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In my experience, shopping for vinyl is often more fun than playing a record. There’s nothing better than digging through a milk crate and finding something cool—especially if you’ve never heard it before. But where should you shop for vinyl records? And should you skip retailers like Walmart?
The best way to get familiar with vinyl is to dig through a couple thousand records. Shopping locally gives you a hands-on experience with vinyl and the joys of crate digging. All you need to do is look up record stores in your area on Google, Yelp, or Facebook.
Most new record stores are very small and “boutique,” which can be a good thing or a bad thing. On the one hand, these small stores sell a ton of new releases, which may be exactly what you want to buy. But the prices aren’t always great, and some genres get the short end of the stick. I’ve never had much luck finding R&B at the smaller shops in my area, for example.
But small record stores can be great, especially if they’ve been around for a while. You’ll find that the best record stores often carry a mix of new and vintage vinyl, which gives you a ton of stuff to choose from at a variety of prices. (When buying used, check the vinyl for scratches, warping, or other damage. You can clean a vinyl record, but you can’t fix a broken record.)
If you’re lucky, you’ll find a massive record store nestled in a weird corner of town. These huge stores are usually operated by old-timers who impulsively buy other peoples’ record collections. So, the selection is outrageously varied, the prices are low, and hidden gems are constantly rolling in. But if you’re looking for brand-new records, these huge secondhand stores aren’t always the best choice.
You can also shop for vinyl records at Walmart, Barnes & Noble, and Target. But unless you come across a good discount or a limited-edition LP, I don’t suggest buying vinyl at these locations. They don’t offer a very strong selection, and their prices tend to be a bit high. (Of course, if you live in a rural area, these retailers may be your only local option.)
Oh, I should also mention antique stores. In my experience, antique stores really overestimate the value of old records. If you shop for vinyl at an antique store, be critical of its prices. (Read the following section for an easy way to check what a record is worth.)
Modern record collectors love to shop online. Not only is it convenient, but hey, some records just aren’t available at your local stores.
When shopping for records online, I suggest starting at Discogs. It’s the most popular database and marketplace for vinyl records, CDs, tapes, and other music media. You can find plenty of affordable records on Discogs, including new and vintage releases.(Naturally, Discogs is also one of the best places to find rare and expensive vinyl.)
To be clear, Discogs isn’t a retailer. It’s an online marketplace, kind of like eBay. I’ve never had trouble shopping on Discogs, as most of the sellers are record collectors and small businesses. Still, you should pay attention to the feedback left on seller profiles. At the very least, use Discogs as a price-checker tool when shopping for records elsewhere.
Once you’ve looked at the prices on Discogs, go shop around a bit. Large record stores like Amoeba Music and Dusty Groove sell records online, and retailers like Amazon, Walmart, and Barnes & Nobel regularly offer discounts on brand-new vinyl.
Also, if you don’t mind getting a not-so-great price, you can buy records directly from an artist’s website or Bandcamp page. Or, try visiting a music label’s website—Blue Note regularly reissues its classic jazz albums, which are hard to find (or expensive) when shopping secondhand. And Third Man Records is a good place to find limited-edition vinyl, especially on Record Store Day.
If you aren’t afraid of vintage vinyl, try visiting a flea market or swap meet. You’ll find a glut of old records, often at decent prices. And some flea markets have proper indoor record stores, which aren’t always listed on Google or your GPS. (If you live in a rural area, a flea market is usually the best alternative to a “real” record store.)
Obviously, you need to be careful when buying records at a flea market or swap meet. Check that records aren’t scratched or warped, and check prices on Discogs to make sure that you aren’t overpaying. Some people think that old vinyl’s worth a ton of money, but unless a vintage record is extremely rare, it should only cost a few dollars.
You can also try searching for pop-up record shops in your area. These are usually hosted by record collectors at farmers’ markets, small concerts, and other events. Most vinyl pop-ups are advertised on Facebook, though you may need to do a bit of searching to find one locally.
While it won’t give you the experience of a crate digger, a vinyl subscription box can help you discover new and impressive records at a reasonable price. These services also tend to offer limited-edition vinyl, which may have some sentimental or resale value.
Now, there are a ton of vinyl subscription boxes to choose from. The most popular option is Vinyl Me, Please, which sends out a deluxe-edition vinyl and exclusive booklet each month. Your subscription also unlocks access to the Vinyl Me, Please shop, which carries a ton of exclusive pressings.
If you want something convenient, Amazon’s Vinyl of the Month is a straightforward option. Subscriptions start at $25, and you can choose from genres like “The Golden Era,” pop, country, hip-hop, and rock. (Amazon occasionally sends out a “featured” album, which is usually a limited-edition pressing.)
Whether you’re new to vinyl or want music across a variety of genres, Vinyl Me, Please is great for all.
Get a "Golden Era" record each month from Amazon. Or, try a different Amazon Vinyl of the Month subscription.
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