So, I collect vinyl. I’m talking wax, 12 inch records (rekkids if you’re from Boston), disco plates, 45’s, 33 1/3’s, 78’s, the licorice pizzas or just LP’s (Long Plays for the uninitiated). Call me a hipster. Call me a Luddite. Call me weird. Call me old. I’m actually cool with all those things (except maybe the Luddite thing. I mean, anyone that knows me knows that I am the last person who is afraid of new technologies). You may be asking yourself, “Why, oh, why, Barry, are you collecting vinyl?” I’ll be honest, I’ve been asked that a lot. And for a guy that lives in the digital world (My career is in Information Technology for those that don’t know), I admit it’s a more than fair question.
So, why do it? There are a lot of reasons for it. Let me begin with my generation. I am technically a Gen X’er. That’s right. I’m one of those weirdos. It’s a little more specific than that though. I actually fall into a category loosely defined as Xennials (its also been called the Oregon Trail Generation by Anna Garvey in her 2015 article “The Oregon Trail Generation: Life Before And After Mainstream Tech”, which, if I’m being totally honest, I love. I still have nightmares of my many deaths at the hands of dysentery in that text-based game). This “micro-generation” falls in the years of 1977-1983 and is defined by our relationship with both analog and digital technology. Anna goes on to describe us as having had an “AOL adolescence” and as being from “the last gasp of a time before sexting, Facebook shaming, and constant communication” (required link here: The Oregon Trail Generation: Life Before and After Mainstream Tech).
So, what’s all that mean? It means that I remember a time when our house had a black and white TV with a turn dial that you had to actually get up and turn to change the channel. I experienced rabbit ears on a TV. I felt the embarrassment of having someone else picking up the other line in the house while you were talking to that ONE girl you liked and then having them saying something embarrassing while you were trying to sound cool and smooth on the phone. I remember the first time I saw a computer and the excitement of how cool I felt to be programming in DOS (in case you need an explanation as to what DOS is). I remember cell phones being as big as a brick. I remember Zack Morris, Andy Griffith, Transformers, re-runs of Looney Toons, Lassie, G.I. Joe, the A-Team and M.A.S.H. Lots of people remember these things, sure, but our generation remembers them AND had the opportunity to embrace them all as if they were our inventions. We’ve loved it all.
We feel, because of the above information, uniquely positioned to be the evaluators of both new and old technologies. The gatekeepers of what’s old and useful and new and useless. Oddities among all generations, not just our own. So, how does that relate to vinyl, you know, the actual purpose of this post? Well, as I sit here and listen to my newly acquired old copy of U2’s Rattle and Hum, I’ll give you the six reasons why I love and collect vinyl:
- The sound really is better…to me. This one is subjective, but to those with an ear, not only for music but for sound in general, there’s something about the analog sound. Hearing the crackle and pops of an album that’s either scratched, scuffed, or just not cleaned well, makes the music sound somehow more real to me. The tones and bass are deeper, the highs clearer. There’s just SOMETHING about it to me. For some people though, it just sounds like music. At first, I fought against this. “How can you not hear the difference?!” I thought, “surely they must be deaf.” Then I remembered, “NOT EVERYONE IS AS INTO MUSIC AND SOUND AS YOU ARE, DUMMY!” (Yep, I yelled that at myself). For those that don’t know, I surround myself with music all the time because of tinnitus, but I won’t belabor that here. If you want to know more about me in that area, go here: Baby Driver and my insatiable need for noise….
- It’s tangible, physical. I know this sounds really basic, and I listen to digital all the time too (I mean, could it be any more portable), but there’s something about looking at a bunch of albums, choosing one, taking it from the shelf, taking it out of its carefully kept sleeve, placing it on the turntable (previously known as the record player), placing the tone arm “just so” and starting it to spin. It’s a process. It’s something I can touch. It’s intentional. There’s no “shuffle”. It’s all an actual choice. Not only is it a choice, but if you’re playing LP’s and not 45’s, you’re choosing to play a full side’s worth of music. Side A or Side B, it doesn’t matter, you’re gonna get several songs before flipping it over to the other side.
