The most obsessive record collectors often go to extreme lengths to find records. This is ‘crate digging’: the art of sniffing out killer records, sometimes in the most unlikely of places.
If you’ve ever found a sought-after record for 50 pence at a charity shop, or discovered a secret stash of albums for sale in the back of a barbershop in Sydney, then you can class yourself as an apprentice ‘crate digger’.
If you haven’t, but spend much of your spare time visiting new places on the off chance of stumbling on a haul of vinyl gold, then you also fit the bill.
Really, though, anyone can become a crate digger. All it takes is a burning passion for vinyl, an extensive and detailed knowledge of music (or just one or two particular styles of music) and the dedication to spend most of your spare time flicking through the contents of dusty boxes of old records.
Where to crate dig
Serious crate diggers are always looking for opportunities to find records. That means countless visits to yard sales, car boot sales, flea markets, charity shops and thrift stores, as well as trips to other towns and cities.
Often, second-hand stores and charity shops in sizeable towns and cities have already been ‘mined’ by other diggers, so locating potential sources of records in smaller places can often bear fruit.
Some serious ‘diggers’ think nothing of travelling overseas on record hunting missions, either. The most committed, some of which are profiled later in this chapter (Mining the past: the rise of the record collector DJs), often head to a particular country or city on a hunch.
While there, they will talk to locals to see whether they know of any secret stashes of records hidden in lock-ups, garages, shipping containers or former record distribution warehouses.
It may sound like a long shot, but if they’re lucky their persistence will pay off and they’ll uncover something truly rare and magical.
This is, of course, dedication beyond the call of duty. Those who take this approach tend to be those who intend to make a living out of it; either music producers who are searching for weird and wonderful records to sample when making their own records, or dealers on the lookout for releases that they can clean up and sell on for a tidy profit.
How to crate dig
The number one rule of crate digging is always to keep your eyes open for boxes of records, wherever they may be. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, you’ll struggle to find anything other than long-forgotten 7in singles of dreadful pop hits, but your effort is rewarded when you spot something from your ‘wants list’ languishing amongst a box of BBC sound effects records and unwanted copies of terrible novelty albums.
As ever, knowledge is key. Know your subject matter inside out and what you’re looking for. The greater your knowledge, the more likely you’ll be able to fathom out whether mystery records might be quite good.
Liner credits – musicians, producers, record label and year of production – should be studied carefully for clues.
Of course, that might not make it a great or even hard-to-find record, but it will at least give you a clue as to the record’s contents (and whether you should take a punt on it).
Remember: if you buy something for a bargain price and it turns out to be a stinker, you can always quietly drop it off in your local charity shop and forget your mistake.
It’s always worth remembering that not all owners of charity shops or second-hand stores know all that much about records. While it’s becoming more common for counter staff to consult online sites such as Discogs Marketplace when pricing up stock, some just don’t have the time to do this.
Therefore, they throw unfamiliar records into crates of ‘bargain’ records with the same standardised price (think a pound or a dollar, as an example). If you’re lucky, you might find something valuable, or simply really good, hidden in one of these boxes.
3 top crate-digging tips
Serious crate diggers are happy to spend many hours searching through each box or rack of records in dusty second-hand stores. Here are three quick tips for virgin diggers.
- You don’t necessarily need to plan a dedicated record-hunting holiday to ‘dig’ abroad. Instead, be on the lookout for flea markets and record shops while on family holidays
- If you’re heading to a car boot sale to sniff out records, remember to go early – serious diggers think nothing of getting up at the crack of dawn to get ahead of their rivals
- Many serious crate diggers often take a portable turntable with them on ‘digging missions’, in order to listen to any unfamiliar records they’ve found (and, of course, find out whether the disc plays fine)
Record shop etiquette
In an attempt to create more harmonious relations between shoppers and record store staff, we asked Jake Holloway of London’s LoveVinyl to give us some tips to guarantee a more pleasurable shopping experience. Here’s his top dos and don’ts for customers…
• Respect the vinyl
‘Handle with care, always hold the record by its edges and replace it in its inner sleeve and cover properly.’
• Give yourself plenty of time
‘It’s a process. Only take a boyfriend or girlfriend if they love digging through racks of records, too.’
• Check the new arrivals section
‘The new releases racks in shops such as LoveVinyl are often topped up throughout the day, as new stock arrives. Diggers in the know head to this section first.’
• Check prices of records online
‘Don’t do this in full view of the staff. If you feel the need to sneakily check Discogs prices for comparison purposes, at least be inconspicuous about it.’
• Listen to a record unless you intend to buy
‘You’re in a record shop, not a library. It’s unfair to other paying customers to listen to records you have no intention of purchasing.’
• Ask for a discount
‘Discounts are given to those who earn their stripes. You might be offered a discount, but it’s rude to ask – especially if you’re visiting a store for the first time.’