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Vinyl Spins into Style

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    Tyler Bryant plays finished record albums, listening for flaws in a quality control room at the United Record Pressing facility. (AP/Mark Humphrey)
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    Freshly pressed vinyl records are produced in a stamper at the United Record Pressing facility in Nashville, Tennessee. (AP/Mark Humphrey)
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    Workers operate record-pressing machinery. (AP/Mark Humphrey)
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    Thane Adolf dumps black vinyl pellets into a machine. The machine will form the pellets into hockey puck-shaped “biscuits.” Those will then become vinyl records. (AP/Mark Humphrey)
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    Ricky Riehl inspects finished vinyl records for flaws before they are packaged. (AP /Mark Humphrey)
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For over 100 years, vinyl record albums were the gold standard for sound reproduction. But it’s been a bumpy ride for the grooved, hole-in-the-middle sound-delivery format. Now four decades later, vinyl is back and bigger than ever.

With the rise of compact discs (CDs) in the 1980s, most record companies sold or dismantled their vinyl pressing machines. Not long after came digital downloads, Apple iPods, and online streaming services. It seemed vinyl’s time had passed.

But many music lovers never gave up on vinyl. Baby boomers missed thumbing through record albums in stores. Music aficionados clung to what they heard as superior quality. These folks and others have helped fuel a vinyl resurgence.

For a decade, demand for vinyl has grown in double-digit percentages. Today, record album sales far outpace growth rates for paid music subscriptions and streaming services (looking at you, Spotify!), according to the Recording Industry Association of America.

A younger generation is also falling for vinyl, buying turntables and albums in huge numbers. New artists are moving to vinyl as well, notes Larry Jaffee, author of Record Store Day: The Most Improbable Comeback of the 21st Century.

Thirty-four-year-old taxi driver Jamila Grady is too young to remember the heyday of record stores. But she finds records irresistible. “There’s something so beautiful about taking the record, putting it on the player, and dropping the needle,” she says.

Record makers have already built dozens of record-pressing factories in North America—and those are not enough.

The industry “has found a new gear and is accelerating,” says Mark Michaels, of United Record Pressing, the nation’s largest record producer.

In Nashville, United Record Pressing launched in 1949 and never stopped producing albums. In fact, the company bought up presses as others sold them off. It currently expects to triple capacity next year.

People in the vinyl business are excited about its growth, as sales soar to new heights every year, says Bryan Ekus, president of Making Vinyl. No one knows how long the run will continue, so there’s a sense that “we should make hay while the Sun shines,” he says.

Why all the hoopla about a bygone technology? Why the determination in the face of backlogs, supply chain disruptions, and backorders for record-pressing machines?

Because despite the crackles, pops, scratches, and distortions, people love vinyl.

“I love the vinyl experience. All of it,” says recording executive Mark Mazzetti. “To me, there is an electrifying sound when I play records that I don’t feel from digital.” It seems many people agree.

Why? The ability to change and adapt is a good trait. But newer isn’t always better. Christians do well to evaluate changes in every area of life in light of the gospel.