Narrative: Collecting Vinyl During a Pandemic

Vinyl in the Era of Coronavirus

At the beginning of the year, I was optimistic to think that I would be spending my weekends travelling around Ohio interviewing the owners of my favorite record shops. I would get to know the owner and the impact their personality has on the community they serve, and how a mutual relationship is formed between a business and their clientele. I did manage to get a good interview with Katy McClenathan, owner of Old Soul Vintage Attire & Records. It set the tone for what this column was all about; getting to know the people that run record stores.

Then COVID-19 happened.

In the scheme of things, a monthly column about record stores being derailed is nothing compared the the devastation a global pandemic has on everyday people. But it is important to remember that music is a commonality that brings us together, as Ray’s regular column on Music to Help Us Get Through Everything Together reminds us. The community of vinyl records has been impacted just like everything else, but we still carry on.

Now, what has my vinyl shopping looked like since March?

I’ve tried curated subscriptions, made unsuccessful wanted ads on the Vinyl Collectors subreddit, and bought plenty through Discogs. Shipping delays have been quite extensive, one record from Japan took three months to leave the Tokyo airport. Even domestic orders are taking much longer than usual, as staffing has yet to return to previous levels. Out of 12 records I have purchased since March, only two were purchased in a store. Everything else was an online delivery.

This seller proactively warned me that my order would definitely be delayed.

Personally I don’t like the online delivery model nearly as much as the in person experience. The amount of waste comes not only from the packaging, but also the carbon footprint of having delivery drivers make a trip to my doorstep is pretty high. In the case of two records being shipped from Hong Kong, the seller paid DHL to airmail my records, which adds a whopping amount of carbon to the atmosphere. The only way I could justify importing records this way is by reminding myself that these carriers are not only flying with my packages, so the burden is not mine alone.

There are records that cannot be found in the States, essentially anything by east Asian musicians come from Japan or Hong Kong. I miss talking to record store employees, so I tried casually talking to the sellers on Discogs. The problem with that is the language barrier. Using English as the lingua franca leads to awkward translations and ends up being confusing for all parties. Not recommended.

Trying to purchase records through Reddit’s Vinyl Collectors was fruitless, as people were looking to buy the same records I was. I put out a wanted ad for Phum Viphurit’s two vinyl releases. Both records are rare and since Phum is a niche artist in the States, not too many people are willing to part with their copies.

What Now?

How does one balance the desire to collect vinyl with concerns about the environmental impact of shipping and the existential dread of a pandemic? Much like everything else in my life, I have to compartmentalize and justify my decisions, but the scale of this pandemic is calling my hobby into question. Next week is the first of three days dedicated to Record Store Day 2020. There are records I want to buy during this event, but is it worth going to a crowded record store where social distancing will be difficult to practice to get a copy of Cherry Bomb by Tyler, the Creator? Is my health or the health of others worth the risk? Will scalpers see this as an opportunity to make a quick buck based on peoples concerns? Probably yes.

Overall, my experience collecting vinyl during a pandemic has been a mixed bag. I deeply appreciate every seller that I have interacted with and love the hobby and the associated community. But records aren’t everything. Records can be replaced, lives cannot. Collecting vinyl during this pandemic seems frivolous, but our hobbies are a part of what makes us human. I am optimistic enough to believe that we will get through this pandemic and come out of the other side better people, and I know that music will help us get to that place.

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Jose Diaz

Collector of analog media.

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