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"It's not about the music."
October 14, 2008 10:23 AM   Subscribe

Crate Digging, Don't Do It!

From the last image: "Crate digging is a term used by DJ's and collectors to refer to the act of checking record stores, flea markets or thrift shops for second and music on vinyl. It's extremely boring."

The post title is taken from the Alan Zweig documentary "Vinyl".
posted by hydrophonic (48 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
If only I had that advice back in 1989 . . .
posted by Critical_Beatdown at 10:40 AM on October 14, 2008


Those pictures rule.
posted by Damn That Television at 10:43 AM on October 14, 2008


These are gorgeous, right out of my subconscious (except with vinyl instead of piles of obscure computer equipment).
posted by Skorgu at 10:44 AM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


I miss crate digging. When everyone started to go digital is about when I stopped being an active DJ.

This was around 2002-2003, when final scratch and the like had come far enough and spread wide enough to mean you could still control your digital music as well as your vinyl, and weren't limited to some horrible control surface or CDDJ setup.
posted by flaterik at 10:44 AM on October 14, 2008


A friend of mine pretty much gave me this advice a few years back explaining "Once you become a DJ you'll never have any money. You'll always have to keep buying music."

My desire to have money was greater than my desire to become a DJ.
posted by P.o.B. at 10:51 AM on October 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: Imaginary records will haunt your sleep.

I crate dug back in the day when I was hosting jazz programs on community radio. The stuff i was playing was so rare that I was compelled to buy everything I saw, because I knew I'd never see it again.

It was true that imaginary records haunted my sleep. I spent years searching for a Cecil Taylor/Anthony Braxton duet record that I was sure I had seen before. It was only after I asked Cecil Taylor about it that he said they never did anything like that. I was astonished, and a little sad.

Shortly after that, I retried from the airwaves.
posted by salishsea at 10:54 AM on October 14, 2008 [11 favorites]


That is some beautiful pencil work.
posted by agent at 10:55 AM on October 14, 2008


Hah! I spent the weekend record shopping, cataloging, and obsessing. Those are great.
posted by OmieWise at 10:58 AM on October 14, 2008


Reminds me of day-long expeditions to Notting Hill Gate in my student days. Wonderful.
posted by nowonmai at 11:10 AM on October 14, 2008


These are some really great pictures... he obviously has a sense of design honed to a razor edge due to days upon days of gazing at record sleeves.
posted by Drexen at 11:16 AM on October 14, 2008


This was around 2002-2003, when final scratch and the like had come far enough and spread wide enough to mean you could still control your digital music as well as your vinyl, and weren't limited to some horrible control surface or CDDJ setup.

Um, the dominant control surface I have seen in the wild is Serato Scratch which shockingly similar to Final Scratch and still allows you to play vinyl.
posted by mkb at 11:17 AM on October 14, 2008


I once met a scrawny man with two bags of records in an Amsterdam coffeeshop. He told me about what he called the "Sparing food for funk syndrome".
posted by yoHighness at 11:41 AM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


God, that takes me back to my days of obsessively pawing through vinyl in Manhattan record stores. And I wasn't even a DJ, I was just looking for things like Lora Logic EPs. And now I'm having to throw out boxes of vinyl that got ruined when the basement flooded and that I hadn't listened to in years because I never bothered to set up my record player after we moved out of the city—it's all CDs all the time chez languagehat. Sad but true.
posted by languagehat at 11:42 AM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Ah, my addiction is not limited to vinyl. CDs are quite fair game, but I don't obsess over the unattainable, I fixate on the deals and over-looked gems in the $1 And Less bins. Bulk sellers on eBay are my plight. My wife has come to terms with my addiction, and through this I have been able to accept her need to get every new add-on and expansio for The Sims.

Limiting yourself to the rarities and you overlook the unloved or forgotten pieces all around you. But that doesn't mean I haven't obsessed over lost opportunities to pick something up, especially after finding out what it is worth to others.

hydrophonic, thanks for the links! The artwork is fantastic. I'm sad there is no more information on the artist's blog. The first set of google hits are all blogs bouncing back to these pictures. At the end of the 2nd page, under his Facebook profile, is an interview, which is interesting (this series was a graduation project) with a bit of insight, but not a lot. Paging further through Google results is continually un-enlightening. Seems he's a relatively new artist.

