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Why vinyl still rocks
Sure, records aren't your only source for music anymore, but there remains something special about the vinyl experience.
You don’t have to buy records these days. And by records, we mean those spinning vinyl disks with songs embedded in them that for decades were the only way to experience your choice of music before 8-track tapes begat cassette tapes that begat CDs that begat the digital age we currently find ourselves living in.
And let’s be honest about where we are today in our listening journey: It’s frankly hard to beat the ease of downloading albums or individual songs from streaming services and instantaneously playing them on our phones, our computers, our home audio systems, or those tiny but powerful little speakers that we can so easily tote to the park, the beach, the backyard barbecue, anywhere we might want to blast tunes.
Record collectors certainly can’t deny the convenience of digital music, and those who aren’t absolute purists do, in fact, take advantage of streaming. But, we have to ask: Is something lost when there isn’t a physical manifestation of music?
Record collectors Alex Kaplan, James Humphrey, and Simon Workman all swear there’s nothing quite like vinyl. And after hearing them talk about the thrill of discovering a rare recording in the bins at a record shop, or what it is like to listen to music as it is played on a record player (those pops and crackles reminding you that you need to dust those disks!) you just might be inspired to start a record collection of your own.
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Size of record collection: about 400 records
How did you get into record collecting?
I started in 2016 when I was in grad school. I was living in Orlando and that was the first time I ever set foot in a record store. I didn’t even own a record player at the time. I am a very big fan of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and one of my friends actually sent me a 45, a 7-inch vinyl record from the I’m With You Sessions. There are nine 45s, and they each have a design on them. So, when you put them together, they form a piece of art. I sought to find the other ones to collect them just to maybe hang on my wall or something. I saw that there was a record store 15 minutes away, and I was like, “Let me just go look for this,” not really with the intention of starting a record collection. I felt like a little kid in a candy shop. I actually started buying records before I even owned a turntable. Several months later, I ended up buying a turntable, and the rest is history.
What kind of records do you collect?
I have a lot of different genres but primarily alternative rock, classic rock. Early 2000s and nineties music are my favorites because I grew up in the nineties and early 2000s. That music is nostalgic for me. But I have albums from the sixties to albums that were released last month.
Tell me about a recent find.
On Record Store Day two years ago at my local shop I stumbled upon a copy of Tracy Chapman’s [self-titled] album, and that was something I had been looking for for a really long time.
What is the experience of listening to vinyl like for you?
With a record, you’re choosing which album you’re going to listen to, opening it up, putting it on your turntable, flipping the record from side A to side B. You’re actually sitting there listening to the songs on the album in the order the artist intended versus if I’m streaming, maybe I’ll just listen to a random playlist on shuffle. It’s not as intentional and meaningful.
What about the sound quality? Is vinyl better?
With streaming, the music is more compressed. When you have it on vinyl, you can really hear the details of the instrumentation, depending on the level of your audio system. That increases with the quality of the audio system you have. But I just like vinyl for the experience. Every [used] record has a past. If you’re in a record store, and you’re crate digging, you don’t know who owned the record prior to you, what their story was, what brought it there. I like that element of it, and then I like the fact that it’s generational. My parents passed their records on to me, and I hope to pass mine on to my children one day.
Do you have a lot of friends who collect records?
I have a few friends that do but not to the extent that I do. They’re more casually into it. But through Instagram and online, I’ve actually made a lot of friends that collect even more than I do. I’ve had the chance to meet up with a few of them in person. Last year, we actually went to Boston to see the Chili Peppers at Fenway Park, and we ended up going with about four or five people that I had met through Instagram that were also vinyl collectors. So, that was really cool.
Size of record collection: “a few thousand”
Why do you describe yourself as the George Costanza of record collecting in your Instagram bio?
First off, I love Seinfeld, and George is just who he is. He is just sort of borderline whatever, and I feel like some of the lengths that I’ve gone to to acquire records has been sort of… there’s no pride, I guess. Recently, I pretended I was playing basketball so I could bump into somebody that I knew had a large record collection. [laughs]
What kind of records to do you collect?
