I grew up buying music on cassette tape and then compact discs. My parents never replaced their turntable after it broke, so I always thought of records as a thing of a past that ended right around the time I started kindergarten. Then, sometime at the tail end of high school, I came across a Disney Alice in Wonderland album in the garage. I remembered listening to it when I was a tot and the scratches on the vinyl indicated that I listened to it a lot. On that same spring cleaning mission, my mom found a box of her old records, stuff like Donovan, Elton John and the Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack. She let my sister and I hang on to the albums, even though we had no means to actually listen to them. Not long after that, I got an inexpensive turntable/radio/tape player from JC Penney and started collecting records.
In the beginning, I bought a lot of indie rock 7″ singles that were new at the time as well as ’80s new wave, goth and industrial albums and 12″ singles. Then I started DJing at Coven 13 and one of the promoters would take me out record shopping with him, sometimes several times a week. He taught me a lot about crate digging, like when certain record stores would unload their latest stacks of used vinyl onto the storeroom floor. That is valuable information, dear reader.
I don’t know how big my vinyl collection is now. Ten years ago, I tried to do a count, but stopped at 2000, even though I was nowhere near finished. I’ve since acquired many more records. It’s a good sized collection– there are certainly many who have a much larger library– but I think it’s solid. There’s not a lot of filler in it. That’s because I have a pretty stringent set of rules that I follow for collecting. Since a couple friends of mine want to start buying vinyl, I’m offering those rules here as a beginner’s guide.
1. Know what you want and why you want it.
If you’re just buying records for the hell of it, you could very well end up with shelves loaded with crap. The most important thing about your vinyl collection is that the contents mean something significant to you. The actual monetary value of the record is nowhere near as important as its personal value. Always remember that.
I started DJing about a year or so after I started collecting, so it was extremely important that the music I bought was stuff I could play at clubs. That still influences everything I buy. If a 12″ single is available, I’ll take that over the album or 7″ simply because they play louder. I look for remixes so that I have different versions of the same song to play in different sets. If a band releases multiple versions of a single with different remixes on each one, I’ll seek all of them. (Depeche Mode is known for doing that, I’ve spent a lot of time and money loving that band.)
Your interests may be different from mine. You might be more interested in album art, colored vinyl or picture discs. That’s great, just know what you want before you start the hunt. (Note: I’ve been told to remind readers that, if you are looking for picture discs, be forewarned that the sound quality might not be as good as it i on regular vinyl.)
Regardless of your collection needs, keep this in mind. If a record is not factory sealed, you should always inspect it before you buy it, especially if it’s a cool record selling for cheap. Make sure there are no deep scratches and that the album isn’t warped.
2. Start out with bands/genres that you know well.
Don’t get lost in the record store. Start off with what you know, whether it’s a single band or a genre that you already love.
New wave, new romantic and goth were a big parts of my early collection. I knew the music well, so I didn’t have a hard time finding what I wanted. The added bonus was that, back in the ’90s, anything with a synth that wasn’t techno was so horribly out of fashion that the records were frequently dirt cheap. Even better, my purchases would always catch the attention of the goth kids at the register who would turn me on to stuff that I didn’t know. I paid attention, quickly learning the names of the indie labels I should always trust and the little-known side projects that I had to have. As a result, my record library swelled in a matter of months.
My boyfriend/eternal record shopping partner, Carlos, said I should remind you to use your smart phone when you’re at the record store. You can easily look up unfamiliar bands on Wikipedia or check out tunes you don’t know on YouTube before you decide to buy. This is sound advice.
The lesson here, start with what you know, but keep an open mind. You’ll end up with choice releases from your favorite bands and a lot of new surprises.
3. Set price limits.
I used to have a hard and fast rule to never pay more than $20 for a single record. I’ve had to change that, simply because new releases are often closer to $25 these days. Still, it’s always good to set some spending limitations.
Do some research before you go shopping. Look up the records you want on eBay and see how much money they’re fetching. That will help give you an idea of how much you’re willing to pay for a single record.
If you have a hankering for a pricey record, I suggest avoiding an immediate purchase. I once spent close to $40 (I know, I broke the $20 rule) on a Marc and the Mambas record only to come across another copy for much cheaper a few months later. Spend some time combing your local record stores before you make the big purchase. Make sure you check stores that don’t specialize in your genre of choice. Back when I was big on industrial music, I found some amazing records from artists like Coil and Psychic TV for cheap at rock-oriented record stores. They were going for much more at places that specialize in industrial and experimental music.
At the same time, you need to know when you’ve spent too much time hunting. Sometimes, you do have to shell out significant change for the record you really want, but make sure you spend some time searching before you give into temptation.
4. Buy new releases.
There’s a mistake I have made often. A new record comes out on vinyl and I figure, eh, I can buy it later. Then it disappears from the stores and turns up on eBay for prices I don’t want to pay.
Lesson learned. Now I buy the albums from bands I like on vinyl when they are released. Even if the new vinyl price seems a little steep, it’s worth it for me in the long run.
Be careful with new releases as well. I tend to give new music a few listens on Spotify before I slap down cash for it. This has helped me make more informed purchasing decisions than I ever could make in the past.
5. Always bring cash with you to concerts.
One of the best ways you can support a band is shopping at their merch booth, as the money you spend will certainly help them get to the next town. Some bands offer tour exclusive releases, which are obviously awesome to have. Others don’t, but you still might find some cool vinyl at the merch booth.
Oftentimes, I’ve found vinyl copies of records that I couldn’t find in stores at concerts. Typically, bands will sell these for a little less than the retail price. That’s always good. Just make sure you bring cash because club ATMs usually charge stupid service fees and charging your purchase may not be an option.