It starts off innocently enough. A turntable for Christmas and a fresh copy of Fleetwood Mac's Rumours to play on it. Within a month, two or three records turn into twenty or thirty and you find yourself in IKEA on a Sunday buying a dedicated shelving unit. Pretty soon what was a neat little hobby turns into a domestic reclamation project requiring plastic dividers, intricate blueprints and council planning permission.
With UK vinyl spending in 2021 on track to overtake CDs for first time since 1987, it seems like a number of us are facing the same problem: how on earth do we organise all these wondrous things? In order to find out the answer, I sought knowledge from the UK's foremost authorities on record collecting, the Townsend Music social media followers!
THE INDIE VINYL METHOD
Gary Winter, (AKA @Indievinylfan on Twitter), started collecting in the early 80s and has never really stopped. "Like many others, I switched over to CDs for a while" Gary reveals, "but if I loved an album or if one of my favourite artists released something new, I’d often buy the vinyl version too". The band that started this obsession? Manchester's finest, New Order, still Gary's favourite band in the world since seeing them live in 1983 (the electro-indie pioneers were the second band he ever saw after Gary Numan snatched his gig virginity). Gary proudly boasts around 1,500 discs which include full collections of several bands including The Cure, The Smiths, New Order, Oasis (every single on mint 12”!), Radiohead, Depeche Mode and Yazoo.
Gary keeps his records in his cellar protected by thick PVC sleeves and to organise this mammoth acquisition, he swears by the method espoused by paragons of practicality from phonebooks to public libraries: "to have a chance of finding anything, they have to be in alphabetical order". While alphabetical, by artist, is a tried and tested approach for beginners, what happens when you own a full set of nine different coloured sleeves for 'Everything’s Gone Green/Procession' and the sheer volume of discs mean that single artists become mini-collections of their own? The answer, for Gary, has been to add another layer of classification. "Being somewhat of a completist, records by bands like New Order number over 100, including multiple versions of 'Blue Monday', so these I try to keep in chronological order."
"I am aware of seeming ridiculously obsessive now - mainly because my four grown up children tell me I am." - @Indievinylfan
Alphabetical in the macro, chronological in the micro. It's a system that has held Gary and his basement full of indie anthems down for years, but even with this surefire solution, mistakes can be made. Gary finishes with a word of warning about the dark side of collecting: "despite all this order and structure, I still manage to buy duplicate copies of stuff accidentally and don’t realise until I try to file them next to a copy I already own." On the bright side for us, Gary has a very active eBay account.
THE NUMANOID SYSTEM
The inspiration for this article and source of envy for record collectors everywhere was a tweet by Steve (AKA @Saintbarca). In response to a Townsend Music post about organising record collections, Steve stunned onlookers with this breathtaking shot of his incredible Gary Numan collection. Now 52 years old, Steve actually once sold his vinyl collection to fund a passionate affair with the format's younger model, the Compact Disc. His former role at HMV provided cover for this bountiful but doomed romance, which produced the offspring of 1200 CDs before he returned to the lure of his first love six years ago. "I wanted one of each Numan title but soon ended up wanting every album from every country" Steve contends, "I only buy CDs now where no vinyl is available or Gary Numan releases where I buy every option, even cassettes - though I don’t have a player."
Gary Numan. There he is again. Across a four-decade career, his discography is a kaleidoscope of formats and catalogue numbers that makes a complete collection a tempting but elusive whale for would-be vinyl Ahabs. "Principally I collect Gary Numan and Tubeway Army records from around the world. I have about 250 Numan albums and 60 or so 12” singles." says Steve, "I also have all the UK 7”s but have little interest in those."
So, how does a vinyl obsessive with an overriding interest in one particular, storied artist - even the 7" singles - make sense of the discs looming in front of him? The answer, and those red and green things poking out from between the records in the shelves above, is header boards.
"For Gary Numan, it's a green header board per title, organised by release date with studio albums first, then live, then compilation" he begins. "Then within each, I go UK original release first, then overseas alphabetical by country, then later represses by release date. It sounds overkill but I have thirty-two copies of Tubeway Army's Replicas. So far."
