One of my favorite musical memories as a kid was listening to the soft static of the needle of my record player as it made contact with a record, right before the music began. It added a certain level of suspense and importance to me, when all fell silent, waiting for the first note. As time went by, “analog music” gave way to digital recordings for music fans, and new ways of listening came to pass-cassettes, CDs, and now streaming music.
For many, as the new recordings and presentations of music became available, we adapted and moved out the “old” to make way for the new. And even though I was one of the people who (regrettably, now) parted with all of the records of my childhood, I’ve never lost that connection to the sound of vinyl. I found myself missing it – not just for the memories, but it actually “felt” different to me.
My love for record collecting was sparked again a few years back, when my mom decided to sell her old Christmas albums at our yard sale, and I stopped her. I kept several of them for myself. From that point on, I set out to reclaim all of the music I’d parted with, years ago.
Some record lovers, like me, have been building their collection from their childhood memories. Others never got rid of their originals, building over the years. Some like album collecting, at least in part, for the album art and colored vinyl aesthetics. Others still, have just recently heard music on vinyl for the first time, fallen in love, and have been collecting ever since. And with many modern musicians incorporating vinyl back into their merchandise offerings, the trend towards records doesn’t seem to be slowing down, anytime soon.
I was lucky enough to hear about a “local” record club called Vinylocity a couple of years back, when they were hosting a record swap at the Marietta Brewing Company. While there are many members of the group in the Parkersburg/Marietta area, there are possibly just as many all over the globe. I met up with some of the members of Vinylocity to ask them for advice I could give to newbie collectors, people wanting to grow and preserve their collection, and people wanting more info on the Vinylocity group.
Vinylocity member Bob Stovenken told me he’s been collecting since The Beatles, and went through the “Monkees Stage.” His first real album was Simon & Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence, which he’d discovered through his cousin, who used to babysit him. His advice for collectors is to buy what you like, and not to intend to make money from selling. When it comes to his turntable/record playing setup, he’s bought most of his used (much of it from Vinylocity members), and says to him, the most important thing is to have a clean stylus/needle. For many turntables, you can purchase a separate cartridge/needle than what comes with the system. But most (unless they’re used) come with everything ready to go. To Bob, he’s more interested in hearing the music, than comparing the grams of vinyl. He says “Why buy a $24 vinyl, when I can buy a $12 CD. I don’t care if it’s 180 gram vinyl – I’m old – I can’t hear the difference.” One of the things I love about Vinylocity though, it’s the way it feels like family. There are many different approaches to record collecting in the group, and everyone’s approach is welcome.
Founder of Vinylocity, Jeremy Mayle, said the group began out of necessity. He’d been collecting records all of his life, and ended up on different Facebook groups, but he didn’t like the feel of them. “I decided to create my own group that the number one rule was no drama and be kind to everyone, because not everyone has the same knowledge level or deep pockets that some may have… I want somewhere to play, share, and enjoy records,” Mayle shared.
When it comes to meet-ups in person, Vinylocity has had a few. “Most of the time it’s just ‘hey, let’s hang and trade or talk records while consuming things that will make us sell more records,’ and we always have a great time. Usually it’s a member’s house, but the way I see it I’m open to anything. If someone puts the V name on something, I usually try really hard to be there and represent,” Jeremy said.
Mid-April, there’s a Saturday that many record collectors have come to know and love, called “Record Store Day.” Each Record Store Day, many artists and record labels release limited edition and brand new albums to music fans. Often times, people wait in lines for hours to get first dibs on the limited quantity of albums/pressings (some stores only get one or two copies of a popular album, or none at all). This year, Record Store Day is on April 16th. Our local record store, Sound Exchange, will be going all out to celebrate. Starting at 9 a.m., live music will be playing by four local bands/musicians (one of which is a performance by Vinylocity founder Jeremy Mayle), in the Sound Exchange parking lot. Hot dogs will be provided for attendees, and there will be a raffle and giveaways, for which every Record Store Day purchase made will get a ticket (but you must be present to win).
Not sure what to buy on Record Store Day, at your favorite local record store? Mr. Mayle suggests “sitting down and thinking about your favorite albums or ones you remember from your childhood and start there. Too many people just go any buy everything if its cheap. They never even listen to it except maybe once, they just buy it, and it’s stupid. Buy what you want to hear then later you can venture into new stuff you may or may not like. Usually record collections start with a handful of them that you somehow ended up with and they hold sentimental value and you build from there.”
