The medium with which music is consumed differs from generation to generation. One medium used to record and play music has given birth to a culture and a lifestyle and that is none other than vinyl. A culture has spawned out of playing music using vinyl — which leads one to ponder what makes vinyl so attractive to music lovers of a particular generation. Is it the fact that vinyl records are more tangible or durable than other physical mediums such as cassettes and CDs? One can also further stretch such questions to ask even more interesting questions like: What is more important, the music or the medium the music is played in?
Vinyl records as we know them today, were first introduced commercially in 1948 by Columbia records and these records allowed between 20–30 minutes of sound to be played on either side of the record. This was a great move into the medium setting the standard of how music was played. The commercial release of vinyl records as we know them today came at a time where the Baby Boomer generation (1946–1964) was emerging, so this generation grew up in a time where playing records was the standard and main medium of playing music. The same can be said about generation X (1965–1979) but with a slight twist which came in the form of a cultural and technological shift when the cassette came into prominence in the mid 70’s to the early 80’s. The shift resulted in a slight knock in vinyl sales but vinyls as medium of choice were still preferred by many. When cars started coming with pre-installed tape decks, the push into the cassette era became even more clear and stronger.
The push into digital music started with the invention and release of the compact disc in 1982 and this was also around the time that a generation was emerging — the millennials (1980–1994). The emergence of millennials came at a time when vinyl records where slowly being taken over by the compact disc and cassettes. The world was changing and people started opting for convenience and were becoming more space-conscious. Around the same time compact discs were becoming popular, Hip Hop was also emerging as a culture and a music genre. Hip Hop, as music genre, is characterised by sampling and using old sounds/music to create new music. With such a characterisation, the inherent need to sample the old to create the new gave rise to crate digging — well at least from a Hip Hop perspective. Cassettes and compact discs were more prominent in the late 80’s and early 90’s and vinyl records were becoming less popular. More record labels started opting to release music in mediums that made more sense at the time.
Millennials are rather an interesting generation as they were born in a time where one medium of playing music was increasingly losing popularity and two other mediums were gaining popularity. It would more sense to assert why Baby boomers and generation X would still be fascinated with vinyl records because it was the main, or rather popular, medium of playing music. Millennials on the other hand were born were three mediums of playing music existed in the world.
Now let’s look at Generation Z (1995–2010), a generation that is being called the digital generation. A generation that is characterised as being digital savvy, social and individualistic. When generation Z emerged, the internet was increasingly becoming a powerhouse and a newfound source of information. With the rise in internet usage, the compact disc and cassette started losing more ground to a different medium of digital music. Generation Z grew up in a era where MP3 downloads and streaming where prominent and physical copies of music were slowly becoming obsolete in the market.
For one to comment on crate digging culture and its survival, one has to look at who is currently buying vinyl records in 2017 and also look at how the generation that is taking prominence is consuming music. Baby Boomers and generation X are the biggest buyers of vinyl records, but with 2016’s vinyl boom, millennials played a part in vinyl sales beating out digital downloads. In the case of millennials, one can deduce that millennials are experiencing a sense of nostalgia having grown up seeing vinyl records but not fully using them as a medium of playing music as previous generations.
Streaming and MP3’s are the main mediums of playing music in the times we live in today and generation Z is the most literate and competent when dealing with all things digital. So to answer the main question asked in this article, generation Z will probably not keep the crate digging culture alive. To them, going to a record store and digging through crates is not appealing, when they can find all the music they need online on iTunes, Bandcamp, Soundcloud or Spotify. With generation Z, we’re dealing with a generation that spends about 15.4 hours per week on their phones.
The crate digging culture will not survive into the next generation if there is no passing of knowledge. Hip Hop, for instance, has change drastically and since the term ‘crate digging’ was coined in Hip Hop circles, one is compelled to assess the evolution that has happened in Hip Hop as a culture. As a music lover, you’re going to have to ask yourself one question: What is more important, the music or the medium the music is played in?
Each generation will have its own interpretations of the world and how it choose to identify itself and move about. Each generation defines itself and sets its own benchmarks of excellence and holds all the power of identifying itself.