Dig to Discover: A Field Guide to Building Your Record Collection w/ Vinyl Conflict

by | Jul 8, 2024 | COMMUNITY, CULTURE, DOWNTOWN RVA, MUSIC, POP CULTURE, SMALL BUSINESS

Collecting vinyl is a total experience, a lifestyle that connects many things into a singular space. For some, it is a way to connect past to present; for others, it is a way to support your favorite bands and artists. And for others still, it is about the hunt. Finding that one elusive record is like digging for lost treasure, revealing itself at exactly the right moment. Building a record collection is not only a prism that reflects your identity but also cuts to the core of how you connect to the world around you. 

As with all things, taking that first step is always the hardest part, especially when the sonic universe is as vast as it is limitless. Because of this, walking into a record store with the intention of starting a record collection is not as easy as it may seem. Whether you’re into rap, punk, soul, or metal, one record inevitably leads to a hundred more — each waiting to find their forever home. According to The Verge, 43 million vinyl records were sold in 2023, marking the 17th year of consecutive growth for vinyl sales. This means the price of records has also increased by almost 30 percent, creating a potenital barrier for new collectors.

However, you are not alone in your quest to build a world class record collection. To help navigate the start-point, we turned to one of the best in the game — Richmond’s own Bobby Egger from Vinyl Conflict. Egger, who has owned Vinyl Conflict since 2012, has almost 20 years of collecting experience which includes scouring the planet looking for the best collections. Specializing in punk, metal, rock and roll, along with having an intense passion for international disco, he also presses vinyl for local artists like rap hero Nickelus F and punk legends Four Walls Falling.

Put simply, he’s got the resume.

Bobby Egger at Vinyl Conflict, photo by Landon Shroder

We linked with Eggers at Vinyl Conflict one 98 degree day last week to chat about building a record collection, where to start, and why our obsession with vinyl continues to burn at the temperature it does.

Involvement in the Process

“I look at it as a limited piece of mass produced art,” said Eggers, when asked why vinyl as a music medium has had such staying power. “Some discs are 40 and 50 years old… they had to be cared for, they had to be watched and I love that.” Finding the right records for your collection ultimately starts here; the journey of the record itself. And in a way, the fact that some records have survived the march of time is near miraculous. Passed between multiple owners, they have survived to tell their story while sitting in basements, thrift shops, and in storage units that have not been weather proofed or climate controlled. These records represent an auditory time capsule unique to a certain moment and place in music (and world) history. 

Photo by Landon Shroder

Asked why he continues to collect after all these years, Eggers said, “For me, record collecting is about trying to find that one disc I haven’t heard yet.” This passion is reflected by collectors everywhere, but every smart collector knows that it is not just about ownership of an item, but being involved in the process. “When you get to somebody who had an involvement in their local scene, played in a band, or worked at a venue, that collection is special.” Respecting that sense of connection is also furthered by what type of collector you might hope to become — will it be about the quantity of records sitting on your shelf or the hustle of finding every record by a specific artist — or will you become a genre specialists in early 70s metal or UK Northern Soul? Only you can answer that question once you start digging, but for Eggers it starts much more simply. “Whether it is the popular rock music of the last 50 years or the band you just saw at the Broadberry… for someone starting from scratch, it’s just cool to find your favorite albums.” 

Digging to Discover

Vinyl Conflict has close to 8,000 records for sale at any one time, which can be intimidating for people just starting their collection. This also means your method of collecting is just as important (if not more important) than any other phase of your vinyl journey. Its easy to get distracted once you’re in the crates and every long-term collector knows what it means to chase rabbits that are not necessarily core to your collecting goals. Buying just to buy should never be the objective, not with the average cost of a new record landing anywhere between $20-40. To prevent this pitfall, Eggers said that you should avoid re-building your CD collection or trying to match what you’re listening to on a streaming platform. “I think that’s a little exhausting in the collection to chase [phase], he said. “Start with the albums you think would be great to have an involved process with.” 

With 8,000 potential choices the ‘New Arrivals’ section is the best places to start, something Eggers was quick to point out and just as quick to clarify. “The most confusing spot to a lot of people is my new arrivals [section],” he said. “They’re not in any sort of order, they’re in order of new arrivals.”

Photo by Landon Shroder

For professionals digging at Vinyl Conflict this is where they usually scoop the most coveted records, but the same is also true for those just starting out. “This is the best place for someone who’s looking to start collecting,” said Eggers. “Because they’re secondhand and will be a little bit cheaper unless they are insanely collectible.” This is also where the thrill of the hunt is most fully appreciated and where those unexpected finds become most likely. “To look in that new arrival section and find that one Metallica record is an unmatched experience.”

But for first-time collectors, managing your expectations is also key.  Egger described this situation, “You start flipping and maybe you’re not having any luck, but then you find another record on the same label or you find that Judas Priest album you’ve also been looking for.” Whatever the case, the underlying lesson is to stay curious, while at the same time not sleeping on whatever records you find. At Vinyl Conflict you only have about a month from records landing in the new arrivals section (while simultaneously being promoted on Instagram and Discogs) before transitioning over to the floor — or as Egger ominously put it, “if they survive that long.”