Aaron Whited, who has been an admin and active member from the beginning of the group, mentions Record Store Day isn’t just the perfect event for collectors looking to score the Record Store Day exclusive vinyl, but a lot of friendships are formed, and knowledge is passed around while waiting in line together. If you do want to wait in line with your fellow vinyl lovers, the line usually starts to form around 8 a.m. Live music will begin at 9 a.m., and the doors open at 10 a.m. to shop.
Aaron also recommends “visiting your local record shop (to ask about all things record collecting and playing). The guy behind the counter has visitors every day from beginner to the most expert record digger. Most of these people would love to talk music, vinyl and recommendations. I would avoid buying online from places like eBay until one fully understands the record market and how to know they are getting a good deal. There are a lot of bad sellers online and nothing beats being able to hold a record in your hand, look it over, and decide if it’s worth your money or not. If you want to shop online I recommend a website called Discogs.com which shows median sales prices of almost every record ever made. You can check prices and also buy directly from Discog sellers. But again, I would start by talking to other collectors and visiting actual record stores to get the feel for condition, quality and what works best for you.”
Need a new turntable? Sound Exchange has a nice “entry-level” one available in-store, that you can pick up while you’re there-the Audio Technica (AT-LP-60) (and it’s usually around $150, give or take). If you’d like a rundown of what to look for in a quality player, the members of Vinylocity had knowledge for days:
Mr. Whited suggests, “If people want a little higher end turntable, the Audio Technica AT-LP-120 is a great launching pad and features some bells and whistles. The AT-LP-120 usually runs around $250. If you are feeling really confident that this is a hobby for you, I would instantly recommend my brand of turntable, the Debut Carbon by Pro-Ject. This table comes in multiple color options and features a carbon tonearm and comes with a Ortofon 2M Red cartridge, which is an excellent cartridge. The Pro-Ject doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles which is what makes it the one for me. It is simple, sleek, and doesn’t produce a lot of surface noise. The Debut Carbon usually runs $300 to $400 and can be found online.”
When it comes to looking for a record player/turntable for you: basically, it’s best to avoid anything with plastic parts. “‘You pay for what you get’ truly applies to the world of record collecting. I’m not going to condemn a specific company or brand, so in an effort to be completely vague, I will say this: If the machine is cheap, looks cheap and features a lot of plastic parts, do not be shocked if it will sound poor and possibly even damage your vinyl. The cheaper products use cheap parts, and while some of them look really cool, you will ultimately be disappointed in the sound. Another negative about the cheaper turntables is the lack of “anti-skate” protection. Anti-Skate protection is a feature on most turntables that allows you to adjust the settings, so if the record isn’t 100% flat, the stylus (or needle) won’t go skating and scratch up your record. The cheaper tables do not have that feature and thus begins the many vinyl returns to the store for records that won’t play correctly. So my biggest piece of advice is: Do research and pick a turntable that is not only affordable but also one that will protect your investment.” shared Aaron, when asked about some of the widely available department store players.
Jeremy offered additional advice for those wanting to get a full setup for their collection: “here in the middle of this list I’m going to mention the minimum things that are needed for any hope of quality playback of records. The table must have an adjustable tracking force, this is the round knob at the back of the tonearm. The headshell must have the ability to remove the current cartridge and install a better one if wanted. The cartridge is half the battle when playing records, everything else could be top notch but if you have a $15 cartridge on there it’s going to sound bad. Most companies like Audio Technica, Grado, Shure, and Ortofon offer quality cartridges that won’t kill you on price – AND offer upgradability of stylus.”
Are you a “serious collector”? “You want something that has a good cartridge, which usually means it tracks the groove well and has the minimal amount of added noise to the signal path. You want sturdy bases and cases, quality motors whether belt-drive or direct-drive for quietness which is important because your magnetic phono cartridge picks up everything. You also want good shock absorbing feet. Once you have these things and quality wiring throughout there’s not really much more you need to be at the bottom level of vinyl audiophile. You’re not going to find all the above on anything for under $300, that seems to be the starting point. Used you may but not new. $500-800 is usually the normal area for new really nice tables”
Suffice it so say, whatever your budget, whatever your reason, there’s a record, turntable, record store and group of people out there that’s a great fit for you-and they might even be in your own back yard.
Don’t quite live in the area? Other Vinylocity member’s favorite record stores include:
Jerry’s Records, Attic Records, and Sound Cat Records (in the Pittsburgh area),
Everybody Records and Shake-It Records in the Cincinnati area,
Now Hear This in Huntington,
Sullivans, and Budget Tapes and Records in Charleston,
Haffas and Athens Underground (both in Athens),
and “all of the shops on N. High Street in Columbus” (including Used Kids, Records per Minute, and Magnolia Thunderpussy).
Check ‘em all out, and support your local shops!