It’s a new year and now may be an ideal time to embark on a new habit forming hobby that won’t make you sick, will bring you much joy and may even make you the envy of all the cool kids on the block: collecting vinyl records!
What’s that you say? You already collect music on your iPhone and computer via iTunes. That’s cool. You’re about halfway there. Keep reading.
Some of you have already gotten bit by the vinyl collecting bug. Yet, on various forums in which I participate on Facebook and G+, some aspiring collectors have complained to me about the escalating / high prices of many of the spiffy 180-gram “audiophile” reissues coming out these days. Many of those reissues are fabulous and I have bought my fair share, however I understand where these complaints are coming from. For the prices being charged, you could almost get an original pressing (and sometimes the original pressing is still better than the reissue).
That leads me to the point of this article and a little secret I’m going to clue you all in on — a trend I’ve noticed over the years which may encourage many of you to get out of your comfy computer cocoons and out shopping at a real “brick and mortar” music store on a regular basis.
Here’s the deal: you see…. whenever one of those new spiffy deluxe reissues come out, restoring a vintage, long out-of-print or super rare title, some well-to-do audiophile somewhere is likely “upgrading” their collection with said new reissue and offloading their old copies! I’ve seen it time and time again where these old copies of quite obscure albums suddenly pop up in places expected and unexpected. Usually when I check, it turns out that there was some sort of major reissue in the recent past.
I sense this is happening again — lately I have found some stunning bargains at used record shops in the dollar bins, garage sales and thrift shops.
Now, you must understand that I’ve been finding amazing used records since I was little kid first starting my collection. I had no money as a kid so finding them for pocket change at used shops and garage sales was the only way I could build my collection. I still do this to this day because there are SO many records and sounds I want to explore, I can’t possibly afford to buy everything new. Buying used music is a great way to expand your horizons for a fraction of the cost.
I first noticed this phenomenon happening en masse during the first CD era: as albums were issued on CD, people dumped their vinyl at used record stores, thrift shops and garage sales! I happily scooped up lots of very cool original pressings of albums I’d always wanted to hear but couldn’t afford upon initial release for mere pennies (relatively). This continued through the CD revolution and even into the download era (loads of CDs are being offloaded for next to nothing!)
That history seems to be repeating itself is exciting from a collector’s perspective. This time there one curious twist: while cool records continue to pop up in thrift shops and garage sales, used record stores are blowing out some really fine albums at cheap-o prices!
This may mean one of several things, all of which are good things for the budget minded collector:
a) the store employees don’t really know what they are doing
b) the store just wants to turn over its inventory rapidly
c) the store is using these sorts of bargains as “loss leaders” to pull people into the stores in hopes they buy other stuff.
Chances are, the answer is all of the above.
And there is probably another thing going on which is simply the notion of the market for some of these products is either growing older (and has limited disposable income) or sadly dying off (thus old collections are being unearthed from well stocked home library shelves or boxes in closets).
Whatever the case, it is a GREAT time for you, dear reader, to be going out to stores looking for cool bargains.
Also look on eBay. Do searches for “vinyl,” “records,” and “LPs” on Craigslist. Watch for ads in your area for record swap meets — many of the dealers going to these events have dramatically lowered their prices so you can pick up lots of cool stuff you may not have been able to afford previously. Look at your favorite local music store for a copy of Record Collector News (a free ‘zine with listings of stores and upcoming swap meets and such) and Goldmine Magazine. Both are available online too. I just discovered a handy site listing upcoming record shows: http://www.recordshowsofamerica.com. (I’m gonna book mark that one!)
There are a myriad of killer bargains to be found, some of which can sound pretty remarkable when given a decent cleaning with your favorite record washing system. I have a relatively old school process I use employing a vintage Watts Parastat camel hair brush designed for hand washing of records. You can get a bath-style record cleaner system for under $100 these days.
]]>Here is another good tactic I use frequently. Many times, I am curious about the spiffy 180-gram reissues but don’t want to spend all that money on an album I don’t really know — so I’ll buy it first on a used older, often times bargain copy or even sometimes a CD copy (and, no, I don’t like to judge a recoding by an MP3 version). If I decide that I really like the album, then I start to upgrade to a better sounding version — be it on LP, Blu-ray Disc, Hi Res Download or other formats to come.
I’ve been doing this kind of stop-look-listen-and-upgrade process through out much of my collecting life, both with LPs, CDs and even now with downloads. Through it all is the continuum joy of discovering cool new music followed by the thrill of the hunt for better pressings.
Some of my favorite recordings have been found this way (pictured around this article) such Sarah Vaughn’s early 50s masterpiece with Paul Quinichette, Herbie Mann and Clifford Brown (which I got at a garage sale for 50 cents on the original EmArcy label). Many of the best sounding Beatles albums I’ve obtained from used record stores including a fairly pristine Mono British pressing of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. My original mono pressing of Frank Zappa’s Freak Out was purchased at a used shop in New Jersey when I was 15 or so, for a whopping $2.50 in mint condition!
Last weekend I picked up a lovely original pressing of The Smiths’ mid-80s classic rock album “The Queen is Dead” for $1 at a garage sale; original pressings are hard to find and the wonderful 180-gram reissues (with new mastering supervised by Johnny Marr) typically go for about $25 a piece in the stores. So, I’m very happy to have this great sounding original pressing for now! I found a Half Speed Master edition of Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town for just $5 last year at Amoeba Records.
Just the other day at Vinyl Solution in San Mateo, I picked up a 1955 album by Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers on an original deep groove mono Blue Note records pressing — it was not in perfect condition but sounds pretty remarkable given its age and that I only paid 50 cents for it! This is an album that sells online for $$, so I’m still kinda giddy about this find. It will be fine until I someday find a better pressing. I like the album! That day I also got a mint original LP pressing of Jeff Lynne’s Armchair Theatre album from the early 90s which has recently been reissued — pricey imports with bonus tracks on spiffy colored vinyl going for $30 or more (when you can find it!). For now, I’m more than happy to have this fine sounding pressing which I got for a whopping $4.
Anyhow, I think you get the idea. There is some fun awaiting you out there in record collector’s land. Happy hunting!
Mark Smotroff is a freelance writer and avid music collector who has worked for many years in marketing communications for the consumer electronics, pro audio and video games industries, serving clients including DTS, Sega, Sony, Sharp, AT&T and many others. www.smotroff.com Mark has written for EQ Magazine, Mix Magazine, Goldmine/DISCoveries Magazine, BigPictureBigSound.com, Sound+Vision Magazine and HomeTechTell.com. He is also a musician / composer who’s songs have been used in TV shows such as Smallville and Men In Trees as well as films and documentaries. www.ingdom.com Mark is currently rolling out a new musical he’s written: www.dialthemusical.com.