It seems easy enough. Vinyl LPs and 45s are everywhere, found at most yard sales and antique stores in America, and you can certainly start out that way, simply picking up records you like or to fill a hole in your music library.
But there are more systematic ways of building a record collection that can deliver more enjoyment, often at a lower cost. From new pressings to research on some exquisitely pricey albums, here’s a look at some of the resources at your disposal.
Reissues and New LPs
The word on the street is that this is some kind of Golden Age for vinyl. It’s true that a lot of music which was either never or rarely produced on vinyl is now available brand new, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Some of these new pressings come in elaborate packages with bonus material and extended liner notes. A couple months ago, I picked up the reissue of The Black Keys’ 2011 release El Camino, partly because the two-disc live recording that came with it was recorded a few miles from my house.
It’s a great album and the bonus material is exceptional, but it’s expensive. On the street, it’s generally between $45 and $55, which is a lot of dough even for a three-record set.
But there’s also less risk in buying new vinyl. Chances are good that it’s going to be in excellent condition with none of the issues you might expect buying an older record, such as scratches or damaged sleeves. You can buy them from online suppliers with less concern about whether you’re going to be satisfied when they arrive.
And a lot of reissues come in wilder colors than the original black vinyl records. I purchased a copy of Fountains of Wayne’s 2007 release Traffic and Weather in orange vinyl with black streaks that was limited to just 4,000 copies for Record Store Day.
No matter where you are in the United States, there’s probably someone in your town dealing in used vinyl. Where I’m located about 45 minutes outside of Boston, there are a half-dozen small shops that specialize in used records within a half-hour drive.
Beyond that, there are antique stores and vintage malls that may have a section dedicated to record sales. Often, the prices aren’t as enticing as they may be at a yard sale, but you’re paying for some degree of curation where the proprietor has culled out the scratched or otherwise damaged vinyl, saving the best of a haul of used records for retail sale.
I’ve found a number of great deals on used vinyl on Facebook Marketplace. If you’ve spent any time there, you probably know that Facebook Marketplace is a notoriously terrible interface for both buyers and sellers, but it’s pretty much taken over where Craigslist left off after that company decided to charge for listings.
The algorithm isn’t perfect, but if you’ve looked for used records on the site before, there’s a good chance your feed is going to be full of them until you start searching for rototillers or trolling motors.
One nice thing about Facebook Marketplace is that if you find a seller who has used vinyl, you can check out their other listings to find records you may be interested in. One local seller had a copy of a Beatles record I already owned. But looking through his other listings, I found a beautiful original copy of Paul and Linda McCartney’s Ram from 1971, which I purchased for $30.
Understanding the value of used records is critical, and discogs.com is an outstanding resource.
Take one record for example: Loaded, the 1970 album from The Velvet Underground. If your main concern is just a good-quality listening experience of the songs on the album, it’s been released over 150 times in every format imaginable and in countries around the world.
A 2016 U.S. limited-edition reissue from Rhino® Records runs in the $30 to $89 range, including a 7-inch flexi-disc single, promotional materials and more. Meanwhile, the original pressing from 1970 on Cotillion records averages $130 and can go up to $300 depending on the condition.
Discogs provides all this pricing information, along with “Make Offer” and “Sell a Copy” functions that make trading these records a lot easier.
A few months ago, I read Warren Zanes’ terrific book Deliver Me From Nowhere about the making of Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska. After reading it, I wanted a good copy of the record and found one at The Nevermind Shop in Upton, Massachusetts. In outstanding condition and listed for $10, I looked it up on Discogs and the median price was closer to $15, so it made laying out a sawbuck plus sales tax a lot more comfortable.