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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.