Tips for the discriminating vinyl record fan & hunter
by rick olivares
I am very happy that vinyl is back and more people are getting into it. I think it is no coincidence that it has reinvigorated the music scene both internationally and locally. A couple of artists have released their new albums on vinyl and not on CD or even for downloads. Not re-issues, mind you, but new releases. There’s underground punk band, Ex-Senadors; Ely Buendia’s new outfit, Apartel; and Pedicab that launched their new record last February 25.
I have claimed that the hunt for records and great music has been fun all over again. Unlike downloading that has made things easy and a tad impersonal.
There are differences in the vinyl scene then as in now.
Let’s point them out.
During vinyl’s heyday in the 1980s, the records were either pressed locally by local record companies or imported. It depends if they have a licensing deal. There were a few shops such as Odyssey that offered imports of records – usually 12” inch singles – that were not available locally.
Although there were re-sellers then, chances were you got your records sealed and brand new.
I’d say that back then 90% of all vinyl imports sold in Manila were US pressings. There was a smattering of British, Netherlands, German, and Canadian pressings as well. Japanese imports then were a rarity. Audiophiles swore by them but I have never been crazy about these Japanese records with their obis. American or British pressings are a personal preference. And they still are today.
Today, all those selling vinyl in Manila – and there are over a hundred now in the metropolis -- are independent importers since local record companies have closed shop or aren’t doing anything. I guess we should commend PolyEast for releasing over a dozen OPM records. Some are re-releases while a few have been cobbled together as a greatest hits package. But what gives? The Sandwich record, Five on the Floor, missed out the names of the band members and such they only “taped” the roster onto the back of the jacket! Taped. Terrible. Boo! Furthermore, there are no lyrics, photos, or liner notes on the inner sleeves of everything they’ve put out!
So it’s good that we have all these independent importers of vinyl. It’s good for old and new fans because many of these are out-of-print or were never released in vinyl as they came out in compact disc.
I think the scene is a little more vibrant now as the physical record stores are bigger and offer a wider array of product more than ever. There are brand new records – sealed of course -- with many second hand ones in varying degrees of condition.
Unlike before where I purchased every single record of my favorite recording artists, today I am more discriminating in my buys. It surely helps that I have all the entire catalogue of my fave artists on compact disc so I don’t have to buy a lot. If I pick up vinyl it has to be from my youth and something I truly enjoyed and have good memories. I have always thought that those released during the CD era were meant to be on CD and not anything else.
Here are some tips when purchasing records.
Look around before buying. It helps to get a feel of what is out there and how they cost.
Brand new records more or less cost the same. It is the second hand ones that are trickier.
Looking at the new records, many are now printed in Europe – Germany, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic or Russia. I am fine with the first two but not the latter two. I have purchased a record of the Cure pressed in the Czech Republic and to be honest, the CD sounds much better. So no, vinyl doesn’t necessarily mean it is better. It depends what was the source material for the pressing.
Some titles are even being offered in two-disc sets and that raises my eyebrows. It isn’t like the tracks are prog-rock long; meaning seven minutes or more long songs. Case in point, A Perfect Circle’s debut Mer de Noms that comes in two discs. Each side contains three tracks. The entire album clocks in under 50 minutes so why the extra disc that hikes to price tag to $39 or about PhP2,000. Incidentally, the album came out in 2000.
I purchased the CD when it first came out as I am a fan of Tool, the main outfit of APC frontman Maynard James Keenan. The CD is great sonically, the LP is cool because it is easier to check out the runes that the band uses to write its sleeve and liner notes. So it boils down to choice and of course, to purchase power.
Again, look around before buying. Look at the shops’ online sites or social media accounts. Ask them for the condition and prices. That saves you time and gas from traveling around.
One reason why I recommend that you look around is some of these shops purchase from the cheaper stores then re-sell them at a marked up price that ranges from 50%-100% more.
As you go around the different stores in Manila, you will learn who has a direct pipeline to the records abroad or are merely re-sellers.
Looking around means you could lose a record to someone else who is either willing to pay for the stated price or has no hang-ups or no clue about being discriminating. Don’t fret. You’ll always find one. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But it will be eventually available. Then you just have to hunt it down and that is part of the thrill of being a record collector and a music fan.