Active Collecting vs. Passive Collecting

While the hunt is integral to collecting vinyl, there is also a more tactile way to build your record collection. Namely, supporting your local scene and favorite artists — something Egger was insistent about. “Nowadays, a great reason to collect records, is to support current artists that are releasing albums. That’s also the best way to put money in their pockets.” In this age of digital streaming on platforms like Spotify, artists might only make a measly $.003 to $.005 per stream. Putting that into context, Spotify also recorded revenues of over $4 billion in 2023. Because of this commodification, being a working musician is now harder than ever, which means buying merch is more important than ever. “When you’re buying their physical records, the artists are getting tens and twenties [as opposed to cents on the dollar] especially if you’re buying it at their concert.” 

*Editorial Note: Always support your local scene. Richmond is known internationally for its diverse show venues, so buy records directly from your favorite local artists and touring bands.

Build a Relationships with Your Favorite Record Store

Most experienced record collectors know how to diversify their finds by drag-netting multiple shops, but there is always that special place that knows exactly what you’re looking for. In an age of digital expediency this kind of interpersonal connection creates a fierce loyalty for certain collectors. But like any relationship, it takes time to build.   

“I don’t think this is something you’re going to experience on the first try,” said Egger. “Its intimidating. Not that it should be, but I don’t think you should come in as a person who’s never been in a shop before and expect to get rockstar treatment — sorry guys.” This is a nice way of saying that not every record store is for every person; there is no universal experience, as different shops cater to different specialties, (some with big personalities) so the relationship needs to go both ways.

Photo by Landon Shroder

“When you find that vibe, it’s important for you to share that that bond with the staff.” When asked to expand on that sentiment, Eggers said you have to get to know the playing field. “There are plenty of people who walk in and think we’re the best and there’s plenty of people who walk out fucking fast.” Bringing this full circle, Eggers also admitted that he has learned just as much from his customers, as from his own experience, saying they also have, “Infinite amounts of knowledge.” 

Yet at the core of every record shop is a sense of community. Egger said it is important for collectors to know what their local shops are involved in, “I can confidently tell you [every shop] has some really cool involvement in their community… the culture they support in the city, their local neighborhoods and artists.” Richmond has always been an exciting destination for record shops because so many music scenes intersect in one place, and the deeper the scene, the more available the vinyl. 

Getting Set-Up

Before digging through the crates, you need to find a set up that works for you, which includes the right record player, receiver, and speakers to accommodate your listening objectives. “I think the important thing is to figure out what your long goal is,” said Egger. “If you’re just starting to collect it is important to not bite off more than you can chew.” This is sound advice, since you can just as easily spend $60 on a turntable as you can $6,000. “Every nice turntable is durable, but it is about finding that baseline.”

First time collectors should get a record player whose component parts can be easily replaced, specifically the arm, belt, or the needle. Egger said a good starting point is Audio-Technica, but also went on to say, “There is Technics, which a lot of people look for, but classic wise, I also love Onkyos.” 

Photo by Landon Shroder

Your turntable is obviously the most important component, but is only as good as your receiver. And in the vinyl game you can go a few directions, from a vintage analogue set-up to brand new turntables that already have a built-in pre-amp. “Your turntable is speaking a language to the speakers that only the receiver can translate,” said Egger. What might be obvious to some, but overlooked by others is also ensuring that whatever receiver you buy has a phono input. “A lot of people by a brand new rack and then realize it doesn’t have a phono input.” Compatibility between speakers and receivers, especially if you want to optimize your listening experience is also critical. Egger recommends having a receiver and speaker set up from the same generation, “A lot of times people are like ‘I have speakers at home,’ but they don’t match. I would not skip on these two things.” 

For a first-time collector, Egger recommends spending around $300. That’s everything — end-to-end — a turntable, receiver, and speakers. “I’ll have deals for a hundred bucks, but that will go quick.”  

Post Script Playlist: What We Listened To

From start to finish, 16 different albums were played in writing this story.

  1. Archie Bell and the Drells: Tighten Up
  2. The Gun Club: Fire of Love
  3. The Wedding Present (Self-Titled)
  4. High on Fire: The Art of Self Defense 
  5. Grand Funk Railroad: Red Album  
  6. Artic Monkeys: Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not
  7. Wais P and Pete Twist: Hans Gruber 
  8. Hanoi Rocks: Back to Mystery City
  9. Sir Lord Baltimore: Kingdom Come
  10. Nickelus F: Stuck
  11. Green Beret: Standing in the Mouth of Hell 
  12. The Police: Outlandos D’Amour
  13. Clarence Carter: This is Clarence Carter
  14. Screaming Trees: Something About Today 
  15. Leafhound: Growers of Mushrooms
  16. Gene Redding: Blood Brothers

We wish you good luck, good health, and may the odds ever be in your favor in your quest to build a world class record collection.

Photo by Landon Shroder
Landon Shroder

Landon Shroder

Landon is a foreign policy and communications professional from Richmond specializing in high risk and complex environments, spending almost 20 years abroad in the Middle East and Africa. He hold’s a Master’s Degree from American University in Conflict Resolution and was a former journalist and producer for VICE Media. His writing on foreign affairs has been published in World Policy Journal, Chatham House, Small Wars Journal, War on the Rocks, and the Fair Observer, along with being a commentator in the New York Times on the Middle East.




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