The 5-LP Club: An Introduction
Record collectors have theories about things. We have ways in which we imagine the world of vinyl accumulation works. These beliefs may be shared with the entire group at large, or across smaller contingents of collectors we are connected to, or they may be the unique ones that are housed completely in the mind of one of us - these may be spoken, but often are not, and they may even be reasonable but are reasonable even less often than they are spoken. And this is not a bad thing: the fact that they are potentially not sensible when applied to a large subset of music fans only reflects that they are forged in our own minds, and their limits and parameters are those set by our own collection and habits - and we all know that no two collections are identical. If wholesale duplication is a known impossibility in a collection of tens, hundreds, thousands of records, then why would the rules be any different when concerning the thoughts and ideas that built them?
I myself have many such theories about how to collect, treat, house, and listen to vinyl. Most of them don't really warrant additional consideration, but they have been ingrained in me through years of hard-won consideration and ritual. However, I have a particular theory about the music we choose that is less about vinyl or collecting and more about artists that resonate with us. I can see myself, over time, coming back to it as a regular component of Re-Critic, so I think there is reason to explain it in some detail to create an easy reference point in the future.
First, some disclaimers:
1. As noted above, this applies to me and my collection only. I believe that it could potentially be applied to other people and their selections as well, but that is only a guess. At no point is this a judgement of anyone's collection or listening habits, it is only something I've considered over time and has seemed to hold up so far.
2. One very obvious flaw with the theory I'm going to present is that it doesn't take into account very large collections, or the habits of collectors who are driven by the doctrine of Completionism. Meaning, I am going to make some claims below that are specific to having a collection that is below some numerical thresholds. Those assertions go out the window if applied to collections that are well above the limits. It's worth repeating: each collector's ideology is defined by, and sometimes only applicable to, their own collection.
3. Something that's important to point out here: I have phrased this as something that's vinyl-specific, but it's really not. It's mostly relatable to any collection of music. I use vinyl because collecting vinyl is my jam and it's an easy thing to visualize and talk about. You could take this idea and apply it to your CD/tape collection, your iTunes library, or your Spotify favorites list, or whatever way you choose to consume.
4. Lastly, irrespective of size or methodology, you may find that the below holds very little water for you personally. And that is OK - hell, it's somewhat expected, given all the caveats I've laid out up to now. BUT, you might find that certain parts of it do make sense for you, or perhaps that you agree with the unifying ideas even if not some of the more specific elements.
So here goes. My theory about the artists that we love is this:
If you own 5 or more records by one artist, it says something about you and your tastes.
It's pretty vague, right? I know. "Says something"? What does that even mean? Well, it could mean a lot of things - but it's all about the context of your collection. There is a counter-intuitive reasoning in the way the thesis is applied: you have to start from the conclusion (the conclusion that it means something undefined) and work backward (to compute what it means). Under that pretext, if the theory dictated what the something was, it would be fundamentally flawed. Example: I have five Panic! At the Disco records in my collection. But it doesn't mean that I like Panic! in the way that owning five of their albums might be construed - it means that my wife loves them, and my collection is also her collection. The conclusion then is that my collection is intermingled with records my wife loves as much as it is built on a foundation of records I love - the "something" in this case means that my collection is really our collection.
Someone might own five Miles Davis or Tom Waits albums because they went through a phase. They might own five John Denver records because they were inherited from a music-loving family member. They might own five Britney Spears albums (likely not on vinyl, but still) because they represent a nostalgic time in that person's life, or because they can't bear to part with music, or because they really like the art design of Phase-One Britney albums. All this to say: yes, the theory is vague as far as conclusions, but it is necessarily so.
With regard to Disclaimer #2 above: obviously, if someone has 11,000 records, it is highly likely they own five by particular artists and it may not mean anything at all, except that they own so many records that the law of averages kicked in. They may not even realize or care that they own them with a collection that large. Similarly, the completionists out there might endeavor to collect every single Elvis Presley release for some reason other than that they have a burning love for everything The King recorded - it might mean something, or it might not mean anything outside their completionist tendencies.
Over time, I intend to come back to this theme to talk about what the "something" means for me and the members of my own little 5-LP Club and how it reflects on my taste, my past, and my evolution as a music lover. The topic will dovetail into some other interesting gray areas: tribute albums, the Life Band (which is a whole other theory of mine), and the idea that we sometimes buy records for reasons that are more academic than purely elective.
Whatever it means, if anything, it is at least an excuse to apply a different approach to thinking about the music we love enough to collect and revisit repeatedly. In the end, that's all I'm really here for. If you're here for it, too, then I'm glad to have you along.