- The Art is Iconic. Album art is a thing. Seriously. Album art is exactly that. Kelly and I have shelving in our house that holds about 12 albums in our living room. It’s like a rotating art piece that we enjoy changing out on a regular basis. Whether it’s Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd (possibly the most iconic piece of album art ever), Traveler by Chris Stapleton, or Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs by Derek and the Dominos, album art is amazing. Sometimes it’s just a picture of the band. Sometimes it’s a commissioned piece the band or record label had made. Sometimes it’s just a personification of the album itself (here’s looking at you Beatles’ White Album). Sometimes it’s weird and you don’t have any idea what it means and maybe the band just thought it was cool looking (like much of the 80’s hair band album covers). That’s the point though, it’s intended to be seen, contemplated and considered, hence the name, art.
- I’m a collector and completionist. In some respects, I have always have been. Star Wars Figures, Baseball Cards, Movies (man, that’ll be a whole ‘nother blog post) or whatever. I have always loved the collection aspect of albums. Which leads me to my next reason:
- The Hunt. I rarely buy an album online. I do it occasionally. Especially if its a new release (Like Chris Stapleton – seriously, listen to his stuff) or if it’s something that I know has been re-released that I will NEVER be able to find in it’s original state (basically every album between 1991-2003) because they just weren’t pressed in the US. I love walking into a record shop, flipping through albums and comparing albums to my collection to see if I have them and if I’m looking for them. I love walking into antique stores and looking for a hidden box of albums among the various knick-knacks, keepsakes and trinkets (I just couldn’t come up with another ‘K’ word there). I love walking up to a yard sale and asking people if they have any albums and them saying “Not out here, but we do in the house, let me get them” and them actually bringing some out (I’ve had this happen more than once). There’s just something about finding that album you’ve been searching for and finding it after a long hunt, taking it home and listening to it for the first time.
- Community. To me, this is one of the most under-regarded aspects of collecting vinyl. There’s nothing like being in a shop with people that are all there for the sole purpose of attaining music. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve struck up conversations with people and them ask if I’m looking for something in particular, what I collect, and what my favorite album is (FYI, it’s either Hotel California by the Eagles, or Led Zeppelin IV). I also can’t tell you how many times I’ve ended up with albums brought to me by these same strangers who found something I was looking for while they were looking at other albums, or I’ve pointed out things that people were looking for because, well, that’s the community it is. It just tends to be a kind community. Surrounded by people with similar interests, especially music, seems to foster kindness between people. I’ve met some amazing people through this hobby (Here’s looking at you Zack Caudill at Estate33 Vinyl in Ashland, KY) who I wouldn’t have met any other way.
So, for me, this has become much more than a hobby. It has become a part of me. I love perusing dusty old albums with my wife, digging for that missing album or that rare gem. I will give you a few caveats though:
- It’s a lot of work. Albums have to be cleaned, especially if you’re buying used albums like I do. They also need to be bagged to keep dust out of them. They have to be cataloged if you get very many of them or when you’re out digging, you can easily buy something you already have sitting on the shelf at home. They have to be organized on your shelves (and EVERYONE does it differently) so you (or your spouse in my case) can find what you’re looking for to actually play it when you want to.
- It CAN be expensive. If you’re not the patient type, or someone who has a proclivity toward collecting with no regard for cost, this may not be the hobby for you. I generally pay between $1-$15 per album. I’ve paid more in a few instances, but it’s rare for me. Because I’m patient and like the hunt, I tend to wait until I find what I’m looking for at a price I want to pay. That’s not to say I haven’t paid more (My record – no pun intended – is $80 for a self-titled Garth Brooks album that had sat on my list for a very long time and was the first time I had seen it in person), but as a general rule, I like to wait.
- It can be addictive. My current collection at the time of writing this is right at 350 albums. I’ve gotten them from friends, flea markets, record shops, pawn shops, antique stores, and in garage sales. I know people that have MUCH larger collections than me and mine and theirs is still growing. So if you want to get into collecting, go forth, with caution.
Vinyl is a phenomenal hobby and for me, it’s served to continue to expand my love of music. Whether you’re a nostalgic collector, a new buyer, an audiophile or a young enthusiast looking for a turntable, tone arm, stylus, polybags or test pressings, I hope I see you on the flip side.