At least with photography, my obsession only takes time, electricity and storage space (I'm staying away from tintyping and all that).
posted by filthy light thief at 11:47 AM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


By some misfortune of speed-browsing and the workday nearing it's close, I read "Endless crates will spell your mom." I thought that possibly this was some phsycological analysis by the artist of crate diggers who search and search for that ever-elusive holy grail of records, and that what they are really looking for is the phsych major's favorite fallback; the maternal relationship. Or the lack of one. Eventually that fact would be come obvious in the crates, it would be spelled out for you...

Then I realized that I've been staring at my computer screen too long, and should go home now.
posted by TrinaSelwyn at 11:47 AM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


you ain't artsier than me / 'cause you chop up breaks and you dig in the crates
posted by pombe at 11:52 AM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


it's crazy. i've never been the type to obsessively collect music in any form whatsoever. Even the near total availability of illicitly shared mp3s and my own complete willingness to steal most music I care to listen to hasn't resulted in me going out and downloading tons of music. I've met vinyl hounds who obsessively buy music to pad their library of material for dj'ing, and I respect that. I've also met guys who have thousands upon thousands of albums they never listen to, but which they love and can't live without. I worked in a record store with a guy who had, at the last time I talked to him about it years ago, over 10,000 albums in cd format. I asked him how much he really listened to and he said "I've listened to it all, but most of it only once. Nowadays i just listen to old Johnny Cash a lot when I'm not giving my new stuff the obligatory single listen through." He was 21 at the time, and pretty much always miserable. I don't know what that says.
posted by shmegegge at 11:57 AM on October 14, 2008


Crate digging, it's not that bad as it only involves four (lust, envy, greed and pride) of the seven deadly sins.
posted by caddis at 12:00 PM on October 14, 2008 [3 favorites]


I am so sending this to a few people I know. My crate-digging days are behind me, though I did find myself seeking out some King Crimson vinyl the other day. I used to spend many a weekend afternoon at the Princeton Record Exchange in Princeton, NJ or record shows in various farflung towns in PA, DE, NJ, and NY, usually followed by a few beers at some pub with fellow vinyl nerds, looking over our haul.

But after moving about half a dozen times in the past few years, I've been loathe to add to my vinyl collection. It's a heavy habit, man. Plus, that whole "You'll end up alone" thing...
posted by medeine at 12:05 PM on October 14, 2008


Clever ploy on his part to keep all the goodies for himself. But it won't work! muahahahahahaaa! I'll dig 'til I'm dead*!

*when I have money again. eventually. someday. in the meantime, I'll just obsessively fret over every piece of music going wasted and unappreciated.
posted by batmonkey at 12:17 PM on October 14, 2008


Fucking hipsters
posted by tehloki at 12:25 PM on October 14, 2008


And DON'T STASH!!!
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 12:25 PM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


For me, crates once dug have become crates for sale....and it is very sad.
posted by bonefish at 12:32 PM on October 14, 2008


still allows you to play vinyl.

Forenote: this is from a house/techhouse/techno DJ who had a paid residency and played many many many underground parties around LA

Yeah, that's why I could keep playing as long as I did. But it switched from "hit up two or three record stores, dig through new releases and white labels, hit up satellite and a couple other online stores, and know your bases are pretty much covered" to "oh holy christ I have the whole internet to dig through. This will become entirely neverending".

Once you could play any mp3 on the decks... I knew I couldn't keep up.

The other thing that killed me was... shit, all of a sudden I needed to know track names. I played by feel most of the time. Last track is bumping, I bounce around as I flip through the 100 or so records I brought until one sticks to my hand. More often than not, I would not have been able to tell you what track would work until I found it, but the one that stuck to my hand would magically have the the right rhythm.

