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Record collecting community creates vinyl revival

Physical forms of music bring new listening and social experiences to students

The Echo-Physical-media-music

Vinyl records stacked up at Candy & Records in Phoenix on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024. 

Physical forms of music fizzled out with the rise of modern technology and music-streaming apps. But thanks to a growing fascination with nostalgic sounds, records aren't completely done for. In fact, they are having a revival. 

Without the on-demand qualities of smartphone music, listeners are forced to experience an entire album from start to finish without the privilege of skipping at their leisure. But in a sense, this inconvenience makes the music-listening experience more unique. 

"I find that listening to music on your phone, it's so impersonal," Katie Gregson, store manager of Zia Records in Tempe, said. "Whereas, with records, you have your whole collection and you’re gonna go through it, and you're gonna decide 'what am I in the mood for today' because it's a full album, and you're going to listen to it front to back, and it kind of changes the experience."

Gregson said part of the listening experience is the ritual of putting on a vinyl — choosing your album, carefully taking it out and putting the needle down. 

Many people said there are moments when albums almost beg to be played through vinyl, even if they were produced in the modern age. Gregson said it is almost as if the artist intended for listeners to have this type of experience.

Brandon Hanks, a senior studying business, said listening to some albums on vinyl enhances the entire experience.

"An album I thought of straight away is 'Ultraviolence' by Lana Del Rey," Hanks said. "I think Lana's music on vinyl sounds best compared to on Spotify. It has this feel to it that's very '50s music where you just hear this girl singing about love."

Zia Records, along with other music stores, call locals to browse the store and connect over a shared love of music. Rows and rows of records are laid out in alphabetical order, almost like a library for music. 

"If you go somewhere to buy music, it's like the album cover draws you to it. Or it's an interesting name," said Ike Cooper, a sophomore studying aeronautical management technology.

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Cooper explained that even though he doesn't collect records, he enjoys trips to local music stores. 

"You also get face-to-face recommendations from other people in the store, which is a big plus. It elevates it above just online music discussion," he said.

Gregson described the beauty of witnessing her customers bond over music.

"Every day I get to witness customers come in, and they're looking, they're like, 'Oh man, I didn't know this came out' or 'I didn't know that this was on vinyl, how cool,'" she said. "Even just customers between each other, or myself or my staff, getting to kind of bond over a favorite album that just came out and we’re just like, so excited about it. It's kind of magical."

Zia isn't the only spot where students can bond over their love for vinyls. ASU's Album Listening Club has given this niche interest a moment in the campus spotlight. At special events, the club participates in giveaways where students are entered to win both CDs and vinyls. 

The club's collective passion for music, especially in physical forms, has fostered a strong community of vinyl lovers.

Hanks, the president of Album Listening Club, explained that the culture there makes purchasing these forms of music contagious. 

"I think when other people talk about it, you feel more inclined to buy more physical media like vinyls," Hanks said.

Music collecting is similar to other hobbies such as thrifting, when participants hunt for the perfect rare find. Within this process, a community is built. It's almost impossible to remain silent after someone picks up an album among boxes and shelves of records and says, "Hey, I love this one."

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Students don't have to be avid record collectors to experience this. Cooper noted that physical music, especially in a social setting, has helped him to bond with others. 

"(My roommate) is more of a hip-hop head than I am," Cooper said. "It's nice just trading experiences of music we like. Every once in a while we'll find an album we're both into and be like, 'Dude, this rocks,' and just start talking about it for like twenty minutes. And what (was) a short twenty-minute stop into a record store becomes a two-hour event basically."

The magic of records is in the way they sound and how they bring music lovers together. 

"I think that, regardless of the type of music you're into or artists that you like, I think if you're a collector of physical media ... it's like the same tribe," Gregson said. 

Edited by Sophia Braccio, Alysa Horton and Grace Copperthite.

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