When I first got back into buying vinyl, organizing my records was easy. When you only have 50 or even 100 records, you can just do it alphabetically by artist and voilà, you’re done. At that point you probably know exactly what you have, so finding things isn’t difficult. But as the hundreds start to multiply, and maybe even move into four figures, purely alphabetical loses its practicality. Sometimes I feel like reggae or jazz or what have you, and if I don’t want to look through hundreds or thousands of records it’s easier if I have them organized together by genre.
But how far down the rabbit hole do you want to go? Like many, I’ve definitely changed strategies from time to time. At one point I had one section for rock and another for punk/metal, but eventually got frustrated that sometimes I couldn’t remember where I’d landed with a certain band. It’s easy for Metallica or the Sex Pistols, but what about AC/DC? Is Iggy Pop’s later work rock or punk? Do you make the distinction by artist or by album? It became too much and I brought them all back together into one big section. But that’s not to say I abandoned categorization, because I haven’t.
The first “cut” is by size – I keep all my 7″ and 10″ records together and separate from the 12″ stuff, which I’m sure is pretty common. But from there I have one weird quirk. The next separation point is that I keep all my records by Icelandic artists together, and within the Icelandic section I make no further distinctions by genre. Is this logical? Clearly not. However, I’ve picked up a ton of Icelandic vinyl after a dozen trips to Reykjavik and, well, I just like to keep them separate. If I had to sell off the bulk of my vinyl, I can imagine a scenario in which all I kept was the Icelandic stuff. Because I’m weird like that. These mean something different to me than a lot of other records do. Plus I have a lot of them… 485 to be exact, if my Discogs inventory is accurate. So my Icelandic 7″ and 10″ records have their own section alongside my non-icelandic smaller sized discs, and the 12″ers fill 5 1/2 Ikea cube shelves. Which makes me oddly happy.
I don’t do any further breaking down of my non-Icelandic 7″ and 10″ – there just aren’t enough of them to bother. As for 12″, my sectioning looks like this:
- Rock, including Metal and Punk
- Blues, Jazz, and Funk
- Reggae and Ska
- Hip Hop
- 12″ singles
- Industrial, Experimental, and Avantgarde
- Soundtracks, Comedy, and Spoken Word
- Box Sets
- Stuff on the Medical Records label
The last one might leave you scratching your head a bit. It came about because of an offer the Seattle-based label made online – one copy of every item in their catalog that they had in stock, discounted by something like 30%. Whiskey may have contributed to my decision to pull the trigger, but I never regretted it. As an added benefit, the 50 or so titles I have on the label take up one Ikea shelf cube perfectly. Plus sometimes I want some random synth stuff, and when I do I can go right to that shelf and make a pull.
There are, of course, still challenges. Is the first Spinal Tap album rock or a soundtrack? And if it’s a soundtrack, what about their second album Break Like The Wind? I don’t want to have Spinal Tap albums in two different places, so what to do? (Note – I solved this problem by not buying Break Like The Wind) Bands whose styles changed over the years can be problematic as well. Cabaret Voltaire could fall into Industrial, or Electronic, or Rock. Does Snoop Dog’s album as Snoop Lion go under Hip Hop or Reggae? It can be maddening, and sometimes I’m inconsistent in my approach. All my Cabaret Voltaire albums are in the Industrial section, while Snoop Dog is in Hip Hop and Snoop Lion is in Reggae. I don’t know what to tell you. It makes sense to me.
Within the sections I simply order things alphabetically by artist, with comps coming at the beginning of the section, though even here there’s one notable exception – Icelandic vinyl is sorted using Icelandic-style alphabetizing, i.e. alphabetic by first name, while everything else uses American rules and goes by last name. This sort of makes sense to me because when I’m record shopping in Iceland that’s how I’m used to seeing those artists sorted. Then again, maybe I’m being subconsciously pretentious. I don’t know. A lot of collectors are intentional about ordering releases by a given artists in specific ways, usually chronologically or alphabetically. Honestly I don’t bother with that. If I can quickly find the Mudhoney section in Rock, I can flip through the 9-10 records to find what I’m looking for. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a record collector – I totally get the desire to organize within an artist; it’s just something that doesn’t matter much to me, and now that my shelves hold north of 2,500 records it would take a long time to do and frankly I can’t be bothered. That doesn’t mean that I might not get bored some rainy weekend and just do it.
I’m always interested to find out how others organize their collections. I’ve seen a few with sections by label which is interesting. In my one instance of this I sort of fell into it by accident more than as an intentional strategy. Certainly there are genre specialists who break things down into subgenres – I’m sure a jazz collected could easily slice and dice in dozens of ways. The key, of course, is understanding your own method so that you can find something when you want it – however that works for you is perfect.