In case you’re unaware, Discogs is site which catalogues (pretty much almost) every release of music, whether that be vinyl, CD, cassette, or digital. It’s also a marketplace for said releases, and a sort of social network for record collectors to discuss the many intricacies and idiosyncrasies, like which pressing sounds better, which reissue has the best liner notes, and so on and so forth. I spend a lot of time on it. My main uses are the marketplace, which I’ve spent a fair amount of money on since 2014, and the cataloguing feature, which allows you to create a digital version of your record collection so you can scroll through it when you’re away from home pining for your vinyl, as well as seeing how much each record, and in turn, your whole collection, is worth.

I have to say, the value of my record collection was never something I had considered, so once I had spent the best part of a Saturday digitally logging it, I was a little bit shocked by the total. I won’t say what the value is, because I don’t want to be laughed at, or burglarised (I won’t say which), but suffice to say, it was a pretty eye-opening experience. Quantifying my record collecting hobby, into a number, albeit an estimate, was rather bizarre, and I’d be lying if I hadn’t briefly thought about the things I might have spent the money on if not for my hobby. That being said, I was happy to see that the vast majority of my records had retained their value, and many had appreciated. A couple turned out to be bootlegs (I had my suspicions), and some have savagely dropped in value – like, an embarrassing amount – but the net result was a positive.

Below is a little sample of the veritable highs and lows of my record collecting:

First up is the soundtrack to Call Me By Your Name, pressed on peach coloured vinyl housed in a peach scented gatefold sleeve; you can practically see Timothée Chalamet making love to a peach every time you listen to the record. I bought this for about £25 in 2018. Now, you can see that the median price for this release is almost £100 more, with some copies going over the £150 mark. That’s definitely a win for me. On the other hand, we’ve got You’re Welcome by Wavves, one I’ve admittedly not listened to for a while, but it’s a limited edition, on blue vinyl, so it must be worth something. Nope. It’s not worth anything. People routinely sell this album, this entire vinyl record, all 12 tracks of it, for the price of a Tesco meal deal. That’s not knocking the meal deal by the way, I’ve lived off them when circumstances have called for it; just putting things in perspective. I paid about £20 for it in 2017, so I’ll take the L on this.

Ultimately, it’s not about the value or any wins or losses I might feel I have accumulated, it’s about how much I enjoy having and listening to the records. Okay, I’ve not listened to that Wavves album in as long as I can remember, but maybe I’ll give it a spin soon, because I feel a bit sorry for it and its embarrassing value. The point still stands though; any notion of “value” outside of the value I ascribe to my collection, whether that be sentimental, or just because I enjoy listening to them, is a lot more important than how much I could sell them for.

I recently spent the most I had ever spent on a record: £155, which seems crazy, because it sort of is, but at the time, I really couldn’t think of anything that I desired more in the world.  “Why not just listen to it on Spotify?”, I hear you ask. The answer is: I don’t really know. Yes, there are a plethora of arguments for vinyl versus streaming or any other format, but I won’t list any of them, because deep down I don’t feel like I have a reason, it’s just what I do and what I like. It all comes down to scarcity really. I don’t know if this applies to the average record collector, so I won’t make any generalisations, I’ll talk specifically about myself. I feel a greater impulse to buy a record if it is rare. Admittedly, if we are talking about veteran record collectors, £155 is chump change, but to someone like me, it’s a lot of money. When I see that a record I want is available, but that availability is limited (in this case, I could only find 10 copies across the globe and just one in the UK), my desire for it is increased exponentially, and I end up dropping £155 on an album I already listen to on Spotify whenever I feel like it.

The album in question

If you’ve read this far, it should come as no surprise to you that I love vinyl records, and there are many many albums I want. I have a huge list of albums I want, the vast majority of which are easy to come by at a fair price. However, those albums which are harder to come by are the ones I want the most, because the scarcity, and the idea that someone else might buy it before me adds an element of urgency that wouldn’t be there if I could just buy it from any old online store.

Unfortunately, rarity often means higher prices. Conversely, abundance is what leads to low prices. That’s why we end up with expensive peach scented Call Me By Your Name and dirt-cheap blue Wavves. It goes without saying really. It’s simple economics, but it’s interesting in the sense that the music on these records is usually not exclusive to vinyl. For instance, an original pressing of Vashti Bunyan’s 1970 album Just Another Diamond Day (fantastic album by the way) sold for $4,039 in May 2018, two months after a new reissue came out. It’s hard to pinpoint what drives people to spend this kind of money when they could quite happily stream it, or in this case, just get a reissue. In other words, it’s something more than the music itself.

Vashti Bunyan’s Just Another Diamond Day

The unknown element, I suppose, is the notion of exclusivity, being one of a select few to own a record. This is especially the case when it comes to artists who have risen to meteoric fame since releasing a record in limited numbers, or artists with cult status like Vashti Bunyan. When you get one of these original records, like Nirvana’s Love Buzz (currently for sale at €4,200) you have the feeling of owning a piece of history: the first single released by one of the most famous bands of all time, one of only 1000, instantly making you a member of this exclusive club. To put that in perspective, 26 million people like Nirvana on Facebook, so for arguments sake, let’s say they have 26 million fans. Out of these 26 million, only 0.004% of fans have this single. Not only is it extremely rare, it is from a time where Kurt Cobain and co. were nobodies, which in itself is pretty hard to imagine these days. So every time someone plays one of these 1000 records, they’re transported to a specific moment in time, before Nevermind and MTV Unplugged, even before Bleach, when it was anybody’s guess where this band might have ended up. Sure, they could listen to it on the internet or whatever, but it’s not a direct engagement with history in the way that an original analogue release is. That’s all hard to put a price on. The only deciding factor is just how much someone is willing to pay for it.

