Maybe you’re sick of the sterile ones ‘n zeroes feel of downloads. Maybe you think vinyl is just—cool. Whatever your reason, record collecting is a great way to enjoy and discover music and—despite how things appear at first glance—an affordable hobby to get into.
The Current Vinyl Record Scene
Vinyl records are enjoying a huge renaissance. In the UK, The Guardian reports sales of records are up 69% in a year, while players have enjoyed a full 240% increase. In the U.S., 9.2 million vinyl records were sold last year, the highest since SoundScan began keeping track of vinyl in 1991. Almost any album that gets anything near a wide release these days is available on vinyl.
For vinyl fans, experienced or new to the format, the popularity is a mixed blessing. The benefits include a wider selection of new records to buy, including both contemporary music and rereleases of classic albums from legendary artists of the last century like Bob Dylan, The Beatles, and Led Zeppelin. The downside is one often seen in collectables markets—sharp and fast increases in price on used vinyl, and speculators looking to exploit the rising demand.
First, you’ll need something to listen to your records on. When you’re just getting started, there’s not much reason to drop hundreds or thousands of dollars on anything fancy—although that doesn’t mean you don’t have choices.
My Sony PS-LX250H turntable, $45 in a local thrift store, with Sony home theater amp that cost $40 with subwoofer and 8 speakers.
If you want something all-in-one and easy to purchase that you can take out of the box and just start listening to records, a player like the Jensen JTA-230 might be for you. I don’t have experience with it specifically, but it’s the top seller on Amazon and in the range of $55 it’s probably not a bad deal. This model has speakers built in, but also RCA line-out if you want to connect it to a receiver or whatever audio setup you have.
I like having a real, standalone, automatic turntable. I find this is the best way to listen to my albums. There are plenty of options that fit the bill, and I offer the Audio Technica AT-LP60 as an example of one I think is reasonably priced at around $100. An automatic turntable like this allows you to put a record on, push a button, and the needle will drop itself and do the rest, and reset itself when a side is done playing. To use a turntable like this you’ll need to connect it to a receiver/amplifier with speakers, although if you have a TV you can run your sound through its speakers by connecting it the same way you would a DVD player or other device.
You can also go the route of buying a used turntable. Your area’s Craigslist is always worth having a look at, but you might also get lucky trying a thrift store. Some record stores offer used or refurbished hardware at reasonable prices. Whatever option you select, it’s always worth looking into as many of these possibilities as you can so that you know the market and what’s a reasonable price to pay. Also, always (always!) test a used record player before you buy it—you can save yourself a some real headaches by doing so.
Remember: occasionally replacing the needle is necessary on any turntable. A needle should last you for about 500 hours of music. When a record in perfectly good condition seems to be giving you distortion or otherwise wrong sound, it’s time for a new needle. My personal view is: if you’re wondering if it’s time for a new needle, it’s time for a new needle.
Where to Buy Records…
The short answer to this question is—anywhere that sells records. What that means in practice is knowing your area and where best will fit your specific goals. Since we’re thinking with our wallet here, we’ll start with perhaps the cheapest option.
This includes places like the Salvation Army, Goodwill, Savers/Value Village, and a host of local places in most areas. Not all stores like these have a record selection, and the selection and quantity can be night and day from one store to another. But if you’re willing to shop around and put a little work in on a regular basis, you will occasionally find things that are amazing. Unfortunately, most of what thrift stores have tend to be records few people want, often with scratches. But at a market price of $1-$3 each, it’s very worth digging through these to find records you have even a vague interest in. Part of the fun in collecting vinyl is discovering new music, and this is a great price to do it at. After a few weeks of thrifting, you’ll see your shelves begin to fill with records and you’ll also learn (again, without risking a huge investment) the finer points of a record’s condition, such as the difference between light wear with little effect on playback and the kind of scratching that make something not worth buying, even for just a dollar. Experience is the only reliable teacher for this.
Record stores, like most small businesses, come in all different varieties. There’s no real generalizing about them other than to say that they vary, and it’s worth exploring all the ones you can find in your area. Some record stores are full of reasonably priced discs and may even have deals better than you’ll find online, and many have discount sections with prices comparable to those in the thrift stores. Others sell their products for seemingly double what the market value appears to be. There’s also the questions of selection, atmosphere, friendliness, etc. A good starting point in learning your area is Yelp, but I recommend seeing each store for yourself rather than just going by the reviews there. I have found that someone else’s impression of a place isn’t always the same as my own. Different people want different things from businesses like these, but when you find your favorite record store, you’ll know it.
TIP: If you have a smartphone, The Vinyl District makes a great app for finding stores in your area, though always double check on Yelp or Google to make sure the store hasn’t closed, as the information is sometimes slow to update.
