Regular readers of my blogs will know that I have described myself as a "music obsessive" and that I am an avid record and CD collector. When I get into a particular band or artist I try to track down every song that artist has ever done—irrespective of whether I actually like the song or not. I have to own every recording. Once I have collected every official recording I then start tracking down unofficially released recordings via bootlegs and fan websites. I have my own books and printed lists (i.e., complete discographies by specific bands and solo artists) that I meticulously tick off with yellow highlighter pen. In some ways, I am no different to a trainspotter that ticks off train numbers in a book.
I wouldn’t say I am a particularly materialistic person but I love knowing (and feeling) that I have every official recorded output by my favorite musicians. My hobby can sometimes cost me a lot of money (I am a sucker for deluxe box sets) although most of the time I can track down secondhand items and bargains on eBay and Amazon relatively cheaply (plus I have downloaded thousands of bootleg albums for free from the internet). Tracking down an obscure release is as much fun as the listening of the record or CD (i.e., the ‘thrill of the chase’). Almost every record I have bought over the last decade is in mint condition and unplayed (as many records now come with a code to download the record bought as a set of MP3s).
As a record collector, one of the things that make the hobby both fun and (at the same time somewhat) infuriating is the number of different versions of a particular song that can end up being released. As a collector I have an almost compulsive need to own every version of a song that an artist has committed to vinyl, CD, tape, or MP3. However, I am grateful that I am not the type of collector that tries to own every physical record and CD released in every country. My love of The Beatles would mean I would be bankrupt. I only buy releases in other countries if it contains music that is exclusive to that country (e.g., many Japanese CD releases contain one or two tracks that may not be initially released in any other country).
For most artists that I collect from the 1960s to early 1980s, it is fairly easy to collect every officially released song. Artists like The Beatles may have up three to four official versions of a particular song (the single version, the album version, a demo version, and a version from another country with a different edit). With bootleg recordings, the number of versions might escalate to 30 or 40 versions by including live versions, and every studio take. It can become almost endless if you start to collect bootleg recordings of every gig by your favorite artists—I know this from personal experience.
It was during my avid record buying days in the early 1980s that the completist in me started to take hold. Some of you reading this may recall that in 1984, Frankie Goes To Hollywood (FGTH) became only the second band ever to reach the top of the U.K. charts with their first three singles—"Relax," "Two Tribes" and "The Power of Love" (the first band being – not The Beatles, but their Liverpool friends and rivals – Gerry and The Pacemakers). One of the reasons that FGTH got to (and stayed for weeks at) number one was there were thousands of people like me that bought countless different versions of every variation of every single released. For instance, not only did I buy the standard 7”, 12”, cassettes, and picture discs of both "Relax" and "Two Tribes," I bought every new mix that FGTH producer Trevor Horn put out.
Every week, all of the money that I earned from my Saturday job working in Irene’s Pantry would go on buying records from Castle Records in Loughborough. I didn’t care about clothes, sweets, or books. All I cared about outside of school was music. Some of my hard earned money went on buying the NME (New Musical Express) every Thursday along with buying other music weeklies if my favorite bands were featured (Melody Maker, Record Mirror, Sounds and Smash Hits to name just a few).
When I got to university to study psychology at Bradford University, my love of music and record buying increased. Not only did I discover other like-minded people but Bradford had a great music scene. One of the first things I did when I got to university was become a journalist for the student magazine (Fleece). Within seven months I was one of the three Fleece editors and I was in control of all the arts and entertainment coverage. The perks of my (non-paid) job was that (a) I got to go to every gig at Bradford University for free, (b) I was sent lots of free records to review for the magazine (all of which I kept and some of which I still have), and (c) I got to see every film for free in return for writing a review. I couldn’t believe my luck.
During this time (1984-1987) my three favorite artists were The Smiths, Depeche Mode, and (my guilty pleasure) Adam Ant. I devoured everything they released (especially The Smiths). As a record collector I not only loved the Smiths music but I loved the record covers, the messages scratched on the vinyl run-out grooves, and Morrissey’s interviews in the music press. It was also during this period that I discovered other bands that later went onto become some of my favorite bands of all time (Propaganda and The Art of Noise being the two that most spring to mind). As a Depeche Mode fan, collecting every track they have ever done has become harder and harder (and more expensive), as they were arguably one of the pioneers of the remix. Although Trevor Horn and the ZTT label took remixing singles to a new level for record collectors, it was Depeche Mode that arguably carried on the baton into the 1990s.
During 1987-1990, my record buying subsided through financial necessity. I was doing my Ph.D. at Exeter University and the little money I had went on food, rent, and travel (to see my then girlfriend, who lived over 300 miles away). I simply didn’t have the money to buy and collect records the way I had before. Buying singles stopped but I would still buy the occasional album. This was the only period in my life that I didn’t really buy music magazines. My thinking was that if I didn’t know what was being released I couldn’t feel bad about not buying it.
In the summer of 1990, I landed my first proper job as a lecturer in psychology at Plymouth University. For the first time in my life I had a healthy disposable income. My first purchase with my first pay check was a huge record and CD player. I also bought loads of CD albums on my growing wish list. What I loved about my hobby was that I could do it simultaneously with my job (i.e., I could listen to my favourite bands at the same time as preparing my lectures or writing my research papers—something that I still do to this day).
When CD singles became popular in the 1990s I became a voracious buyer of music again. Typically bands would release a single across multiple formats with each format containing tracks exclusive to the record, CD and/or cassette. Artists like Oasis and Morrissey (two of my favorites during the 1990s) would release singles in three or four formats (7” vinyl, 10”/12” vinyl, CD single, and cassette single) and I would buy all formats (and to some extent I still do). It was a collector’s paradise but I could afford it. In fact, not only could I afford to buy all the music I wanted, I could buy all the monthly music magazines at the time (Vox, Select, Record Collector, Q, and then a little later Uncut and Mojo), and I could go to gigs and still have money left over.
Since the mid-1990s only one thing has really changed in relation to my music-buying habits and that is there are less and less new bands that I have become a fan of. I still buy lots of new music but I don’t tend to collect the work of contemporary bands. However, the music industry has realized there are huge amounts of money to be made from their back catalogues. I am the type of music buyer that will happily buy a classic album again as long as it has an extra disc or two of demo versions, rarities, obscure B-sides, that will help me extend and/or complete music collections by the bands I love. Over this year I have already bought box sets by The Beatles, The Velvet Underground, and David Bowie (to name just three). I have become a retro-buyer but I still crave new music by my favorite artists. Yes, I love music and it takes up a lot of my life. However, I am not addicted. My obsessive love of music adds to my life rather than detracts from it—and on that criterion alone I will happily be a music collector until the day that I die.
References and further reading
Belk, R.W. (1995). Collecting as luxury consumption: Effects on individuals and households. Journal of Economic Psychology, 16(3), 477-490.
Belk, R.W. (2001). Collecting in a Consumer Society. New York: Routledge.
Moist, K. (2008). “To renew the Old World”: Record collecting as cultural production. Studies in Popular Culture, 31(1), 99-122.
Pearce, S. (1993). Museums, Objects, and Collections. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.
Pearce, S. (1998). Contemporary Collecting in Britain. London: Sage.
Reynolds, S. (2004). Lost in music: Obsessive music collecting. In E. Weisbard (Ed.), This Is Pop: In Search of the Elusive at Experience Music Project (pp.289-307). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.