By Ryan Dunn
Listening to vinyl records is a discipline. After all, there are certainly more accessible, convenient ways to consume music.
But people are going back to listening to music on vinyl. Vinyl record sales in 2018 increased for the 13th consecutive year – despite the fact that consumers are purchasing far fewer albums. This is surprising in light of cultural preferences for accessibility and convenience. Vinyl records are not portable. They damage easily. It is difficult to skip tracks on a vinyl record.
But music lovers want vinyl.
Why are people listening to vinyl?
Sound fidelity is one argument for vinyl. Some vinyl advocates claim that vinyl recordings have higher fidelity. On a digital recording, like a streamed file, listeners are hearing a digital facsimile of sounds recorded. Vinyl offers the recorded soundwaves without digital interpretation.
There is also an experience to listening to vinyl. It is not easily done on a whim. There is a process to selecting a record, safely removing it from its sleeve and carefully placing it on the turntable. The needle on the record player needs to be dropped. The process demands further commitment, as it is too laborious to undergo for a single song. Putting on a record means listening to a full album, or, at least, a full side of an album.
Listening to vinyl requires something of the listener. Listening to vinyl is disciplined and a bit ritualistic.
You’ve probably pieced this together: I’m a vinyl enthusiast. I love the experience. I love stepping into the mystery in listening to a whole record and waiting to hear what is revealed. I love pouring over familiar songs listening for new sounds. I love it when listening to music is an activity on its own – not just filler while I drive my car or write out a blog post. I love that the discipline and ritual of vinyl make it an immersive experience.
You’ve probably also pieced together that I’m a bit of a religious enthusiast, too – this is RethinkChurch.org, afterall. “Religion” is a word that carries a lot of baggage – negative baggage for many people. We often hear people remark that they’re OK with the idea of God and Jesus and worship, but not with religion (often such sentiments are a rejection of religious institution, not of religion itself, but that is another discussion).
At its most basic level, religion is a set of practices and beliefs that supply meaning and express devotion to something beyond ourselves. At this basic level, we all practice some kind of religion, from sports fans to science enthusiasts to binge watchers to [gulp] vinyl nerds. Participating in these various activities does not necessarily mean we are treating them as religion – it is the the importance we place on the rituals associated with them and the meaning we derive from them which determines that.
Such an understanding begs us to assess for ourselves what we are expressing devotion towards. Are our daily practices of high-importance expressing a devotion to that which we really hold most dear? Or, are they distractions from what is actually important? When we let these distractions consume our devotion, they become idols (yikes, another religious word!).
Vinyl exemplifies how devotion takes some discipline. We could all use a gut check from time to time regarding our personal discipline: a call to assess our priorities. What do you practice some devotion towards? Where do you engage in ritual? Do you think your practices of discipline and devotion are directed to that which you hold most dear? Or do they seem to be pointed towards distractions? If you’re feeling that your practices are misguided, what would it look like to devote yourself towards something else?
Ryan Dunn is an ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church and a Minister of Online Engagement for United Methodist Communications. He enjoys bin diving for classic punk records and gems of the 90’s. He'll some times post his finds on Twitter and Instagram – along with some other snapshots of devotion.