For vinyl lovers, Christmas has arrived. Established in 2007, Record Store Day has built momentum as record lovers everywhere flock to independent record stores to snatch up limited vinyl pressings released to celebrate the occasion. With sales of the once dying music format rising at a rate of 20-30 percent each year, competition for new and used records is stiff, and record store owners like Stephen Judge of Schoolkids Records in Raleigh, North Carolina are bracing themselves for the throngs expected to descend on Saturday.
“We will have people camping overnight in front of the store to be the first in the door,” Judge marvels. “Vinyl collectors aren’t just people raised on the format anymore. Kids are getting into vinyl more every year. They’ll buy the new stuff, but they also want their own copy of some of the albums their parents have. A lot of the time, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and the Beatles are the first things they go for.” Judge acknowledges that digital formats are more convenient, but feels the sound of compressed digital simply doesn’t compare to vinyl.
Longtime vinyl collector Aaron Bates of Cincinnati, Ohio agrees. He won’t be camping out to snag his most-anticipated Record Store Day release, but he does have his eye on a particular pressing.
“There are releases that are only available on Record Store Day and if you don’t get them then, you won’t get them. They are putting out Devo Live record from the late 70s that will be a Record Store Day release. That’s big enough that each store will probably get five or ten copies, but once they are gone, that’s it. I’ll be there a couple of hours early for that one.”
Bates loves the frenzy and interest driven by Record Store Day, but most of his 800+ vinyl collection comes from used records he has unearthed slowly over the years. He believes the argument that vinyl “sounds better” is valid, but for him the appeal goes beyond that.
“A vinyl record is a keepsake. It’s big. You can hold it and look at it. It’s something you can show your friends. We went so far the other way with MP3s that it took some of the fandom out of it. When you get something physical that you can hold in your hands, it means something.”
For those about to rock, Bates says Record Store Day is exciting, but tracking down used vinyl is not just a pleasure, it’s the best way to build a record collection.
“It was the format for a lot of years and there are great finds out there for those willing to look.” Bates offers a few tips for building or starting a record collection.
Know Where to Look
“There’s record stores, of course, but hit the thrift stores,” Bates advises. “Go to garage sales and flea markets. Tons of records show up. They aren’t usually sorted in any way and you have to really dig and look at them to make sure they’re in good shape, but you can find some great stuff dirt cheap. You can go to record shows or go online to find stuff you really want. If you’re trying to fill out a particular artist or you want to be sure you’re getting a record that is in good condition, you can find it that way, but it’s usually going to cost a lot more.”
Make It a Habit
Once you’ve found a good source for used vinyl, keep going back. “If I have the time,” Bates says, “I’ll try to hit four or five places in one day. You may see something you’ve never heard of that looks interesting or that you’ve forgotten about.”
“I like being surprised. There’s some fun when things just jump out at you, even if you’ve never heard of it,” Bates explains. “And because used vinyl is so cheap, it’s worth two dollars to take something home that might be great.”
Spread the Word
Finding specific records can be a challenging, especially when filling out a new collection. Enlist fellow collectors to keep an eye out. Bates recounts a recent find:
“I know a guy who loves these records made in the 60s that are just recordings of car engines,” Bates chuckles. “They are kind of rare and can be worth a lot of money. Now I take notice when I see a couple in a box somewhere that I can pick up cheap for him, but I wouldn’t have ever noticed them otherwise.”
If you must have it, odds are you can track it down for a price. For the collector, though, there are few thrills that match the excitement that comes with discovering a coveted record when out on the prowl. Bates recently saw a record listed online that has been on his list for a couple of years, but with a steep price tag.
“I don’t know that I’m willing to spend a hundred dollars for one record. It was great to track it down and maybe I’ll never find it again, but that’s how it goes. You just keep looking.”
And if you find a few album covers sans album, get inspired to DIY them with Michele’s upcycling project using vintage album covers.