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Who's still listening to vinyl?

By Carly Costello, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Vinyl accounts for less than 1 percent of music sales, but it is not dying out anytime soon
  • iReporters tell CNN why they prefer listening to vinyl in an age of digital music
  • iReporters predict vinyl will outlive the CD
  • Record industry veteran: "There is no sweeter sound in music than that vinyl crackle"

(CNN) -- Chuck Thieroff of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, couldn't escape the Beatles in the early 1960s. He would hear singles such as "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "She Loves You" what seemed like a thousand times a day on the radio and the sound just knocked him out.

Not long after being introduced to the British sensation, Thieroff bought two Beatles albums. Before long, he was hooked on vinyl.

Since he started collecting more than 45 years ago, Thieroff has traveled the country looking for the perfect LP. He currently owns around 4,000 albums, but at one time his collection exceeded more than 25,000 records.

Vinyl records are still a big part of Thieroff's life today, as he currently sells and trades albums. He recently started writing a blog about his collecting adventures called "In Search of the Sound".

CNN asked iReporters to tell us why they love vinyl in an era of digital music. Dozens of responses came in from people of all ages. Some had been listening for decades, while others fell in love with LPs after discovering their parents' or friends' collections.

iReporter Neil Azevedo, general manager of Drastic Plastic Records, an album store and record label in Omaha, Nebraska, fell in love with vinyl at age 11 when he bought the record that he says changed his life, The Clash's self-titled album.

"MP3s are to listening to music as McDonald's is to supper," Azevedo said. "It'll keep you from starving but is in no way meant to and only approximately touches on the authentic experience of what [listening to music] can possibly be."

For many, the need for vinyl in today's world of digital music seems obsolete, but those, like Thieroff, who still listen to vinyl, say that nothing can replace the authentic sound they hear every time they place the needle on the wax.

"I just love records," Thieroff said. "I love how they feel in my hand. I love the liner notes on the back cover. I love the musty smell of a stack of LPs in somebody's game room or garage as I search for a new treasure. I love putting a record on the turntable and placing the tone arm on the vinyl as I await anxiously to hear some new song that I have never heard before or perhaps an old song that I haven't heard in years."

Vinyl might never be what is once was due to the popularity and convenience of digital music, but it's not dying anytime soon. Vinyl sales increased 33 percent from 1.8 million in 2008 to 2.5 million in 2009, according to Nielsen SoundScan. And though that accounts for less than 1 percent of all music sales, it is a record high for vinyl since Nielsen started tracking sales in 1991.

Some iReporters predict that if anything will be dying out soon, it would most likely be the CD. Vinyl aficionados say records hold more sentimental value than CDs do.

"[Vinyl] is much more tangible and personable than clicking skip or scrolling through lists of songs," said iReporter Tim McGuire from Marietta, Georgia.

Jason Krutzky, a musician from Atlanta, Georgia, joked that vinyl might even outlive the MP3.

"I've only had my MacBook Pro for a year and it's already crashed once, so, technically, my records have already outlived all my MP3s once," he said.

iReporters shared that they preferred vinyl over other music formats because of the distinct sound it produces, the participation role involved with listening to vinyl and the alluring visuals that adorn album covers.

"There is no sweeter sound in music than that vinyl crackle," says former radio promoter and A&R representative Beth Alice from New York City. "It's kind of poetic, balanced and imperfect at the same time. A digital track may have the perfect sound and timing, but it hasn't got the soul of vinyl."

Most agreed that digital music is convenient, but it's not they way the song was made to be heard. Most music was and still is recorded with analog technology and does not transfer perfectly to a digital format. And since vinyl is not instantaneous -- it takes extra time and effort to play a song -- it makes you appreciate the music more than listening on an iPod does.

Caroline Grand, a 14-year-old who recently discovered vinyl after finding a collection of records in her grandmother's attic says, "I love the experience of listening to music in the exact format in which it was originally produced ... [The artists] intended for [the songs] to be played on vinyl records, not flat MP3s. Vinyl takes more work. You have to flip it over and set the right speed. I like that user participation part."

Record collectors and listeners also enjoy the extra perks such as the artwork on the album cover or the extra poster or knickknacks that sometimes come with an album.

"I have a four-record Nitty Gritty Dirt Band greatest hits that have something like 16 panels, original poster art, rare photos, etc," comedian and musician Zach Selwyn said. "You can't get that in an MP3 or CD."

iReporter Damo Musclecar, a musician from Melbourne, Australia, found an oversized dollar poster when he bought a copy of Alice Cooper's "Billion Dollar Babies". "These are things I would never find inside a CD...I like these kinds of things. I feel I am being rewarded for making such a purchase."

But perhaps the best part about vinyl is that it's tangible, iReporters say. It is something you can hold, unlike an MP3. Because it is tangible, it holds more meaning than a file on your computer.

"Vinyl prompts you to look at the cover, turn it over, read the notes, pass it around. Has anyone ever passed me an MP3 and said 'look at this'? Not so much," said iReporter Noel Mayeske from Atlanta, Georgia.

Mayeske, a father of two, said he's making sure that his two little boys know the wonders of vinyl. He proudly shares that his son is one of the few 6-year-olds with a turntable and a collection of 45s. For Mayeske, vinyl will live on for many more years, "at least in two little boys from south Atlanta!"

 
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