I knew them by color and sleeve and label and weight, with names being pretty tertiary. I realize this is MY limitation, and I don't bitch about people switching to digital - it just meant I was out of the game.

you ain't artsier than me / 'cause you chop up breaks and you dig in the crates

God I love that track. I am going to listen to that album RIGHT NOW.
posted by flaterik at 12:57 PM on October 14, 2008 [3 favorites]


DJ Spyder works (I think) at the largest vinyl pressing company in America; his blog is an excellent place to keep up with vinyl news in general.
posted by carsonb at 12:59 PM on October 14, 2008


Speaking as a former crate-digger: yeah, this is pretty much accurate.
posted by greenie2600 at 1:05 PM on October 14, 2008


When I see great artistic talent coupled with a keen sense of observation, like this example, I get the green eyes of envy.
posted by Foam Pants at 1:19 PM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


If only crates weren't so fricking heavy and big, I'd have kidnapped all my DJ ex-boyfriend's records and sold them to pay back some of what he owed -- and still owes -- me. I can't even imagine what his collection is worth.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 1:24 PM on October 14, 2008


I never knew there was a term for this disease! This is why I never, ever, ever accept an invitation to go music shopping with anyone anymore. After the millionth time of being stuck in Amoeba records for hours while a friend crawls on the floor digging through 45s, I vowed never again. It's a sickness, people!
posted by The Light Fantastic at 1:59 PM on October 14, 2008


Amazing pictures and very accurate ones, to boot. Still, crate digging can also lead to things like this, so it's not all bad!
posted by soundofsuburbia at 2:00 PM on October 14, 2008


I disagree. Crate digging is important work. Crate digging, like any obsessive collecting, is fundamentally an exercise in price discovery, which in turn is the pragmatic reflection of theoretical value.

The crate digger mines the inventories looking for what he perceives to be high value records. They have some importance to the digger above the background level of every other record. by acquiring that record and placing it in his own collection, that value is communicated to the rest of the world. The record now has value because it is part of that collector's collection. In fact, the value of the collection is greater than the sum of the values of the records within it, precisely because it is organized into a collection. The fact that the newly discovered record belongs in that collection reflects information about that record that the world previously lacked (or at least could not access).

Furthermore, it is the difference between the value of the collection and the sum of the values of the items in the collection that represents the value of this new information. This is why a famous DJ's record collection is worth more than the nearly identical collection of a neighborhood DJ. We value the famous DJ's expertise more than the neighborhood DJ's, so what he considers important is relatively more important than whant the neighborhood DJ thinks is important.

Ultimately, we would like to see all the archives, attics, basements, and second-hand shops strip-mined of their 'gems', and those gems placed into collections. This holds true for any other collector, whether their object of interest is stamps, coins, books, furniture, toys, pens, etc. To understand where a field of human endeavor should progress requires understanding what was good or important about the previous iterations or the previous steps along the way.

Furthermore, once the long tail is mined of its gems, we are left with a massive global collection of those items which were not considered important or valuable at the time or searching. But that doesn't mean that it won't become important for some reason in the future. So, the archives, the second-hand wastelands need to be searched over and over again by successive generations of diggers.

In this fashion, collectors are the physical analog to search engine spiders. They comb over the same data sets over and over again because over time what it considered important will change. We do not discard information about what was important in the past (we don't toss old collections haphazardly back in to the archives), but we do review it again with a fresh perspective.

In this light, collecting is the antithesis of consumption. Consumer-based consumption takes items from a highly ordered data set, consumes, them, and discards the information content. Consumption more accurately reflects the contents stream of commerce rather than the relative significant of each item, because by and large consumers consume based on their naked preferences, their likes and dislikes, rather than with any thought to what is important.

So go on crate digging, stamp collecting, bottle-cap collecting etc. Just be sure to let the rest of us know what you find.
posted by Pastabagel at 2:06 PM on October 14, 2008 [16 favorites]


After the millionth time of being stuck in Amoeba records for hours

I've never Gotten shopping at Amoeba: you can't listen to anything? How the shit can you shop for music from artists you've never heard of if you can't listen to it?