"The best buying trip has to be the Utrecht Record Fair. Huge halls full of vinyl. Spent the whole weekend there and bought about 30 records." - @Saintbarca
Beyond Numan, the header boards are just the ticket to arrange the works of lesser men that also find space in Steve's system. "With other artists, it's red header board A to Z filed by artist name, then release date." And when those artists build up a significant collection of their own? "If I have five albums, the artist gets their own header board." It's Inception-level stuff.
Just as with the Indie Vinyl Method, the risk of gathering duplicate records is very real. Steve's solution is a book "with the whole collection listed - the Numan part has every available variant listed, so I just tick them off." And for the times when that particular book is too unwieldy to drag around Utrecht Record Fair? Just as one header board gives way to another, Steve folds reality in on itself with a more-portable tome: "I have the same in a smaller book I carry with me so I can check when looking to buy more." Here we are in 2021, while Steve and Gary Numan wave at us from 3021.
THE CHAOS PRINCIPLE
“...some men aren't looking for anything logical. Some men just want to watch the world burn.” - Alfred Pennyworth
I was introduced to Donna (AKA malingo @donnary57676462 on Twitter) when she responded: "Oh I have FAR too many for that! Whatever was most recently acquired is at the ''front'' of the nearest... group" on a Facebook post about the organisation of record collections. I had to know more. This post set the tone to discover a record collection as unique as it is chaotic: "Stuff used to be alphabetical a billion years ago when I didn't have that many but honestly I abandoned that in about 1988 or so!"
After buying a double Glenn Miller album from Woolworths with "the most horrifically lurid pink sleeve you've ever seen", Donna was bitten by the bug and has collected vinyl, CDs and tapes ever since. Unencumbered by the stylistic constrictions of the conventionally-minded, Donna has amassed an eclectic and vivacious collection encompassing "Pretty much everything by Mozart, Bowie, Talking Heads, Peggy Lee, Dusty Springfield, James, Iron Maiden, Rammstein, Maria McKee, Ella Fitzgerald, Tinariwen. And Indigo Girls."
So, for a person with everything by Iron Maiden, Bowie and Mozart, surely some kind of system needs to be in place to organise this collection? "Organise?!" Donna laughs at the notion, "I don't think my ''system' is in any dictionary". Not one thread of design to tie this turmoil together?! "Well, artists I have a lot of are together, most dance music is together, except CD multidiscs that don't fit in the holders. I have an LGBT section, mostly full of women."
Before any of our more resolute collectors break out into cold sweats, Donna concedes that among the turbulent waters of the eco-system, some oases of calm have evolved: "I have 'some' records in order-ish, but that's really the 7''s and 12''s, so that's a box full of Erasure, Marc Almond, Communards, Pet Shop Boys, a picture disc section, a reggae box and then a mostly alphabetical 'whatever' genre. Across several boxes".
"I got a Shakin Stevens Best Of tape recently-ish (pre lockdown) for 5p. Some would argue I was still ripped off" - (@donnary57676462)
So, what happens when Donna returns from a successful record shopping spree or a new Shakin Stevens disc gets delivered? Rogue sub-groupings have sprung up within the anarchy, guerilla musical militias temporarily banding together against the common enemy of meticulousness: "Recent purchases are most recent at the front of whatever is passing for a 'group'. Tapes are mostly in shoeboxes but again mostly not ordered. Other than my live tapes and a box of Rock N Roll ones."
And within that Rock N Roll box, perhaps there is a lesson to be learned about how to organise our records. Whatever works, works and if she's happy with the system and you're happy with yours, then who are we to judge? Speaking of judgementalism, even in 2021 being a female within the sometimes patriarchal world of record collecting has had its challenges for Donna: "I'm still one of the few women who collect physical media. I've had the weirdest comments from guys and I've also been ignored in record and hi-fi shops."
Well, Donna, I can guarantee that all of us Townsend Music and our readership salute you and your crackers collection. With that, we'll leave the final word to you: "My means of death is highly likely to be 'buried under a collapsed pile of physical music media' and I'd like that on my headstone. Thank you!"
Need more records to organise? We've got you covered for exclusive, signed, rare and limited-edition releases at Townsend Music.