I have many memories of purchasing music as a child, and all of them involved the cassette tape format. This is not to say that other formats were not available for purchase — rather, this was the only format that was both affordable to me and easy to take with me. It might seem hard to believe now in a day where you can get a digital music player with no moving parts with a twenty dollar bill and get change, but portable music players were really expensive in the 1980’s — especially to me, a child with no actual income.
Every cassette tape I got was simultaneously treasured and abused. I knew that it didn’t matter if my tapes fell to the ground because they had a hard outer shell that would protect it. I knew better than to try to wash the tapes in water as it just seemed logical to me that it would damage them. It was therefore not until I was a teenager that I was first introduced to vinyl records on an up close level — my parents played records but I never would dare touch them for fear of breaking them.
My family started going to The Princeton Record Exchange in the 1980’s. As a child, I was really not that much of a fan of most popular music and so to me it wasn’t an exciting excursion. I would wander around the aisles and flip through the records and rearrange them. Since a lot of the music in the store was pre-owned, it was mostly unsorted other than by genre. I took it upon myself to put together albums by the same artist. I have no idea why that was so much fun to young me because current me would find that to be a complete waste of time.
When I really started to listen to music more regularly, compact discs were more affordable and that was the format to which I thought I would forevermore listen to music. It wasn’t too long before I realized that there was no point in buying a new CD when I could wait a few months and get it used for significantly less money. This was not the case with all of the musicians that I liked, of course.
After I graduated from college, I began a rather turbulent period of moving around a lot. I made rather distant moves and each move brought with it the need to transport music — box after box of CDs was always unpleasant to break down and then set back up.
I was rather pleased when I finally made the investment in an iPod and transferred all of my music to portable digital format at last. I did not realize that this was going to be the very thing to take me back to buying a format in which I never really invested, save for a short period of time in the late 1990s when I was overall unhappy with life and was doing anything to take control over my own brain including trying to be a DJ.
The last move — hopefully for a very long time — took place last summer and took me from nearly a year of going from uncertain couch to uncertain couch wondering where my next bed would be to having my name on a certificate as owner of shares in a co-op in Kew Gardens, New York. At a certain point I realized that I had no idea where most of my compact discs were, and I didn’t care. I hadn’t really seen most of them since I had imported the music onto my computer and I was pretty sure that most of the physical discs themselves could be replaced for a few pennies if I really wanted them.
I noticed one of my coworkers purchased records online on vinyl format. It was such an event every time a package came for him. Everyone would pass around the record and have a good look at it, especially if it were colored vinyl or the packaging in which the vinyl came was particularly impressive — such as the sort displayed in this passionate Flickr discussion. This led me to the purchases documented in Seven Inches of Awesome. Much has happened since then. On average, I buy one or two records per month.
The other thing that has happened is that ever since I have entirely stopped purchasing music on CD (other than when it is used and under five dollars) is that I have the most fascinating conversations with people. People are really intrigued when I tell them that I no longer purchase music on CD and that I almost entirely buy music on vinyl. They are even more intrigued when I tell them this fact coupled with the fact that I do not own a record player and probably will never own one unless the price of a laser record player comes down — I believe that this will eventually happen.
They ask me why I bother buying a record in a format in which it will never be played. I tell them that the records always come with a slip of paper that allows me to put the music onto my iPod. Therefore it is more advantageous to me as a consumer to purchase the music in a format that is more aesthetically pleasing.
If I buy an album on CD I will put it into the computer once, import all the tracks, and never look at it again. If I buy it on vinyl, on the other hand, I invariably will spend much more time enjoying not only the sound of the music itself but the beautiful art and even the disc itself, if it is a picture disc or a lovely color vinyl. I may have Lady Gaga’s album “The Fame Monster” on my computer but it doesn’t stop me from picking up the beautiful picture disc and admiring how awesome it is.