label was already out of stock. Undaunted, I went to Discogs, an online store that allows me to search and buy LPs from other owners across the world. I found a seller in the U.K., paid for it with PayPal and am awaiting the album’s delivery. 

I often repeat this process with other subscription services, which means I’ve discovered wonderful new acts I would never have found otherwise (Deap Vally, Thee Oh Sees, The Struts). I’ve also been able to fortify my music base with classics I’d heard about but hadn’t actually heard (The Jeff Beck Group’s Truth; J Dilla’s Donuts, etc.)

Once my albums arrive, I deeply contemplate the cover art, bag them for their protection, then quickly incorporate them into the routine. This takes place most Saturday and Sunday mornings, while the significant other is out running marathons or whatever boring outside activity she engages in. I wake up early, make a pot of coffee and DJ my day to glorious fruition. Some days I’m feeling 1970s blues-rock; others we go lo-fi shoe-gazer; sometimes it’s Miles and Coltrane, or glam rock mixed with rap. I let the music speak to me. It dictates my mood, not the other way around. 

You don’t have to be a High Fidelity music snob to appreciate vinyl. (Quick aside: You don’t buy vinyl because the sound quality is better; that’s a myth. Your sound is only as good as your equipment and your listening space.) You just have to start collecting what you love, and you’ll find that the very act of caring for your vinyl, of having something beyond a hard drive to care for, will make you want to expand the boundaries of your musical tastes. 

“Getting into vinyl was daunting for us too,” says Matt Fiedler, who in 2013 co-founded the essential monthly subscription service Vinyl Me Please. “We didn’t know what we were doing. But it’s easy to get started. One great new record a month. It works for the newbie and the vinyl snob.”

They’ve shipped more than 350,000 records since the launch, and membership numbers have doubled in the last year. And now I’m one of them, somewhere between a newbie and a collector. Where I fall on that spectrum doesn’t matter. All that matters is the music, the next find, and the newer new speakers I’ve already got my eye on.  

The Best Sounds

Take a listen to these top vinyl options.
When my Vinyl Me, Please selection arrives, I immediately try to recreate the bespoke cocktail recipe they include to go with your listening experience. (They also include an original piece of artwork inspired by the album.) It’s album-as-sensual--experience, -curated as cool. $27 a month.
Every month, they send two vinyl selections: one curated by the British staff, one from a guest selector. The range: electronica, indie, jazz, hip-hop, or “Serbian spoken word electro-fusion.” £26 a month ($34).
TSR’s mission is to help you discover “under-the-radar ambient, drone, house, and techno” records. You get a surprise vinyl every month, or one LP and one EP for a bit more. From 31 to 45 euros ($35 to $50).