On the Subject of Collecting Vinyl Records

Collecting vinyl has become synonymous with the hipster identity in recent years, often conjuring the image of snotty, upturned noses talking about how “it sounds better on vinyl.” I’m not here to debate the sound quality of hi-fi versus lo-fi, or digital versus analog. Instead, I want to dive into my personal journey toward collecting vinyl and what I find to be the most interesting aspects of the hobby.

1. Hipster Meme
¿por qué no los dos?

While vinyl fell out of popularity as the go-to format of recorded music after the advent of CD’s in the 1990’s, many younger bands and smaller labels continued to create limited pressings in the early 2000’s for their fans. Record Store Day, a day intended to help the independent record store stay alive, was started in 2007 and became an annual event since 2008. Record Store Day helped to increase the popularity and accessibility of vinyl while adding an incentive for collectors to go to their local record stores in order to buy exclusive versions of new and repressed records. 2012 was the seminal year of resurgence for vinyl, and each year since has seen more and more vinyl releases from not only independent artists, but those in popular music as well.

My interest in vinyl began with seeing the original pressing of Act III: Life and Death by The Dear Hunter back in 2009. It was a 2 LP release on white vinyl and, despite not owning a record player, I asked for it for Christmas so that I could at the least have it in my possession (I did not receive the record). It wasn’t until four years later that I convinced my dad to go in on an Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB turntable in order to use its ability to record and convert vinyl records into mp3 files so I could digitize my parent’s record collection. Fittingly, the first record I ever bought was a pre-order of The Dear Hunter’s 2013 record, Migrant.

2. Migrant
My vinyl copy of Migrant; released in 2013.

As I referred to in my editorial, On the Subject of Reading with Music, listening to vinyl is a more active experience than putting on a streaming service or playing music through your phone in the background. The act of listening to vinyl makes it more difficult to pick out certain songs you want to listen to, which is easier with mp3s, but it is conducive toward listening to an album in its entirety. I think that albums themselves are pieces of art, and should be experienced as such. Just look at the aesthetic of the product; it is a tangible piece of art that you an hold in your hands. The action of taking the record out of its sleeve, putting it on your turntable, and dropping the needle makes you part of the act. Being able to sit back and listen while looking at the jacket artwork or lie down with your eyes closed as your favorite artist plays is a singular experience. Before I began collecting vinyl, I would usually try to get the deluxe editions of the CDs my favorite bands would put out because of the different artwork and visuals that often accompanied them. One of the first of these that came the closest to the feeling I have now with vinyl was the deluxe edition of Coheed & Cambria’s No World For Tomorrow. It came in a package with artwork on the inside and an additional DVD of behind-the-scenes footage. Though it was great to get the DVD, the artwork was what really stuck with me, and I now am lucky enough to own a copy on vinyl which I can display with pride.

3. NWFT
Comparison of the vinyl and deluxe CD packaging of No World For Tomorrow.

Even before vinyl’s decline and then phoenix-like rise, vinyl records have been part of a collectible market. This began with b-sides and original pressings of famous records, and continued on into limited releases of color variants and expanded track lists. More recently, many artists have opted to repress not only their earlier, limited vinyl releases, but also parts of their back catalogs that were never pressed to vinyl when they were  originally released. This allows a younger generation coming into the fold of vinyl collecting to have not only a piece of music to own, but also a limited collectible. Many of these boxed sets come in special packaging that is aesthetically pleasing and works with the tone or theme of the music contained within.

4. Boxed Sets
Boxed Sets: Eras Part I  by Devin Townsend, The Alchemy Index by Thrice, and The Complete Color Spectrum by The Dear Hunter.

As seen above, color variants abound in the world of vinyl. Though many audiophiles rant and rage about the lesser sound quality of colored vinyl, bands and record companies continue to put out limited color pressings of albums that embellish upon the attractiveness of owning an album on vinyl. During my early years of collecting, it was very easy to fall into the rabbit hole of trying to snatch up multiple variants of the same album, especially when they were from bands I wanted to support and could justify purchasing multiple copies of the same album this way. Though I have come to the realization that I don’t have to have every variant of an album, and was able to give some copies away to friends and family who I know will cherish them, I will always maintain my collection of Mastodon variants.

5. Mastodon
…I really like Mastodon, okay?

Mastodon are really good about creating multiple pressings and variants of their albums, unlike some of the stingier bands, and I was actually able to buy my signed copy of Leviathan directly from one of their guitarists, Bill Kelliher. The band’s openness and willingness to press vinyl helps keep these records in the hands of fans rather than putting money into the pockets of record flippers. There are very few people that I instinctively dislike without knowing anything about them; record flippers fit this category. I am talking about the people who snatch up multiple copies of a limited pressing with the sole intent to put them online and sell them for ridiculous amounts of money to actual fans of the band. I’ll get off my soap box in a moment, but just let me say that I think doing so is absolutely despicable.

Now, when most people think of vinyl records, price is the first thing to come to mind. Back when my parents were buying vinyl, most new records had single-digit price tags.

