Notes on Vinyl

Music doesn’t sound better on vinyl. It’s not cheaper either, you can get every song ever cut for ten bucks a month. Records need space and maintenance too, but people still buy them. Vinyl isn’t about economics, convenience, or the quality of the music, it’s about stories and rituals and bringing people together and living with intention.

Too often, music becomes a tool—a means to an end. It fortifies our resolve to exercise, overpowers the sounds of a coworker eating soup, or diverts our attention just enough to keep us from being alone with our thoughts. These things aren’t necessarily bad, but we’ve forgotten that music is worth listening to for its own sake. This is what vinyl can help us relearn—to appreciate music as it is without needing it to serve us in some way.

To listen to a record is to acknowledge the present moment. You hold the album liner and breathe in the smell of vintage cardboard and paper. You regard the liner notes and appraise the artwork, then remove and survey the record itself. If you’re with friends, you talk about the artist and the era, review similar music and relive concerts you’ve been to. You place the record on the turntable and lower the needle, and by this time, your focus is solely on the music. You listen slowly and thoughtfully, teasing apart every note, then you relax, hearing all the intricacies as one. When you listen to music in this way—completely surrendering to it—it transcends the mundanity of daily life and is no longer just music. It’s the feeling of being alive.

This way of enjoying music will expand our horizons too. Music takes time to unfold, to permeate our thinking minds, but when we have access to every song ever made, we don’t give it a chance. Five seconds is all we need before our jaded, narrow-minded selves condemn it and move on. We skip a song if its sonic landscape is too unlike where we’ve trod before. But what if it’s not different enough? We skip that too. We’re in pursuit of an ideal combination of novelty and familiarity, but as we cavort through playlists in search of perfection, it becomes painfully obvious that we haven’t a clue what we like. We want a song that wraps us up in itself—a song so grand that we’ll have no choice but to gift it our full attention. But we’ll never find it, because that’s not how it works. We don’t lose ourselves in music because it’s impossibly divine. We must first act in good faith and give it our full attention, and then, only after we’ve given ourselves permission to get lost in it, music becomes complete.

Records aren’t a requirement for music-listening with intention, but they can be an excellent training. Everything about them heightens your dedication. You got in your car, drove downtown, paid for parking, and hurried through the rain to the record shop. You chatted with the purveyor, thumbed through the records, and spent $18. You ran through the rain again, drove home and paid your parking ticket. You invited over some friends, poured a drink and allocated the rest of the night to nothing but this album. At this point you’re in pretty deep. You’re relaxed, but attentive. Your anticipation has crescendoed. You’re ready to learn the priceless lesson that vinyl teaches best: the perfect song is whichever one you’re listening to.

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