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Even in the Digital Age, Albums — Especially Vinyl — Still Matter

country music vinyl records
Spencer Platt, Getty Images

In the digital age, music is often talked about in terms of singles and MP3s, not full albums and records. It’s common for artists to put out new releases digitally before releasing physical copies, or to simply skip a physical release all together. However, over the last several years — whether because they think they’re cool, they like having something tangible to show for their money or they think the sound quality is superior — many music fans have been flocking to vinyl … and many artists are thrilled to supply them with what they’re after.

Vinyl records — and, more generally, albums as a collection of songs — still matter, both to the artists who are creating and releasing them and to plenty of music fans. And on April 22, 2017, many of them will celebrate the 10th anniversary of Record Store Day, an annual celebration that’s “a day for the people who make up the world of the record store … to come together and celebrate the unique culture of a record store,” according to the event’s website.

"Vinyl records — and, more generally, albums as a collection of songs — still matter, both to the artists who are creating and releasing them and to plenty of music fans."

“Music used to be escapism — you’d sit down, and you’d spend 45 minutes with a vinyl record. There was no way to make the damn thing skip. There was no track button. You had to let the thing play through, and you committed to it. You took that time, and you invested,” Eric Church — who released both The Outsiders and his Caught in the Act live album on vinyl for past Record Store Day celebrations — said in 2015. “We’ve gotten away from that … [but p]eople are starting to get back into that. They’re starting to realize that is how music is meant to be consumed. I’m a vinyl collector, so it does my heart good.”

In 2015, revenue from vinyl was at its highest level since 1988: $416 billion, up 32 percent over 2014. In 2007, independent record retailers sold a total of 737,000 units of vinyl LPs, Nielsen Music reports; in 2016, that number was at 5,432,000 — a 637 percent increase.

“I don’t care that technology tells us that albums are a thing of the past. That is B.S.,” Church continued. “They are more valuable now than they’ve ever been to the future of music, to the health of music. Because, going forward, there’s no way we end up having artists unless we go back to the album format, the entire body of work.”

"[When you listen to an album from start to finish,] you start to understand where [a song] sits in the thing … [and the songs] change what they mean."

And Church isn’t the only country musician who feels that way.

“I’m in the album-making business,” Kristian Bush tells The Boot. “I’m probably one of the last holdouts that’s like, ‘Here, I made this so you could play it all the way through.'”

In April of 2015, Bush released his first solo album, Southern Gravity. “You will know where I flip the record,” he said of the release. “I made it that way on purpose.”

The former Sugarland member has been a champion of vinyl and albums for years. In 2011, he started the Day Off Record Club to help introduce older, more obscure albums to music fans. While the club isn’t active anymore, Bush still touts the benefits of listening to a record as a complete work of art.

“While you will come across your favorite song on the radio, [when you listen to an album from start to finish,] you start to understand where it sits in the thing,” Bush says, “[and] when you hear it in context, [the songs] change what they mean.”

Knowing a song and an album in a deeper way is another reason why vinyl records mean so much to so many people. Music in general can make you feel happy, sad or any other number of emotions, or remind you of a specific memory, but vinyl specifically has a sentimental aspect too.

"I love the sound that a vinyl record creates — that live feeling … It’s almost like they’re kind of in your living room singing."

“My Grandma and Grandpa Pickler had a big part in raising me, and so I remember, my grandma had a vinyl record player, and she had all of these vinyls that she collected and she listened to, and I just started listening to them,” Kellie Pickler tells The Boot, “and when she passed away, my grandpa gave me her old record player and her vinyl collection, and so I just started adding to the collection.”

Pickler released her newest album, 2013’s The Woman I Am, on vinyl twice, in addition to releasing the record digitally and on CD. One of the vinyl versions was a special-edition pink vinyl for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

“I love the sound that a vinyl record creates — that live feeling,” Pickler says. “… It’s almost like they’re kind of in your living room singing. It’s just this different type of live sound, and that needle.”

Record Store Day 2017 includes numerous country special releases. A complete list of this year’s special releases, as well as a list of participating stores, is available on the Record Store Day website.

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