6. Toto.jpg
Originally $8.98, on sale for $7.67. What a deal!

These days, the price of a new record typically begins around $20. We’re talking no foldout, record in a cheap paper sleeve, lyric insert and a download card of the full album for new releases. As such, it can be daunting to begin collecting when the price points for a new record start so high, not to mention deluxe editions and repressings from big name bands that often go to the $40, $50, and $100+ ranges. A nice perk of living in a time where monthly subscriptions are all the rage is that there is a plethora of services that cater to the budding vinyl enthusiast. There are plenty of online reviews of these services that I encourage you to look at, but the one I have personally used is Feedbands. Feedbands is interesting in that it allows people to post music by relatively unknown artists who are then voted on and the artist with the most votes gets their record pressed at the end of the month. You can choose to opt out of that month’s record if it isn’t to your taste, or pick from the remaining copies in their backlog. This element of choice, the fact that the profits go straight to the artists, combine with the beautiful product to make a great way to expand your record collection for $19 a month plus shipping. And remember that the majority of expensive vinyl comes from new pressings; there is an entire world of used records to be found in your local record store.

I feel like collecting vinyl is sort of like art collecting for the layman with the added side of not only listening to the bands you love, but supporting them as well. I understand that any subset of people will get a bad rep, but I think many are coming around to the idea that not all of us are stuck up audiophiles who scoff at the idea of digital music (especially since most subscribe to streaming services as well). Like any hobby, I don’t think that collecting vinyl is for everyone, and even those who do so differ from one collector to the next. I suppose I felt that since this is something that has become part of my own identity, it would be welcomed on the blog since I have expanded into writing more about music over the past year.

So what do you think? Do you collect vinyl? If you do, how long have you been doing so and what is your most valued record? If not, do you know people who do and what do you think of them in general?

The image used in this post can be found through the hyperlink below.
Hipster meme

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28 thoughts on “On the Subject of Collecting Vinyl Records

  1. Your passion for this catching. I love vinyl. Older blues and jazz are more for me in this format. Something about it just brings out the love. It’s like I can feel the clubs without having to breathe the smoke, you know? Warm, inviting, atmospheric… And as much as I love CDs, for the high quality / full album experience, there’s a give and take between the two media that really helps me to appreciate different genres in different ways. Excellent post.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I’ve been wanting to pick up a record player for awhile, but I keep picking it up because of course it it an entirely unnecessary purchase (I used to want one for access to my parents’ record collection, but my mom finally tossed them). Record players are pretty reasonable; it is the records themselves that would get me.

    This past year, we did Thanksgiving at a mountain cabin with a turntable and record collection. Sipping bourbon, listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Allman Brothers on vinyl is a special experience.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I realize I only touch it briefly, but it’s important to remember that there is a ridiculous amount of used vinyl that can be found for next to (or even) nothing at thrift stores, antique shops, and record stores.

      I think it’s fantastic that you were able to have that memory with such a tactile experience! That’s what listening to vinyl is all about; being a participant in a special moment of time.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I’m not a full on collector, but I grew up with vinyl. Cassette was my portable alternative, not CD. It made it easier to keep the vinyl in good condition. I also grew up in a music loving family. My dad had the best hi-fi equipment he could afford and taught us how to handle vinyl with respect as well as how to keep the sleeve mint.

    My prize possessions are an original New Order/ Blue Monday 12 inch, a powder blue 10 inch of Elbow/ Powder Blue, and early Casino label pressings of the first 10 inch singles by my favourite band of the 2000s, Doves.

    I agree completely with you about an album being a work of art. Bands put effort into tracklisting, and I feel that listening to an album in the order the band has chosen affords their work respect that shuffling and skipping doesn’t.

    I also agree with your description of the ritual. My favourite part of the ritual is the cleaning of the record and the first hiss of the needle hitting the groove. It’s like Japanese tea ceremony for music.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I only vaguely remember listening to vinyl records of my dad back in the day, SA was way way behind on the technology front of things. I remember queen and a few compilation albums. I love your passion. Mastodon has secretly grown on me since i have given them a second chance..,

    Liked by 3 people

  5. I’m pretty far from a music collector, but I did buy the special Hero of Time vinyl album released last year, which is newly recorded orchestral music from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. I definitely understand the artistic appeal of the whole package after getting that.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I do collect vinyl, but I listen to music in a variety of formats. Really, I love my record player and vinyls for older music: Fleetwood Mac, Nat King Cole, Simon & Garfunkel. I would buy some new bands on vinyl (The Lone Bellow comes to mind as one I would), but I tend to typically buy vinyls at yard sales and second-hand shops. It’s definitely a more involved experience than listening to music on my iPhone or computer.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Yes, I miss my old vinyl album covers, not only for the vibrancy of the art but for possibilities not feasible in other formats (e.g., Jethro Tull’s 1971 “Thick As A Brick,” which included a foldout faux newspaper). Also, my friends tell me that I am simply naive about science, but I find my old albums from the late 60s and 70s much more durable than any newer format including. Still sound great!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. One more memory you raised about how the old vinyl format shaped the aesthetic result. I remember back in the 1960s and 70s how good bands would not only design each song as a work of art, but each album and also each side of each album. Sometimes you got the feeling you were in one whole sonic universe on Side 1, and in a different sonic universe with its own laws of physics on Side 2. And those 45s with the A and B sides! I remember how in the heady musical changes of the 1960s, the side B of a Beatles single was often better than everyone else’s side A. E.g., when Hey Jude was released as the A side of 45 in 1968, the following song was the B side (and one of the finest songs of the year in its own right). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6MbqzDm1uCo

      Like

  8. I am new to your site and saw this post when searching for LP posts. I am not a collector but I have stumbled upon a large collection of LPs which I will sell. Your post gave me more of an appreciation for my collection so I thank you for that. I plan to read more of your posts later on because I enjoyed this one… so… talk to you later. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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