Music Geek: Hunting for records an essential part of musical journey

See, I can look classy every now and again.

When I search for records, it’s not an easy process. I often find myself inundated with those pesky round things — be they CDs or vinyl — as I flip through album after album. It’s not always particularly easy to find exactly what you want, supposing, of course, there is something in particular you’re interested in finding. It’s often the case that I’ll search shelves with no specific end, only the means: Exploration and search.

I’m under the impression that this is an essential part of my “musical journey” — a nebulous term I’ll adapt for use under a number of different circumstances with varying success. Half the fun of getting a record is looking for it, flipping through racks and racks of music, and finding that one specific item you’re willing to drop your cash on — or that stack of records you really, really don’t need right now.

If I were to walk into a store, find the album I wanted immediately, then leave, I feel I’d be missing a vital part of the experience. Of course, there are some real benefits to this — if somebody asks if you’ve heard of a record, and you remember seeing it at the store, you can just offer a glib, “Oh, I’ve heard of it, but I haven’t given it much time to digest,” be on your way, and leave them none the wiser. Sure, you haven’t heard the record, but you’ve seen a copy of it somewhere, and that should count for something, right? Not to say I’ve ever done this… but give it a try.

Of course, you don’t have to just flat-out lie. Is your friend asking about some new album you may or may not have heard, and you want to get them off your case? Tell them they have a copy on vinyl at the local record store. If it’s the right person, they’ll rush down, pick up a copy, and give it a listen, and they’ll probably invite you over to listen to it, too. You’ve helped your friend, yourself, and your local store, all in one fell swoop.

Aside from these fantasy scenarios, though, the record store serves a number of useful purposes. If you’ve caught a couple tracks from some band whose name is on the tip of your tongue — you’d recognize it if you saw it — and you know you want to hear more, what more fortuitous a scenario can come about than stumbling across it in your weekly vinyl hunt? You may find some real gems in there.

Downloading singles — or even albums, legally or not, doesn’t provide this experience. Not by a long shot. You can’t much shuffle through album after album, find something you recognize tangentially, and give it a spin at a listening station without some real effort — though, of course, if you know what you’re searching for, it’s not hard to find it.

I don’t mean to deny that there are some very sincere opportunities for one to find something new, exciting, and innovative online: Much to the contrary, the internet has proven a great tool for that very thing. It can’t be mistaken as the only tool, though; there’s something powerful about flipping through album after album, finding that vaguely recognizable gem, giving it a spin, and realizing you’ve either found a new love or made a huge mistake.

The record hunt, as one might call it, might be a bit outmoded in terms of efficiency, and it might be tiring. Still, it’s intensely satisfying. Can one find good music without record stores? Undoubtedly. I do it regularly, and I’m no finding-new-music whiz (perhaps I’d like to be, but it’s just not the case.) That should say something.

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