I also never went record shopping with non-djs. You have to be able to grab a stack, get lost in it for a while weeding through it, sort into "yes/no/maybe", put back the nos, and start again until you've gone through everything you might care about, then agonize over how many you can actually afford and end up buying several more than that anyway.

Being in a hurry because your friend is bored ruins the fun, not to mention making it a lot harder to pay enough attention to find the ridiculously sick bassline on track 2B that's hidden after a stupid vocal sample you can mix around.
posted by flaterik at 2:17 PM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


The crate digger mines the inventories looking for what he perceives to be high value records. They have some importance to the digger above the background level of every other record. by acquiring that record and placing it in his own collection, that value is communicated to the rest of the world. The record now has value because it is part of that collector's collection. In fact, the value of the collection is greater than the sum of the values of the records within it, precisely because it is organized into a collection.

Very eloquently put, and no, I will not go to the record store with you!
posted by The Light Fantastic at 2:19 PM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


you ain't artsier than me / 'cause you chop up breaks and you dig in the crates

Artsy
The Grouch
posted by humannaire at 3:22 PM on October 14, 2008


I still think the ediT remix is vastly more full of awesome, but that video is fantastic and I hadn't seen it. Thanks, humannaire!
posted by flaterik at 3:28 PM on October 14, 2008


I've never Gotten shopping at Amoeba: you can't listen to anything? How the shit can you shop for music from artists you've never heard of if you can't listen to it?

That's what the dollar bins (or in Rasputin's case, the way-less-than-a-dollar bins) are for.

I love crate digging -- it clears the head.
posted by Lazlo at 3:29 PM on October 14, 2008


oh shit, that grouch track is tight. i'd never heard of him before. now i'm going to go listen to him. I'm gonna dig in the isohunt.com crate and find some shit.
posted by shmegegge at 3:36 PM on October 14, 2008


I'm a crate digger. I'm always slightly paranoid that towards the back of some infrequently browsed crate there lies in wait some deadly spore or virus, just waiting for me to pull out that missing Flock Of Seagulls album and succumb to the forgotten infection. The worse thing is, crate digging can move a lot of dust, and every time I sneeze, I think this might be it, the crate too far, the one that does me in.

On another note, I'll never give up looking for records like this. It's not that I'm even looking for anything in particular (although I have "the list" like record geeks always do). I just find the process calming and theraputic - browsing, flicking, and occasionally catching sight of something you want. Yes, I like the process itself. Which would explain why I have amassed one hundred virtually identical copies of Tubular Bells on vinyl. And no, I don't suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder - I've got 100 copies now, I'm done.
posted by iivix at 5:20 PM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


how um....Uber!
posted by femmme at 6:11 PM on October 14, 2008


It was true that imaginary records haunted my sleep....

This has happened to me; an REM-driven search through a fantastical dreamscape just popped up as I scrolled through this thread...it keeps slipping away as I try to bring it back.... Hmm. Somebody put up an air guitar up on eBay a little while ago (and it sold, too!) - I think I'll put the dreamrecord up if I recall it....
posted by Kronos_to_Earth at 7:29 PM on October 14, 2008


It Will Mess Up Your Back

This one is absolutely true. I'm relatively young (35), and already I'm starting to consider bringing along a small fold-up chair when I go record hunting because it's too hard on my back and knees to spend a long time bent over or kneeling (why do so few thrift stores put the records on shelves at waist level?).

I'm relatively new to the whole crate-digging thing. I got into it about three years ago, when I started Five Bucks On By-Tor, a retro Canadian music audioblog (earlier this year I put up a second site for the non-Canadian records I come across: The Thrifty Digger). It's *a lot* of work, and there are definitely days when I have to drag myself out the door because the prospect of spending hours on public transit and scrabbling through piles of dusty, mostly shitty records isn't all that enticing. And then there's the issue of expense. My saving grace is that I *only* buy records from thrift stores and garage sales, meaning I rarely if ever spend more than two bucks on an individual LP, but it can still add up pretty fast.

