Our stereotyping of vinyl fans exposes more about us than it does about them

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Streaming music has diminished the effort associated with the purchase of CDs and vinyl – no longer are long searches necessary, nor are we confined to the particular songs or albums that we pay for, the latter being its key selling-point. This practicality, one would think in a modern society, would naturally cause the inevitable decline of hard copies of music.

Yet, in 2017, vinyl sales continued to rise by 3.1% from the previous year, resulting in the highest total sales in over 20 years. It is not that unusual to walk into a student’s room and see a record player placed with pride atop a set of drawers, exuding a smug aura of timelessness, and this popularity is extremely baffling. Ask a vinyl fan why they choose to spend far more money than you on far less music, and they will often reply that it is the tangible nature of the records that is so appealing or, in an effort to stoop to your technological level, will cite ‘better sound quality’.

Cambridge students are too young to have nostalgia as their reason, and so the rise of vinyl sales, especially amongst young people, perhaps should be treated in the same vein as fashion, as a style or feeling rather than any personal or practical reasoning. In the same way that Cambridge streets are lined with Kappa tracksuits, corduroy and turtlenecks, perhaps it is merely a love of retro style that most influences students in their love of vinyl.

But what is revealing is why these questions are asked at all. Many of those who stream music might claim that vinyl lovers have a condescending tone when talking about music, that there is an assumed superiority that goes with their preference. But here, in fact, lies the greatest subliminal effect of streaming. Far from vinyl fans assuming the role of superiority and arrogance, it is us, the streamer, who looks down upon the other and feels the need to hear some justification for their decision. Confident after long nights spent trawling through Spotify related artists and friends’ playlists at no extra cost, we are shocked that anyone would not join the technological wave that has so broadened our musical exposure.

Streaming has brought with it a self-righteousness to those who use it, veiled under accusations of the arrogance of those who push it away. In the stereotyping of vinyl users as pretentious and superior, we have revealed the underlying effect of streaming on the individual. While greater ease of listening and discovery might be the explicit benefits of new technology, it is the accompanying arrogance which must not be overlooked in its impact on our outlook on music.

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