I listen to music every single day—it’s one of my favorite things in life. I also bought my first turntable a few months ago and have wondered what it’d be like to only listen to vinyl for an entire week. So recently, I did just that and I have a lot of thoughts about the experience.
My history with music is lifelong. As far back as I can remember, I’ve always had some means of listening to it within arm’s reach. I even shamelessly toted around one of those ridiculous binders full of CDs. I was thrilled when I could finally upgrade to an iPod, and I’m pretty sure I actually cried tears of joy when streaming music services were first announced.
But as I’ve spent more and more time with Spotify (and eventually, SiriusXM, Tidal, and YouTube Premium), I think I slowly started to take music for granted. It eventually became background noise to me, like an accessory I had to have yet never paid much attention to anymore. I was thinking about all of this recently, and it hit me how desperate I was to do something about it and reconnect with music.
In addition to all of that, I was feeling increasingly guilty about not using the turntable I’d purchased a few months ago. I hadn’t really given it a fair shot yet and I felt like it was just sitting there, judging me for buying it then dumping it in a dusty corner. I was interested in my turntable, I swear, but I didn’t know how to use it and I think I was using that as an excuse to stick with the convenience of Spotify, even though I didn’t pay much attention to that either.
So I decided to stop stalling. I would sit down and learn how to use my turntable and see what it had to offer. In fact, I would take it one step further—I’d immerse myself in that experience and only consume my music via vinyl for one week. And after giving it more thought, I realized I was actually incredibly curious to learn more about vinyl and to compare its analog ways to the convenience modern streaming music services offer up.
And I’m genuinely glad that I did. Here’s how the experience went:
Before the week officially kicked off, I figured I’d set a couple of ground rules to make the experiment a little more legitimate (well, to me at least). First, obviously, was that I couldn’t listen to any digital music, including when I was in the car. Next, if I wanted a new album to listen to, I was only allowed to buy a record from a physical store. I could go as often as I wanted but just couldn’t shop online for vinyl and slap on rush delivery to the cart.
Speaking of records, I didn’t have many. I’d purchased a couple when I first got my turntable, but if I was gonna survive an entire week with that as my only audio input, I needed to go buy more before the week began. I wasted no time making my way to the biggest record store in my area, but that’s when my experience took an unexpected turn.
I’d only intended to pop in and out of my local record store. Spend 10-15 minutes casually looking around for three or four of my favorite albums across a variety of genres, and then head out to lunch.
That is not what happened.
I was immediately absorbed by the experience. It was just like looking through CDs at a music store back when I was a teenager but even more exciting somehow. Before I knew it, over an hour and a half had passed and I resurfaced for air with 11 records in hand that just had to be part of my budding vinyl collection, much to the detriment of my bank account. I’ve been super into 80s synthpop lately, so naturally, I snagged some albums from the likes of The Cure, Pet Shop Boys, and Depeche Mode among others.
I couldn’t believe how much fun I had looking through box after box of records. It was so fulfilling to stand in a room with my fellow music lovers and see which albums caught their attention. It was also a visceral experience, as well, touching the records, looking at each album’s artwork, smelling the old sleeves and cardboard boxes, and hearing albums being played overhead. Plus, just thinking about albums as a whole concept again instead of individual songs, and to actually have to be mindful about the music I chose was simply delightful. Streaming music services as a whole have taken that experience away from us, and that’s really sad.
Shopping for vinyl was a truly (and unexpectedly) special experience. I forgot how much I loved spending time in music stores, and I can’t believe I so readily gave up that experience so many years ago for the sake of streaming music. Now I was more excited than ever for the week of analog music adventures that lay before me.
Now I was home from the record store, richer in music and spirit but poorer financially. I brushed up on how to properly use a turntable, grabbed my Sony WF-1000XM4 earbuds (I live in an apartment and don’t want noise complaints), and decided to get started right away.
I kicked off the week with two of my favorites —Please by Pet Shop Boys and Revolver by The Beatles—and it was love at first listen. Hearing them on vinyl was like hearing them for the first time, exactly how the bands intended the music to sound. There was no data loss or compression, and I could hear so many more details and notes and instruments. They sounded gorgeous—I actually teared up a bit!
Why had I been wasting my time with Spotify and the like when vinyl sounds so good? Yes, I subscribe to Tidal’s Hi-Fi plan and enjoy its lossless high fidelity sound quality, but vinyl just offers so much more. It sounds clean and warm and pure, like I’m right there in the recording studio. It sounded so different, so much better, and it did nothing short of blow my mind.
