So you finally got a record player. Whether you have one of those fancy old-fashioned ones or a newfangled player that folds up to the size of a briefcase, you’re going to actually need records to play on it. These ain’t like CDs that you can just borrow from a friend, copy onto your computer, and give it back. No, building a half-decent collection takes time and effort. So here is some help to get you on your way.
- It’s not a competition: Look, you are never going to be that person who has an entire wall of LPs, so just get that thought out of your head immediately. Those people have been collecting for decades. The consolation is that they are probably quite old now and you are not. Unless you’re working as a DJ, you don’t need all of those records anyway.
- It’s not cheap: You can likely find unexpected bargains in thrift stores and yard sales, and if you live in a city that’s big enough to have record shops then you can find discounts on unwanted second-hand stock (I once found 20 albums for $2 once at Westminster Records on 72nd Street in New York). However, anything from after the end of the ‘80s when records stopped being produced regularly is going to cost more than that copy of the Original Cast Recording of Dreamgirls with the torn cover that you found on somebody’s stoop sale. Likewise, artists considered to be at all hip or cool are going to have a higher mark-up than The Best of Johnny Mathis. Furthermore, any new release is going to set you aside $20. At least. You could quite easily find 20 other records for that price. Before you make a purchase, always stop and think: “Do I really need the new Arcade Fire on vinyl?”
- Record shops > thrift stores: The latter have had that same dusty box of records that some old lady donated for years, and no matter how many times somebody scoffs at the $10 price tag for a scratched copy of the West Side Story soundtrack, they refuse to lower it. Record shops, however, are always getting in new stock and need to get rid of those 12 copies of Bananarama’s Wow! and Tina Turner’s Private Dancer that they have accumulated and will likely set you back only $1 or $2. The best for this is Reckless Records in Chicago, who also listen to each record before selling and give it a quality-grading.
- It takes patience: Like a watched pot that never boils, you likely won’t find what you’re looking for until you stop looking for it. Relentlessly searching for a specific album is dooming yourself to failure until one day you’re browsing at that tiny record store that you thought only specialized in classical musical and voila, a copy of The Sex Pistols! They always appear in the most unlikely places.
- You’ll start seeing double: Once upon a time, people actually purchased records. And in the mass exodus of record LPs from peoples’ homes into secondhand shops that followed with the advent of the CD, a lot of these places became seemingly overrun with the likes of Barbra Streisand, Olivia Newton-John, Melissa Manchester, Donna Summer, The Bee Gees, Boz Scaggs, and the Original Cast Recording of Hair. Luckily for people like myself, the complete works of Barbra Streisand is exactly what I want in my collection (YENTL!), and I was able to get them for only slightly more than the price of a single digital download. However, if your tastes don’t run quite as adult contemporary, then get ready for seeing the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack more times than you can possible count.
- You’ll get dirty: Literally, I mean. If you’re doing this correctly then you’ll be down on your knees flipping through milk crates and boxes full of records that have been sitting there for years. One shouldn’t wear white when record-shopping, that’s for sure. Probably best to carry around a bottle of Purell, too.
- Research: Why purchase all of those albums by Donna Summer that only have one or two good songs on them when On the Radio: Greatest Hits Volumes 1 & 2 is sitting right there for cheap? Note what records a place has, go home and investigate whether they’re worth taking up space on your shelf. Spotify is right there and it’s incredibly useful for making you realize that album by Bread is just not worth $3.
- Have fun: Records are not just the superior format for sound, but they’re also the prettiest. Those glorious large covers were made for staring at with wide eyes and displaying for all to see. It’s much more fun record shopping than browsing iTunes, and the music is better too. You’ll have an ace collection in no time!