Know the grade and make of the records. Whether you are a vinyl returnee or a newbie, it helps to know a bit about the vinyl revolution.
Some of the new records have stickers on the cover proclaiming that they are 180-gram heavy records. There is an implied superior quality to heavier grade records. There is some truth to that. It makes the record more durable and easier to handle than the lighter 140-gra, records. It makes for more stable playing for the stylus and unwanted vibration.
The proper query for re-mastered titles is – what was the source of the re-mastered recordings? Was it the original source tape or some old vinyl record? And where (country) was this pressed?
You should know that not every record available in 180-grams sounds great so you should do your homework by checking online reviews or re-releases.
The weight of a record should never be the sole decision in making a purchase. It is but one. And know that the weight of the record has nothing to do with the quality of the recording engraved in the grooves. There is no separate engraving for records in vary weights (140g, 160g, 180g, or 200g). None. The source material is the important one and where it was printed.
Let me give you an example. The old Philippine-pressed records – those dating back to the 1960s-70s were of great quality. When some record companies cut corners in the mid-1980s by turning to recycled vinyl rather than virgin vinyl or by printing on cheaper material, the sound suffered. I noticed that the old cleaning agents I used would destroy the cheap vinyl.
That is also why some music fans look for first pressings rather than later pressings.
Now on to the second hand records.
Check the overall condition of the records. All of the resellers have different standards when it comes to grading the condition of records. Some are cheap while some are expensive. There are many stores who price their records because of the name of the artist, condition be damned.
I care for the condition of both the jacket and the record. My thinking is - the condition of the jacket and vinyl (as well as the presence of sleeves, posters, or booklets should reflect the price.
The problem of second hand records is most of the previous owners didn’t take very good care of them so the jackets have creases, dents, sometimes, even personal stickers or handwriting. If it costs a lot, question the price because the condition, more so personal stickers and handwritings de-value them. Haggle. It never hurts to ask for price reductions. Ask politely though because some of these guys are an overly sensitive bunch.
Many newcomers don’t bother to look at the state of the vinyl. Always check them out. Are there scratches? Is it clean or dirty? If there is an opportunity to play the record, do so. Doing that could tilt your decision.
Over at this shop in Cubao X where they are selling a hard-to-find copy of Identity Crisis’ one and only album, it is priced at PhP 4,500. I am thinking, it’s pricey but all right given the rarity of OPM albums. Now here’s where it gets contentious. In my honest opinion, the jacket grade is good as it has creases here and there. No way is this in very good condition. So that’s a minus for me.
Now when I played the record, it skipped not once but three times. And on the best tracks no less. So for me, it isn’t worth the buy as rare as it is. I do not buy records for display or to say I have it in my collection. I buy them because I love them and want to play them. If they skip, I cringe and feel like I got robbed.
And it also helps to check the vinyl so you know if it’s warped or not.
Work out a deal with the seller. If you’re making a purchase, ask for receipts or acknowledgements forms that you purchased so-and-so album from him on this date for this price and if possible, what venue. Ask where you can exchange or refund if it skips or damaged. If not, then that’s your risk.
If they renege on the agreement either you don’t buy from them again or post your comments on their social media. That’s going to rile them as it affects their business.
Some sellers or re-sellers do not have physical stores and only sell online, via PayPal or such, or via meet-ups. First and foremost, check the track record of the seller. Some are scammers who only want your money. When they post the records online, one can “get” the record by saying “dibs” or the like. If you’re going to claim it, be sure you get it because the next time you do that, they will not give you that opportunity to purchase it.
Hope these practical tips help you with your vinyl habit. Happy hunting.
THIS IS A PARTIAL LIST
Record stores that sell only brand new records:
Black Circles by Alice (Timog area)
Astro Plus/Astro Vision (Virra Mall, MegaMall)
Record stores that sell mainly brand new records but with second hand ones:
The Grey Market (White Plains, Greenhills, Salcedo Village)
Satchmi (Megamall and UP Town Center)
Mostly used records
Treskul Records (Boni Avenue)
Bebop Records (Makati Cinema Square)
Trax Manila Records (Marikina)