It won't fit in your pocket or play on your smartphone. You can't download it, stream it or store it in a cloud file. And there's definitely not an app for it.
In fact, the vinyl record seemingly violates every facet of a 21st-century entertainment culture obsessed with things that are small, fast and convenient. But somehow it is trending, big time.
Vinyl records, which for decades had been the dominant means of recording and listening to music, were crushed by the convenient compact disc in the 1980s. Yet as CD sales have eroded in recent years in favor of digital downloads and streaming services, vinyl has emerged as a niche market to contend with. Sales of vinyl records jumped 32 percent in the U.S. last year, as new stores opened and more artists opted to make their recording available on the format.
The music culture that will not die gets its due this week. Saturday, as any vinyl collector worth his or her grooves will tell you, is Record Store Day, which will see the release of hundreds of new and reissued vinyl albums and collections by artists ranging from R.E.M. to Eric Church to Public Enemy. That same day, the Oakland Museum of California opens a large new interactive exhibit devoted to the sound, artwork, history and culture of vinyl records.
Why the devotion? Some aficionados favor vinyl because they prefer its more visceral sound, complete with occasional scratches and surface noise. Others say vinyl's popularity stems from the simple, defiant fact that it's not digital.
"I think the connection to the music is further enhanced when the listener actually has to physically get up, touch this album, place it on a turntable and drop the needle on the vinyl," says Allen Clapp, lead singer of the Orange Peels rock band and owner of Sunnyvale's Mystery Lawn Music studios and record label. "It's an intentional act, and it's a much more engaging process than launching a music streaming program on your computer."
That's the same idea behind the Oakland Museum exhibit "Vinyl: The Sound and Culture of Records."
"I think society and culture are seeking experiences that bring us back to the material world and also opportunities to gather with other people," says OMCA's René de Guzman, who curated the "Vinyl" exhibit. "You can see this in the interest in the handmade crafts, the artisanal restaurants, the foodie culture. ... Records are an indicator of this sort of (compensation) that we are currently experiencing to the digital age. That's why I think records are having a resurgence."
Record Store Day began in San Francisco in 2008, as a way to support independent music retailers. Organizers say it is now celebrated by hundreds of stores across every continent except Antarctica. This year's event not only features the release of some 400 new albums and repackaged classics but promises the communal pleasure of buying records in the company of other music lovers that once made record stores so popular.
"Last year, we cleared over $40,000 on Record Store Day, which was essentially three months' worth of business on a single day," says Steve Stevenson, owner of 1-2-3-4 Go! Records in Oakland.
These days, vinyl records represent just 2 percent of overall album sales, says Billboard magazine. Yet, the sales have been on the upswing for six straight years, something even digital music can't claim. Nielsen SoundScan reports that digital album sales in 2013, after years of growth, remain unchanged from 2012 at roughly 118 million downloads. And individual digital song sales last year dropped 6 percent, to 1.26 billion downloads, marking the first decline since the iTunes Store opened in 2003.
Meanwhile, Amazon.com reports that its vinyl sales have rocketed some 745 percent since 2008. Observers think the vinyl resurgence is fueled by hipster newcomers and nostalgic fans returning to the fold.
"A lot of people who got out of vinyl in the late '90s, early 2000s are coming back," Stevenson says. "I hear all the time how people regret selling all the stuff they had (on vinyl) and now they are trying to replace it."
Vinyl's biggest supporters tend to view the format almost as a lifestyle choice, rather than just a music preference.
"As I often tell my wife, who does not completely understand my obsession, my vinyl collection is power -- it is a super power," says Bay Area collector David Katznelson, who now runs the vinyl-only reissue label Sutro Park. "The collection is made up of a lot of genres and genres within genres. It reflects what I am into now and all the phases I have gone through."
Alec Palao is another avid vinyl fan, who counts some 7,000 albums and 10,000 45s in his collection. Even after all these years, he says there's still nothing like listening to a good song on vinyl.
"My way of giving myself an adrenaline jolt, akin to your double espresso shot at Starbucks, is to put a killer '60s soul or garage 45 on the turntable and crank it to the max," says the El Cerrito music historian. "Sorry, but no CD or MP3 will ever match that thrill."