Rules for record collecting


Has anyone ever played you a record you never knew existed, and blown your mind? I have. It's the closest I've been to a "religious experience". Here's some thoughts about how to make these moments for yourself by mapping and extending the process of maximising your interests onto record collecting.

Thanks to software and algorithms, every cafe now has access to perhaps 51% of the history of recorded music, without expending the effort to acquire the knowledge and skill to collect it. But that doesn't mean your experience of their playlists will be a revelation.

To presume that Googlefaceify knows all of recorded musical history is a magnificent oversight. There are many revelations waiting in the musical archeological record, both those hoarded by skilled record collectors who don't do social let alone social media, and those records collecting dust in unknown basements all over Earth. The world is much larger than we think.

And to presume my musical revelations will be your musical revelations would be negligent. That I listened to ABC Classic FM every damn 7am of my high school years (thanks Mum) may have predisposed me to bother listening to the saccharine interlude passages on film soundtracks. Consequently, I found Jonny Greenwood's score for "There Will Be Blood" to be a religious experience. My taste, reflecting the sedimentary layers of listening habits over a long time, evolved along different lines to your taste.

To discover revelations of the sacred kind for yourself, you have to make your own history. That is, over some period of time with some kind of fanaticism, you'll need to maximise for interesting and build your own wunderkammer, aka your own "cabinet of curiosities".

To do that for musical revelations, here's my rules for record collecting:

1. Buy unfashionably 2. Don’t sell 3. Always listen to the B-side

Unfashionable hoarding

Revelations start and end with your own experience. As a collector, if another collector whose taste you admire shows off a certain record, then you'll probably check that record out for yourself. But that doesn't mean it'll buzz you like it buzzes her. So don't let copying be your only modus operandi. Instead, buy unfashionably and develop your own taste. Look where others are not looking. It's also much cheaper.

The second way to increase your musical revelations in your collection is to not sell. Your taste will change over time. The records you can't stand now may well become your favourites in three years. Let them cure like wine in a basement.

Thirdly, always flip it over. This is a no-brainer. Yet like any habit, it can be forgotten. It does mean you have to listen to a lot of crap, but over time I guarantee the returns will be extraordinary. Many of my desert island discs were purchased for what has ended up being the wrong side.

While these rules are specific to record collecting, they can generally be applied to the accretion and synthesis processes within your wunderkammer.

What is the consistent factor in all of these rules? I think it's about allowing time to make it's play. Curing is essential. Each rule allows time to attend to the inherent qualities which may not have been perceived on first listen so as to make them whole over multiple listens. To take, heed, to care, to restore.

Curing is the feedback loop that envelopes the "3 Ws" from my previous post about how to maximise for interesting:

↓ ------- Cure ------- ↑ Wander > Wonder > Wunder ↓ ------- Cure ------- ↑

Curing metaphors

As an aside, I think this is an example of why we should take care with our metaphors. "Cure" alludes to "curation", but that concept has eaten by the current understanding of SEO marketing and algorithms and if we're not careful, we will unconsciously connect "cure" to "curation" to "content" and "content marketing". The devil is in the detail! Fermentation, distillation and gardening metaphors also abound here. But I like the way "let it cure for a while" rolls off the tongue, so I'll stick with the dry aged meat and tobacco flavour.