Two hours later, I stood before my turntable, having a serious heart-to-heart with myself. Was that what music is supposed to sound like? Or was it all a fever dream? I played three more distinct albums after that just to be sure it wasn’t a fluke experience—The Beatles’ Revolver, John Coltrane’s Giant Steps, and London Calling by The Clash. It certainly, wonderfully, wasn’t.
As the days passed by, it was interesting to see the small ways in which my life adjusted for the sake of vinyl. I quickly learned the many pros and cons of the medium, especially in comparison with its streaming alternatives. I also figured out that there’s just a different flow to life when you listen to music this way.
Some of the most noteworthy downsides of it were that it was logistically difficult to listen to vinyl while taking a shower (at least with my headphones-only limitation). I was also quick to give up trying to listen to them while working out; stopping mid-run or mid-set to flip a record over to the other side or swap it out for a different one was a total time-sucking pain and I couldn’t see a way around it. That was kind of a bummer since music and workouts go together like peanut butter and jelly.
Additionally, vinyl’s physical limitations meant that if I wanted to listen to music while I was at work, I’d need to get up every 20-30 minutes or so to flip or swap out the record. I couldn’t (easily) shuffle an album, loop a song, or skip tracks I dislike, either. It made it more than a little difficult to stay in a workflow and on task, and I’d just have to live without these simple luxuries for a week.
It sorta felt like, since I’d gone to all the effort of putting on a record, I should really just sit there and pay attention to it; otherwise, it wasn’t worth my time. It wasn’t like using Spotify, which would allow me to simply open it up, tap play on something, and sorta tune it out for hours on end. For the first few days, I really struggled with this. Towards the end of the week, though, I had adjusted and was more or less successfully able to find my rhythm with this and stay in my workflow.
Once I could give my undivided attention to vinyl in the evenings, however, the experience bordered on the divine. I regularly found myself making a whole event out of listening to music. I was no longer putting on music then immediately doing something else in addition, like playing video games, scrolling social media, working, or puttering around the house. I was just sitting down and listening, totally engaged in the music. Heck, I’d even come to enjoy cleaning my records as I used them.
For the first time in my adult life, I felt encouraged to listen to an entire album in a single sitting. That’s something I hadn’t done since I was a teenager when I didn’t have anything better to do. Instead of picking and choosing songs or listening to the atrocious playlists most streaming services offer, I listened to dozens of full albums, song by song, and enjoyed the vibes and message each artist had painstakingly created. The experience was much more engaging than tapping on a smartphone screen. When did we decide that wasn’t enough for us?
I loved the whole experience from beginning to end. Taking the time to drive to a physical store, thumbing through their vinyl collection (and mine, in the following days), laying the record on the turntable, and dropping the needle into the groove. The entire experience had become sacred to me.
Vinyl is nowhere near as convenient as streaming music services are, but that’s not a bad thing. I think we’ve been conditioned to believe convenience is everything, but if I learned anything this week, it’s that it really isn’t.
Sure, streaming music services put millions of songs at our fingertips whenever we want to listen to them, along with playlists and recommendations powered by clever algorithms. But, really, I think it makes the whole process feel commodified. It strips away the magic of it all.
What makes vinyl so great is that you’re forced to accept it for what it is, and what it asks of you in return. It’s not all at your fingertips. There’s no pause or fast-forward or shuffle or share buttons here, nor is there any option to add a song to some random playlist with a witty name. And there certainly isn’t any ridiculous end-of-year “here’s the music you listened to this year” bullshit. It’s just you and the music, baby, and there’s something so refreshingly pure and wonderful about that.
As the end of my week-long experiment drew nearer, I felt less and less excited about regaining access to my digital music services. Initially, I felt sad and even a bit anxious about spending a week without my playlists and the other conveniences Spotify et al. afford me. But after stepping away from them for a few days, I started to figure out that those weren’t as big of a deal to me as I thought. It turns out I don’t care about my playlists or algorithms—I just like music.
And over the span of that unexpectedly magical week, I learned to listen to it again. I was reintroduced to the concept of a music album and found that it’s worth every minute of my life to just sit down and listen to the music I claim to love so much. Yes, I know you can do the same thing on a streaming service, but if you’ve ever listened to an album on vinyl or any other physical medium, you know it’s a totally different experience. It’s unobjectionably better.
Now that the weeklong experiment is over, I’m happily listening to music via vinyl and my streaming services each day. I think there’s a place for both in my life, depending on what I’m doing. I’ll stay digital when I’m exercising or otherwise on the move, but I will happily make an evening of listening to vinyl after work. Overall, I feel like I’m much more mindful now with how I listen to music and what I listen to.
Vinyl made me be mindful and intentional, traits that modern technology has a way of pushing out of our lives on occasion. And with how good it sounds, it makes me wonder why we’re even bothering with streaming music services to begin with.