Shopping for Records Online
Here, all the same rules about comparing prices apply, with the added consideration of shipping costs. For brand new vinyl, Amazon tends to underprice its competitors and offer attractive shipping deals, and also often offers Autorip, a service where buying the physical record automatically grants you access to the same album as a download. For used records, eBay and Discogs are usually your best bets. Buying used online can be tricky because grading quality for scratches and the like is so subjective, so it’s a must to verify what you’re getting before you buy it. Buying from sellers with strong feedback ratings is highly recommended.
The best reason to start a record collection is for your own enjoyment. Records may be very popular and command high prices today, but as with all collectable markets that become suddenly hot, there will come a day where demand fades and prices fall. This was true for comic books, baseball cards, and Beanie Babies, and vinyl records won’t be an exception. The only way secure the value of your collection against disappointment is to make that value a personal one—buy albums you want to own, for prices you believe they’re worth. In the long term, this is the only kind of value that can be counted on to last.
Marvel Comics envelope, April 1993
As a kid, I dreamed of becoming a brilliantly talented comic book artist and writer. I spent much of my free time—as well as plenty of spoken-for time that was owed to schoolwork—drawing characters and developing stories around them. When I wasn’t creating comics I was reading them, and Spider-Man (across all his comic iterations at the time) was my favorite. I saw him as the figurehead of my favorite universe, that of Marvel Comics. I worshipped Stan Lee, the many superheroes who populated their stories, and all associated mythologies.
1—April 12, 1993 letter from Terry Stewart, pres. Marvel Comics.
This was a time when comic book characters were still a very niche-interest. Though that niche was enormous, relatively speaking, and full of die-hard devotees, the comics world was largely overlooked by the general public. Unlike today, comic book movies were a rare treat at megaplexes and usually reserved for characters who had long made the jump to other areas of pop culture, usually Superman or Batman. The idea that a film based on The Avengers could earn two billion dollars was far less realistic than the notion that a radioactive spider bite might give a high school kid great powers. Nevertheless, we who were enamored with comics were hopelessly enamored. They dominated our lives and portrayed a world we’d do anything to touch. So I tried.
In 1993, as a ten year old, I began writing letters to then-Marvel Comics president Terry Stewart. I would share my ideas for what the company was doing, my own aspirations about working in comics someday, and my questions generally. My agenda at the time was limited to the hope that Marvel might translate my ideas into products I could buy. I loved my comics and the associated paraphernalia, and often longed for things I wished existed.
As a writer, and generally as an adult, I am now well versed in the difficulty involved with getting anyone to read or consider one’s ideas. Creative work is often dogged by the sense that the artist is toiling with all their heart in hopeless obscurity, and that any attempt at reaching an audience, often even one limited to friends and family, can be a very uphill climb.
February 12, 1994 letter
This being so, I am still astonished by the kindness I was shown by Marvel in their personalized responses (included here) to my ridiculous and childlike inquiries. The responses were from Stewart—though it would hardly be a surprise if he didn’t personally author them—and showed very generous and careful consideration to whatever wacky tangent my mom had helped me to articulate on our family typewriter.
On a trip to New York City that same year, I insisted my mom take me to the address I had been sending the letters. She complied. I had expected a giant skyscraper belonging to the publisher; something akin to the residence of The Fantastic Four, and was surprised to find a modest lobby that didn’t seem dissimilar from the office in Boston where my father worked. Smaller, actually—the major difference being a spinning rack of comics standing in one corner. I think the receptionist at the desk didn’t know quite what to make of us. She was very kind, but informed us that remodeling in the offices currently precluded any opportunity for a tour. Nevertheless, an employee whose name I’ve long forgotten emerged from the back and spoke to me for a while about comics. I was spellbound. When the conversation was over, he directed me to the rack of comics, and told me to take whatever I liked. I left with a stack the equivalent dimensions of a phone book—a device used to locate telephone numbers in 1993.
March 24, 1994 letter
My letters and visit to Marvel Comics made the creative world a tangible thing for me, and bolstered my desire to one day do creative work. Though I’ve long left comics in my past (I can’t draw) I’ve never let go of my desire to tell stories, and often fantastic ones, like those I spent hours pouring over in Marvel’s comics as a child. More than 20 years later, I am forever grateful to Marvel, Terry Stewart, that anonymous employee, and all artists who do amazing work while still valuing their fans.
I’ve chosen to share the following ideas for films. These creations are available with an Open-Source-Public-Media-Commons-Credit-Liberty license basis. They should add some new value and revitalizationism to the industry.
It’s time for new thinking!
1) Batman. This is a film based on the popular film series. Bruce Wayne is an eccentric, freaky rich guy who can’t get over his parents’ murder and must dress up in a costume and fight criminals, often using interesting technology. He can have a futuristic car and there should be a good amount of impressive explosions. To add new life to the project, a respectable but young/handsome actor should play him.
2) Yahtzee. In a slam bang race against time, a band of friends must roll the dice (literally) and attain the right numbers to stop a global catastrophe brought on by a madman. One guy is trusted to write down the score, but he is later revealed as a mole. Eventually they win, but first two of them (who initially hated one another) fall in love and bang. Killer soundtrack.
