I got my first turntable when I was 13 years old, but it’s only now dawning on me how the medium had avoided technological extinction. My turntable was a birthday present that I mostly used to play my mom’s old Beatles’ records on. Eventually, I started buying my own vinyl, usually used, just to say I had a record collection and occasionally hang the album art on the walls. Now, I will often re-buy my favorite albums on vinyl but for very different reasons.
I have been a paid subscriber to Rdio, an online music subscription service very similar to Spotify, for about two years now but the more I use it, the more I find myself wanting to switch entirely to a vinyl collection. Recently I found a video online that was part of the TED talk series by Barry Schwartz called, “The Paradox of Choice.” In this video, Schwartz details the way that having too many choices creates a sort of mental paralysis. The talk comes to a head as Schwartz argues, “the more options there are, the easier it is to regret anything at all that is disappointing about the option you chose.” The bad is amplified by comparison, while the good becomes more easily ignorable. It’s like eating while you’re still in the grocery store; of course you’re going to wonder whether the food on the shelves is better.
This video clicked with me immediately. I had been using Rdio to eat in the grocery store. Maybe this explained the romance of vinyl. Setting up a record is nothing like clicking “play,” or even finding the track on a CD. People often argue that turntables create a personal experience where they lack in efficiency. But the inconvenience of changing a record might just be the key to its appeal. When the choice is eliminated, the details start to come through. Once you relax and settle into a record, songs start to present something exciting and subtle. It was that inexplicable “better” that music snobs – myself included – always assign to vinyl. Not to say that something is better, or even worth listening to, just because it is on vinyl, but when choices are limited, those in motion start to come alive. I bet that finding those hidden melodies and building that personal relationship is the inspiration behind most music anyways.
I still use Rdio but I try to limit myself to exploring new bands and albums before I buy them and, since the service is low-cost, I’m trying to make the best of both worlds. Yeah, the Internet may have a world of music to chose from, but sometimes settling in (not just settling) is the key to enjoying your experience.