It always is the same.
You get a paycheck, and rationalize that you will only spend $20 this time.
You tell yourself it’ll be all right. You’ll only spend a half-hour looking for it. You’ll find a cheap one. It will be ok. Just this once. Just one more time. Just one more vinyl record.
You walk confidently into the record shop, thinking you’re in charge. It’s not going to take your whole check today. You look through that first column of new releases closest to the door, and you find maybe six or seven things you want. Now you have to look through the next column.
And the bins below.
And all these boxes that are sitting nearby containing as yet unpriced and perfectly shrink-wrapped treasures. Your hands get clammy and sweaty. The six albums you held onto at first are now 15. Then, after perusing all the new stuff, you go back to the gigantic in-stock selection. Just in case you missed something last week. You’ve got to know. Three more hours come and go. Oh and here’s the used section! Sometimes you’ve found unbelievable things for cheap there! The Punk Section! Gold mine! Metal! Psychedelic! Dub, hip-hop, techno! 7”s!
Now you’ve been in the store for six hours.
After putting away two thirds of your picks, finally, you make it up to the cashier and blow $150 on ten albums. You don’t know what you’re going to eat, but at least you have more awesome albums in your awesome record collection. Screw the rent, and the landlord. You have tunes.
Vinyl has all the same features of drug addiction, but at least it’s healthy. Kind of. The satisfaction of putting a needle on the black groove of an album and hearing that warm hiss and crackle of sound isn’t too different than putting a hypodermic in your skin and flooding your system with chemicals that alter your mood. But like a good heroine junkie should clean their needles before sharing, vinyl requires maintenance. Those grooves can deteriorate over time.
Keeping your records in shape is like making yourself develop OCD. Other people who don’t have a record addiction won’t understand why you experience a bout of wrath when they take one of your records and leave it sleevless and unprotected, on top of a book on the edge of a bookcase in perfect range for a cat to jump on. They’ll tell you, “Calm down man, it’s just a record. Gosh.”
Don’t listen to them.
The human race will one day praise your obstinate demands to preserve your record collection. Archeologists will marvel at your well-preserved selections and sell them to museums. But you have to keep them nice. Otherwise, you might as well be listening to CD’s. Otherwise you might as well be lame.
I wish that when I started out, I had learned more about proper care. It’s too late for some of my records. I can’t talk about them, those I have lost. But you people out there. You may not know.
So on that note, here are some tips collected from local vinyl dorks about how to care for your one-day priceless artifacts.
Step One: Handle With Care.
Always get a plastic sleeve or dust jacket to go with your new purchase. It keeps that awesome artwork looking good. You’ll notice just how much it helps as the plastic gets roughed up a bit over the years.
Those little black lines on your vinyl are delicate. Don’t put your filthy fingers all over the thing. When you pull your record out of the paper sleeve, rather than pinching it between to fingers in the middle of the grooves and plopping it on your turntable, use your fingers more like leverage on the sides. You can also put your thumb in the middle on the label sticker.
Step two: Clean Them.
If you don’t have a record brush, get one. Now, you heartless monster. Once you have one, determine if it’s a wet or dry type. Ideally, you want to have one of each. If it’s the wet type, you should either buy some cleaning solution, or make your own. I have had record store clerks talk me out of buying stuff because making your own is cheap and easy. Here’s a recipe and you can always find more ideas online. But I’m also lazy, and buying the premade stuff is about $5 and can last a year.
What I generally do, (which is not to say that I am right, this is just what I do) is place the record on the turntable, and gently spin it clock-wise while lightly resting the brush on the grooves. If it’s a wet brush system, squeeze a line of fluid down the edge of the brush. I do about three to four laps. Then I take a tiny little brush, and brush off the record brush. Feeling psychotic yet? No? Then reexamine your record to make sure you got it all. Don’t feel bad until you’ve spent a longer time cleaning it, than it would take to play the thing. For developing truly neurotic routines in your life, repeat this step every time you put an album on, even if it’s one you just cleaned. The important thing is that they get cleaned.
Step Three: Store properly.
Don’t stack your records like pizza boxes. They will warp. Store them like you would a book, on a bookshelf, with other books. Crates can be great, but if it’s made out of crap plastic it can bend under the weight of records, and then they warp. Other things to look out for: Heat and pressure. Try not to let them hit continuous direct sunlight, because they will warp. Also, if you pack them in too tightly, they will warp.
When your done listening to your album, take it off the turn-table and put it back in it’s sleeve and return it to it’s art jacket. I always try to store them in a way that won’t allow the record to roll out the side.
I’ve heard of some audiophiles storing records in vacuum-sealed freezers, like other psychos store wine bottles. Seems excessive, but I bet their records are in pristine condition.
Step Four: Your needle.
The stylus is possibly the most important part of record care. Again, like heroin, a worn crappy dirty needle is bad news. In the case of your records it’s going to ruin those grooves, and ruined grooves will dull your good needles. It’s a take-and-take relationship. If you start hearing more distortion in the sound of your otherwise perfectly maintained records, it probably means your needle is dull. If your needle is dull, you’ll have to get a new one. Depending on what type of turn-table you have, and just how excessive you want to be, you can get a new needle from anywhere between $25, and, $20,000.
I have never made $20,000 in a year.
Step Five: Ignore all previous steps.
Realize everything decomposes over time. Be a punk. Use your records as beer coasters and then turn them into spray-painted artwork once you’ve worn out your use for them. Like this.
Laugh at the uptight music freaks you know — the ones like me, who will shoot you dirty looks and tell you to stop dancing when you skip the records.
Some people really cherish that crappy scratchy vinyl sound. I got into my vinyl addiction through my parents’ hashed-to-hell Beatles records. New digitally remastered CD versions could never compare to putting on a 1967 copy of Sgt. Peppers and hearing that warm static. That’s like getting in a time machine.
There are freaks in this world who will spend more on stereo equipment than I have on a higher education. They do weird stuff, like suspend their turntable from the ceiling to avoid vibrations in the floor. Their lives revolve around their record collections in a way that is just scary. You don’t have to do that. I’ve spent less than $100 on stereo equipment from pawnshops and gotten pretty good sound.
No matter what, enjoy the music, and support your local record shops. Even if it’s just to buy a lame CD.
This article is part of a partnership between Green Room and Lee Banville's Online Journalism class at the University of Montana.