3) How I Met Your Mother. This is a movie based on the TV show of the same name. It takes place after the show wraps up its story this year. It’s pretty much whatever people love about that show, but with high stakes where the guy who met the mother almost loses the mother but gets the mother back at the end. There should be a big song/dance number highlighting the awesome talents of Neil Patrick Harris.
4) Batman. This is the same as the first idea, but with new villains and actors, and a new creative team at the helm.
5) The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. This movie is adapted from an old book, which over the years I’m told many people have read—it should be advertised so. There should be actors in it known for giving great, serious performances. The beginning of the Wikipedia article, I think, said the main characters were Huck and Jim. They should be played by Jaden Smith and Daniel Day Lewis. It should be a big awards movie.
6) Batman vs. Batman. This is similar to ideas 1 and 4, but with the added twist that Batman must fight himself, both figuratively and literally. To explain that, it could be a clone or a doppelgänger or something—figure it out, writers! It can be a sequel to one or both of the earlier ideas.
So get to work, Hollywood! We here at Brianmacaulay.com will look very forward to seeing these movies turn up in our local theaters!
Image courtesy of 1989 Warner Bros’ press kit for Batman.
In my home of Los Angeles, Oscar mania has been raging for over a week. It’s been practically raining stars! But literally raining rain, for several days. Both phenomenons were making driving more difficult in Hollywood, and it all led up to last night’s broadcast of the 86th Academy Awards! Who would win? Who would go home without a trophy? What would they wear? The show started at 7pm EST, and here’s a recap of the night’s highlights.
Wow, that broad needs a shave!
4pm PST—I went to Vons to pick up some supplies for dinner. I bought chicken, and parmesan cheese but only because it was on sale. When I was backing out to leave, an old man in a Grand Marquis abruptly backed out of his space and lingered for a while in front of my car, as though he had forgotten what he was doing. I became agitated, and said “Move it, you fucking corpse!” I said this only to myself, and not out the window or anything. I felt no guilt. WINNER for most clever attack on a possible WWII veteran: Me
5pm PST—I did some writing, but felt unsatisfied. I began to suspect I might technically qualify as a non-genius. I tabled the issue, and ran the dishwasher.
6pm PST—I realized the garbage gets picked up tomorrow, so I dragged the barrel out of the garage and into the alley. Then I remembered that there was a disgusting rubbermaid container on the patio full of tree waste that has been filling with rain for several days, and now emitted what I would call a “swamp smell.” After a half-hearted attempt to drain it, I dropped the entire container into the trash barrel, and hoped that the city would be willing to take it away in this form.
7pm PST—I decided I should like to eat Frozen Yogurt after dinner, so I made a trip down to Yogurtland. There was an unruly man with several children ahead of me, and they sure moved slowly. He kept scolding his kids for various reasons, but he didn’t really raise his voice, proving he had more restraint than the men of my family. He seemed perpetually out of breath. I chose to mix Peanut Butter and Cookies ‘n Cream, and got cookie dough bites as a topping.
8pm PST—Realizing the Oscars were going on, I checked the updated winners list online. Jared Leto had won for his performance in “Dallas Buyers Club.” I hadn’t really enjoyed that movie, though it was okay. I decided to concern myself with something more engaging, so I started boiling water to cook rice.
830 PST—I ate Spanish rice, into which I mixed some spinach, and two chicken breasts. I felt full, and couldn’t finish all of the rice on my plate. I felt the anticipation building for the big moment that would come later in the night, and hoped my body would sufficiently digest my dinner to such an extent that I would be hungry for froyo.
9pm PST—I looked at Amazon Prime movies, and they were mostly bad. I settled for “Hannibal”, a film that went completely overlooked by the Academy in 2001. Quickly it became apparent that the film was much more enjoyable when I saw it as an 18 year old. I pondered whether Ridley Scott had an earnest belief that awful post-production slow motion is good technique, or if it was simply more acceptable to employ this device in 2001.
10pm PST—I felt hungry enough to eat the frozen yogurt, so I did. But first I let it thaw for a few minutes. Hannibal Lecter fed Ray Liotta some of his own brain, but my appetite had no reaction. I thought about how if someone asked me outright, I might think to lie and say I was grossed out by it, disgusted even, while I was trying to enjoy eating something. But no, not so. I like eating under almost any circumstances. I was a little put off when, in a subsequent scene, Lecter took out a tupperware container on an airplane, revealing some of Liotta’s brain inside—but only because leftover, cold meat is always on some level a disappointment.
11pm PST—I read the Oscar results online, and had no reaction. I didn’t care who won and who didn’t, but I didn’t want to risk being out of the loop in subsequent days. Several sites offered a write-up recapping the performance of host Ellen DeGeneres, the comedy bits, the musical numbers, etc—but I read none of these.
1115 PST—I thought this might be a good idea for a blog post, so I started writing it.
1130 PST—Reaching the end of this entry, I was unhappy with the result and didn’t really see it as having any value.
1131 PST—I began to reconsider the direction my life is taking.