Not long ago, vinyl collecting was a niche hobby enjoyed by analog-loving geeks (ourselves included), but things have changed. Vinyl has been enjoying a renaissance that, frankly, is surprising to see happening in the age of digital formats and streaming services. Between high-profile artists and indie groups re-embracing the format, and hugely popular events like Record Store Day giving mainstream audiences an excuse to enter the warm world of wax, vinyl’s popularity has risen enough that new record-pressing plants have cropped up to meet demand. That’s a big pivot from vinyl’s status just a few years ago.
With that increase in popularity comes a new generation of budding vinyl collectors, but as with any hobby, there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. Don’t worry, building and properly maintaining a collection isn’t complicated, and it doesn’t have to be expensive, either. In fact, it can be downright cheap, but there are some things to keep in mind if you’re considering the analog audio lifestyle.
Here is our top-to-bottom (er, front-to-back?) guide covering everything from how to buy and hook up a quality turntable, to proper vinyl cleaning and storage, right down to a few choice records we think should kick-start your new collection.
Let’s do this!
Go buy some records
Simple enough, right? This can be the best part of building a record collection. Every record store has its own vibe — it’s like stepping into another world — and the folks behind the counter can be treasure troves of valuable information and insight, as well as straight-up entertaining trivia. If they seem to dig your selections, try asking them what else they think you might like. You might just find a new favorite band or record. Music discovery is awesome.
There is an art to selecting good records, and we don’t mean by title, but by the quality and condition of the vinyl itself. Don’t take the label up in the corner at face value — you don’t know how good that bearded Bohemian’s read on record quality is — look for yourself by taking the record out and visually inspecting it.
Look past the dust for deep scratches or particularly long ones you can feel with your finger as you run it across the grooves. If you’re just not sure, ask to borrow a turntable and headphones to see if the copy is going to be clean enough for you. If not, try another copy, or look for that title elsewhere. If the record just looks dirty, you can ask the store to clean it for you. If they have a cleaning machine, they’ll often do it free of charge.
Speaking of looking for different copies of your favorite records, be on the lookout for bootleg versions of records. They’re usually the really cheap ones, and they can be awesome or they can be terrible. You can sometimes tell by their lighter-than-normal weight, but you can also always ask at the counter. Typically, this simple rule will help you sniff out bootleg vinyl: If it seems too good to be true when it comes to a golden find, it’s probably not an original pressing.
If it’s a quality bootleg (we own plenty), it can be a real steal, but you should always try to give it a listen for yourself if there is a listening station available.
These days, you don’t have to go anywhere to find your favorite band’s vinyl. Though we still recommend checking out vinyl in person before purchasing, there are solid online resources for finding vinyl that is usually in excellent shape. For new vinyl, we recommend Amazon — the online giant has a surprisingly good selection at great prices, often with free shipping. For used records, check out Discogs. It’s an online record-selling, -cataloging, and -trading platform that can help you find some of the rarest gems on your list.
Oh, and if you need a little help discovering record stores in you area that will be celebrating Record Store Day, we also recommend Vinyl Hub — “it’s like Discogs for record stores” the website exclaims, and it offers a great way to find a local shop. Finally, before you take off, be sure to check out these 10 awesome albums from last year’s Record Store Day.