And, as a lot of the cartoons in the post point out, a lot of record collectors are total cautionary examples. Back in August, my wife and I had a garage sale in which I got rid of a lot of vinyl riff-raff; to cut a long story short, most of the guys (and it was all guys, of course) who showed up were obnoxious, physically unattractive and/or otherwise unpleasant. I told my wife to warn me if I ever started turning into one of "those guys". I see them all the time at the stores I hit; darting you dirty looks, trying to peek at what you've pulled out, doing their best to physically block anyone else from getting to the sections they haven't looked through yet...it's sad. I do not want to become one of those dudes, and I certainly can't see keeping this hobby up into my old age.

However. It's all worth it if you're in it for the right reason - the music - and don't take it too seriously. If you're just hoping to hit the eBay jackpot, you're going to be wasting 99.9% of your time. If you're endlessly checking off items on a wishlist, you'll always be frustrated by the records you can't find. But if you're just hoping to find interesting music you wouldn't have heard otherwise, there's still a lot of great stuff out there, and you'll know the joy of your hard work paying off in the form of something that brings a big, fat smile to your face when you throw it on the turntable.

Great post, thanks.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:20 PM on October 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


I ran into a guy in London around 2002 or 2003. In his mid twenties or early thirties, he wore an industrial grade dust mask, safety goggles, thick latex gloves and tyvek sleeves. He carried what I can describe as a folding barstool and a homemade crate with duct tape shoulder straps. He was walking slowly, hunched, looking at shop windows and trying to look into people's homes and shopping bags. I stalked him for a while trying to get a picture, but he figured me out and gave me a look that made me put my camera away.

Suddenly, he straightened up, glanced around, and ran across the street into a second hand record/book store. I followed him inside. He had elbowed other shoppers out of his way and built a nest for himself with the record crates. He sat on his folding barstool, his fingers running through the records, his eyes darting from one crate to the next. Every five seconds or so his fingers would stop, he would pull a record halfway out, stare at it for an instant, and push it back in or leave it poking out. He went through half a dozen crates, looked at the records poking out, picked 2 out, put them in his crate, paid without saying a word, and left. It took less than 3 minutes.

After he left, the other shoppers snapped out of the hypnotic state he had left them in and started fighting for the records he left poking out of the crates.

I am happy to finally be able to put a name to what I saw.
posted by dirty lies at 9:04 PM on October 14, 2008 [5 favorites]


> I am happy to finally be able to put a name to what I saw.

Like I said...cautionary example.

*shudder*
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:23 PM on October 14, 2008


I am happy to finally be able to put a name to what I saw.

Hehehe. Sounds more like an obsessive hypochondriac, unless he discovered the dirtiest record store on the planet.

I've been in plenty that require a thorough hand washing after digging though. The worst I've seen was in a pretty bad Chicago neighborhood and was mostly really dirty old soul records piled all over in no particular order, and with cats wandering freely (and likely crapping) all over the records/shop. I guess I could almost see needing a dust mask in there.

As impractical as djing/digging/collecting was, I still miss the thrill of the hunt (and my 1000+ records that have been stored in my friends house for the past 2 years while I'm overseas- better still be there when I get back).
posted by p3t3 at 5:32 AM on October 15, 2008


I collected until I read the saga of the Record Licker. I stopped shortly thereafter. It is the one time the internet has provided a positive intervention for my geekdom.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 1:10 PM on October 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


I dug for records for 7 hours once. It was my HONEYMOON.

I've waited 3 years or more to find a record and been jubilant when I found it.

And yeah, wash your hands after. It's at least as icky as digging through old books... except fewer people do it these days. I can't tell you how many records I passed up because they weren't in good condition or smelled like cat piss.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 4:36 PM on October 15, 2008


I carried handi-wipes when I went digging. Particularly since I found many treasures at swap meets and blanket sales.
posted by batmonkey at 12:57 PM on October 16, 2008


You must really really love finding rare records if you have to carry handi-wipes.
posted by dirty lies at 6:06 PM on October 21, 2008


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