January 25, 2012 at 4:08 pm

Why Young Music Fans Buy Vinyl – and the Apps That Can Help Them

turntable vinyl record player apps

As someone who spends lots of time thinking about the future of music as an app phenomenon, it might surprise you that I do a lot of my listening on vinyl records.

I’m not alone – reports abound of vinyl’s surging sales numbers over the past five or so years. Though they make up a tiny percentage of overall music sales, vinyl record sales have grown at a time when other physical formats are skidding. It might have something to do with my age and the people I hang out with, many of whom are music nerds of the highest order, but I don’t know a single person who buys CDs. Everyone I know who is interested in having physical copies of their music buys it on wax.

I should mention that I’m in my early twenties. I had cassettes as a kid, but CDs have been the dominant physical format of my lifetime. Napster came out when I was in elementary school. IPods arrived at the beginning of seventh grade. Digital music has been a part of my musical life since nearly the beginning.

I can’t find numbers to support this claim, but I’d bet that many of the so-called “digital natives” buying all of this vinyl are like me: serious young music fans who are well aware of the respective advantages and disadvantages of both formats. We spend too much time cruising blogs for MP3s by skinny-jean’d Brooklynites and even Baltimoreans. Our iPhones are loaded with music apps. When we come home, we listen to our favorite albums, carefully, on vinyl.

We are old enough to remember saving allowances to buy CDs and listening to a particular radio station because a favorite song was on its rotation, but young enough that dropping a needle on a record has a magical appeal. To paraphrase one of Brooklyn’s favorite sons, we listen out of a borrowed nostalgia for an unremembered, pre-internet age. Putting on a record allows us to escape the internet for 40 minutes or so before returning to our lives as web developers, tech bloggers, social media marketers, and graphic designers.

For people my age, having grown up with Napster (and Limewire, Bearshare, and Soulseek — remember those?), it feels silly to pay for MP3s. The same goes for CDs. All you’ll do with them is rip them to your computer and iPod. For those of us who want to pay for music, vinyl is a way to do that in return for something that isn’t easily obtainable for free on the internet. And for audiophiles, the sound quality of vinyl is often a factor too.

vinyl district record store locator iphone android appAs someone who’s into both music and technology, I decided to seek out apps to compliment my vinyl habit, forming a more perfect union between analog and the digital.

Most of what I’ve seen falls flat, because it tries to supplant the vinyl experience rather than augmenting it. This app turns your iPad into a virtual turntable, for instance, which is interesting as a novelty but obviously can’t replicate the actual experience of listening to a record. I’m looking for something that doesn’t ask me to stop using my turntable, but rather adds to that experience.

So far, I’ve found two apps fit the bill. The first, Scrobbyl, was introduced at a Music Hack Day last year and hasn’t yet seen a wide release. It allows users to log the vinyl tracks they listen to on Last.fm, in the same way they might with iTunes or Spotify — and it works passively (i.e. in the background), without interrupting or otherwise diminishing the vinyl experience.

Vinyl purists might that find the premise of scrobbling their vinyl runs counter to the reasons they like it in the first place. For others, Scrobbyl would be a welcome addition to the home, lending vinyl one of the distinct advantages of digital music — the ability to share what you’re playing — without changing anything else about it.

The other is a mobile app for iOS and Android called The Vinyl District (free, pictured). This is my favorite kind of tool, one that accomplishes a practical task with aplomb and few frills to get in the way. The Vinyl District locates what record stores remain. It uses your iPhone’s or Android’s GPS to find the closest vinyl merchant to your location, then provides you with customer reviews and directions for getting there. It also includes social features I can’t imagine ever using, but the next time I’m in an unfamiliar city with some time on my hands, I’m busting this thing out.

In the meantime, I’ll keep discovering new music on the internet and buying it on vinyl. Recently, I’ve been working my way through a Songza playlist called “James Murphy’s Record Collection” — a set of disco, house, and post-punk gems that influenced the LCD Soundsystem frontman. Now I have a long list of stuff to look for the next time I go record shopping wherever my iPhone might lead me.

Photo Flickr/Troy McCullough

  • http://smiy.org/ Bo Ferri

    Unfortunately, not every piece of music will be pressed on wax …

  • http://twitter.com/ProSoundNews Pro Sound News

    If you ever buy vinyl online, you probably ought to get the ceeFrenzy app.

  • Vinyljunky

    You forgot the icrates app which is ass far as i can say truely a vinyladdicts best friend….

  • Tim Broun

    Thanks for the write up on the Vinyl District app. I’m one of the folks who runs it, and we reallt appreciate the support. I wanted to let you know that just today we launched a new section on it – an event calendar for record fairs/shows. So, there’s another option for vinyl buying. Anyway, I hope everyone tries out the app…feel free to let us know what you think at info[@]thevinyldistrict.com, or on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/tvdrecordstorelocator. Thanks!