I love all music. But, for me, record collecting in general can get out of hand real quick. You can have a collection that could collapse a house. I don’t want my collection to be my house. That’s why I go more for jazz. It narrows everything down, it’s a lot harder to find, and it keeps my collection from getting out of control.
What is special about the experience of purchasing records?
Records can represent milestones. You remember where you bought it, or why you bought it. It’s an adventure. It connects you with people. The record collecting thing, it’s more than just records on a shelf. It’s like, ‘How did they get there?’
Do you shop for records online as well as in person at record stores and thrift shops and other places?
I use eBay—eBay’s always been a great place to look. The George Costanza in me says, “James, don’t tell everybody everything. There might be avenues they don’t know!” [laughs] But you can buy and sell records on almost any platform, even on Instagram. And, obviously, I shop locally. A couple of days ago, I found a couple of decent records at the thrift store in town. It’s hard to find jazz locally, but if you’re in it to find stuff and experience music, you’re going to have some wasted trips [where you don’t find any records].
What’s it like when you do find a record you’ve been searching for in a store?
It’s sort of like dopamine. It’s like, “Oh my God, this is amazing!” I would say for every thousand records you dig through, maybe 20 of them are good, and then maybe two of three of them would be a good jazz record.
Tell me about a recent find.
This John Jenkins record. It’s got Clifford Jordan and Bobby Timmons [playing on it], and I paid $30 for this record. It can go for upwards of $1,000. I knew it was pretty special. I was back home in North Carolina, and I was with my buddy. He was dropping me off at the airport, and we stopped at this thrift store where he sells stuff. So, I go in there, and we’re getting ready to walk out, and I see a little stack of records behind the counter. I was like, “Hey, are those for sale?” They’re like, “Oh yeah.” And I’m flipping through, and that one’s in there. The fact that it is worth a lot doesn’t matter to me. I had a few friends that said, you should sell that. But that’s not what it is for me. It’s a connection kind of thing. That record, it’s rare.
Size of record collection: about 2,000 records
What kind of records do you collect?
I like a lot of psychedelic stuff, progressive rock, anything in the rock vein I’m usually interested in. I’ve always liked soul, R&B and funk, too. I buy a lot of that still. I’d like to think I have pretty wide-ranging taste.
Do you limit your record purchases because of storage considerations, or do you buy whatever you want?
I’m kind of out of storage right now. [laughs] I try to thin out when I can. I went and actually just sold a box of stuff maybe a month or two ago. But yeah, it is hard. I’m lucky enough that we live in a decent-sized house, and I have my own music room. But it’s not super big. So, I try to limit myself as much as I can. But it is hard to resist sometimes when you come across a good deal or a record that you’ve been trying to find forever. I’m also a big fan of box sets. I have a lot of those, and those take up even more space.
Tell me about a recent find.
I’m a big fan of the band Guided by Voices. A lot of their early stuff is really hard to find. Before they got discovered, they put out a few albums that all go for pretty good money. I found one of those. It is a funny story. I was at our local record shop here in Dayton, and there was a guy standing in front of me trying to sell some stuff. He had a big stack of stuff on the counter, and they were going through it, and I saw this Guided by Voices record in there, and I was like, “Ooh, that’s one I’ve been looking for.” They told him, “We’ll give you this much for it,” and he was like, “I think I’ll hold onto that one. I was wanting to get a little bit more for that one.” I leaned over and I’m like, “How much did you want for that one?” He gave me a number that was extremely reasonable and only a few bucks more than what they had offered him. So I was like, “OK, I’ll buy that from you right now!”
What do you love about vinyl?
The sound quality is part of it, but it’s not as big a part of it for me. For me, it’s two main things: One is, since a lot of the music that I listen to is older, I like to try to have an original copy of something when I can. When it originally came out, that’s the record that someone bought in 1967 or whatever. So that’s part of it, just to have that little piece of history. The other part of it is the intentionality of it. You can’t just put a record on in the background with the push of a button. You have to find the record, pull it out, put it on the turntable, put the needle down. Whenever I put a record on, I’m putting it on to listen to it, not just to have it on in the background.
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