Nirvanas Love Buzz

For me, the question of scarcity extends beyond vinyl. Just the other day, I sent a private message to a stranger on the site Rate Your Music asking them to send me a bootleg of a Vincent Gallo concert in Japan from 2001, because I’d really like to hear his cover of King Crimson’s Cadence and Cascade. Fortunately, they did link me to a Google drive folder, full of rare recordings of live shows, and I felt like the member of an exclusive club. For something this rare in fact, it felt like I was the only person who had it. It seems kind of ridiculous that something digital could be so scarce in 2020, when supposedly, once something is online, its there forever, but when we get into the territory of unofficial releases and bootlegs from artists outside the mainstream, not much can be guaranteed. The harder something is to find though, the more I’m drawn to it. This is only accentuated with vinyl, because I end up with a physical reward at the end, something tangible to covet. But do I enjoy the chase more than anything? Is it the sense of purpose I get trawling through ancient forums and setting price alerts on Discogs? Will that feeling fade away when eventually catch the big fish? Yes and no.

Begging for mp3s

In ‘When Wanting Is Better Than Having’, Marsha Richins states that ‘joy, excitement, and contentment are highest before purchase’ suggesting that indeed, the act of wanting is itself more appealing than having, and that when you finally satisfy the urge by purchasing, it doesn’t result in quantifiable happiness. The perceived potential for a prospective purchase to change your life in a meaningful way is particularly strong, and is what fuels this desire. Obviously, I don’t think of record collecting purely in materialistic terms, but it certainly is an important element, considering it is the physicality, or material nature, of the medium itself which is so attractive. I don’t wish to compare it to a drug addiction, because that would be crass, but the addictive qualities of record collecting are plain to see. With every record I add to my collection, I experience a great deal of joy, and perhaps pride, until I find myself coveting a different record that absolutely needs to join the collection.

I can feel myself on this slippery slope where £155 is only the beginning. Every time I go on Discogs, I’m adding olive oil or water-based lubricant to that slippery slope. I’ve removed all of the social media apps from my phone’s homepage, so whilst most people idly scroll through Facebook or Twitter, I do the same with Discogs. This has its pros and cons; it’s probably a lot better for my mental health, but not great on my bank balance. I’ve recently been gazing longingly at John Frusciante albums that are worth hundreds of pounds, knowing that I won’t be buying them any time soon, but letting a tiny piece of my brain think that I might, just to keep things exciting. I suppose one day I might have one of them, or he might decide to reissue some, but the feelings of satisfaction I have when either of those happen can’t be as strong as my longing for them.

So close, yet so far away.

However, I think it is a mistake to think of record collecting purely on these terms. I think a good way to think of the concept of desire and fulfilment is in terms of intensity of these feelings. Desire is naturally a far more intense feeling than satisfaction or contentment because it is more active. Peacefulness, which is something I associate with my record collection, whether that be browsing or listening, is inherently passive, and less of an overwhelming feeling than desire. It’s something which washes over you rather than consuming you. It differs slightly from contentment, as contentment implies finality, but I experience feelings of peacefulness whenever I sit down to listen to a record, more so than if I stream an album. It’s partly in the physical act of putting the music on, but more so in the personal connection I feel to the albums in my collection. I suppose it keys into the notion of exclusivity, but its more so how each record is unique to me, and the listening experience will always differ slightly in a way that just doesn’t happen with digital music. It’s almost like listening to something for the first time every time. Just because a certain feeling is more intense than another, doesn’t make it more important or valid.

Unlike other addictive pastimes, record collecting also has a nice social element. This applies to record collecting in the physical world and in the online world. It’s rare that I will go to a record store by myself, and even rarer that merely browsing through the selections won’t lead to some fun and sometimes enlightening conversations. Just the other week I went record shopping with a friend of mine in Reading and he ended up having an in depth discussion with the owner of the shop about Beach Boys session musicians and Dennis Wilson’s solo career. Likewise, there’s the social aspect to Discogs, which really enhances the experience for me. The ability to add your friends and browse their collections is particularly useful when it comes to birthdays and Christmas, and the notion of everything being built by a community of archivists and fellow collectors makes you feel like part of a communal project. It’s like eBay, Wikipedia, and those old nerdy forums rolled into one.

Record collecting is undeniably addictive, and for me, Discogs not only facilitates it, it fuels it. But I’m making it sound a lot scarier than it is. It might be addictive, and I might always be chasing, but it brings me nothing but pleasure. If the wanting is better than the having, I’ll always be wanting more records to add to my collection, but I’ll always be at peace when I’ve got a record on.

Here is a link to the Spotify playlist I have put together to showcase some songs I’ve spoken about. Pause for irony.

Here is a link to a study on materialism that influenced this commentary.