  • Xiamenbill

    As an unrepentant 53 yr-old rocker, it Warms my heart to know there are a few in your generation that care enough to enjoy the pleasure of tangible music.
    But my real point is to tell you and others of “The House of Guitars” in Rochester,NY as the greatest music store on the planet. Immense, eclectic, chaotic, if you can’t find it there (with the assistance of their “unique” staff) it never existed. Make a pilgrimage.

  • Anonymous

    That’s great. Vinyl District has been a must stop blog for me for a while now. the new app looks brilliant, respect.

    Yair, iAlbums

  • Info

    True.
    The experience of vinyl is truly immersive.
    If you are a audiophile, you might know that to master a record one needs to filter out most thumping bass frequencies (40-80 hz- or else the record might skip)
    This will help you follow the evolution of Hiphop; once CDs appeared, Hiphop artists could leave in or enhance as much bass as they desired.
    If one wants to get that bass “back” from a record they would have to boost those frequencies from an equalizer.

  • Jeff

    I would like to 2nd iCrates. Used it for the first time today while picking at a thrift store. Gets an average price for a record based on sales at Discogs, Amazon and eBay. Allows lookup by catalog, name or UPC. Best of all, it goes out to iTunes and finds the tracks for you to listen to. All around AWESOME app!

  • Chrnko4

    I wish there an app online where you could look up the record stores. As far as I know theres only the one for them fancy phones and I aint got one of them. $H!T I shouldnt even be talking I dont even know what an app is!

  • http://twitter.com/nomoremister Steve M.

    Records get scratched.  Records skip.  Many records inevitably skip unless you have really expensive equipment   Me, I don’t miss vinyl at all.

    –signed,
    an old guy (b. 1959)

  • Catmarilyn9

    cd gets scrats to and the whole cd is ruined and you cant played it
    but with a records at least you can played it,even if there is a scrats on
    it, i take vinyl over cd any day

  • http://twitter.com/JerrySnook Jerry Snook

    The only thing CD’s still have going for them is versatility in transferring the songs to other formats. If you buy a CD, you can rip it into iTunes, rip it onto another mp3 service, create an .ogg/.wav/.mp3/.flac etc track out of it and upload it to whatever cloud device/player/software program you want to. The un-DRM’d nature of now-old CD technology can be a bonus. Try shifting your iTunes library to play on a non-Apple product, for example. Even if it’s technically possible, it’s usually cumbersome and requires a semi-legal third party app.

    That said, the only times I’ve bought a CD in recent years is when I find something cool in a used bin. Otherwise, it’s iTunes or Amazon for the mp3, vinyl when it’s an album good enough (aka – already digested and know it’s a keeper) to make a part of my “permanent” collection.

  • TomOUssery

    Your vinyl is only as good as your turntable and cartridge/needle, the best quality was the real to real tapes you could purchase and play on tape decks. 

  • Jim Knodle

    Don’t forget that people are releasing projects on vinyl in part because it at least slows down digital theft.

  • http://www.ilikemusic.com/ Chris

    I’m in my mid-twenties and I buy vinyl, but I am one of those – possibly rare – people that also buys CDs. New albums that I want come out on a weekly basis, and on vinyl they cost anywhere between 15 and 25 quid. On CD they’re 7 or 8. I need (and I mean need!) to own music physically, but I just can’t afford to get it all on wax. So as well as being versatile as a previous commenter says, CDs are an affordable alternative that still sound great through my posh hi-fi.

  • Gdole

    Yeah! someone that actually knows what they are talking about. Vinyl is and always an inferior medium. If people actually know how vinyl albums were made they would not want them.  Lacquer cutting > electroplating> master plates > mother plates > stampers > add that to cheap powder based vinyl then put it on a record press. The end result: 5th generation snap, crackle pop sound.

  • Mingram

    Wow, it feels like I wrote this (I am from Baltimore and a computer programmer) I cannot agree more. Buying vinyl is the only way I will go for any music purchase (I am 22). I usually jam to some obscure band on spotify, dig their stuff, and buy their vinyl. It is great because 1) It a better music experience and 2) I enjoy taking in an album as a whole. It also gives that sort of, I am not bandwagoning! proof to your collection. That may sound hipster, but whatever. I enjoy going through my collection, putting on a band, and having someone go ‘Man this is good stuff! How did you find them?’ ‘Dude, that is The Lower Dens! They are a Baltimore band!’ I feel like it inspires them question the music more than just something that is playing in the background. It also encourages people to thumb through my catalog and want to hear something. It starts some conversations. It is too rude to start going through someone’s computer. I will also admit it is a real hit with women. They might have never seen an expensive record player and it is cool for them to look at the 12″ art. It is almost like a cheap BMW in your living room. That said, I like to leave apps out of my vinyl equation.

  • VanessaElizebeth

    Great article.I might have steal this at one point.

    Shop almost everything you want

  • sukisulsuzuki

    its so bad in aus