What price can you put on music? £10 for an album? 79p for a song? £15 a month internet costs? Obviously, the price is ultimately whatever people are willing to pay for it and that brings record collectors into the picture. I’m not sure where I fit in entirely as I don’t obsessively hunt different pressing and I don’t keep buying numerous copies of the same album until I get a copy that sounds unbeatable. That said, I do like building up my sets and I’m quite keen on hunting down rarities. This week, I got one step nearer to completing my collection of Tindersticks albums on vinyl as a result of a not entirely justifiable expenditure on a (very decent, thanks for asking) copy of the double LP pressing of ‘Curtains’. As a latecomer to this wonderful music, it’s been pretty tricky assembling this particular section of the vinyl racks. Thankfully, I didn’t come to it so late that ‘Can Our Love…’ or ‘Waiting For The Moon’ had disappeared from normal record shops, otherwise it could have been even trickier than it ended up being. ‘Simple Pleasure’, a limited edition pressing on Simply Vinyl, continues to elude me – if you have one you’d like to sell at a reasonable price to a big fan and a nice home, please use the Just Played email address. Where was I? Yes, the value is dependent on what people will pay. When I came into the Tindersticks vinyl buying market, people didn’t seem too bothered about paying £12.99 for a ‘Can Our Love…’ LP. Now, a trip to Amazon Marketplace will set you back the best part of fifty quid, and even US eBay sellers will cost you around £40, once you include postage. Timing is everything, particularly when it comes to vinyl prices in the current climate. If you miss the release of anything even vaguely popular by more than a couple of months, you’ll struggle to find it at the normal price…ever.
As vinyl becomes increasingly popular with music fans who want something tactile but are losing interest in CDs, prices continue to look a little daunting. As most music obsessives now end up having to buy their music online anyway, the faff surrounding vinyl purchasing is increasingly irrelevant as it just means a different shaped package for Royal Mail to kick around the sorting office for a few days before leaving under a dripping pipe in the snow. Where once, you could whimsically decide you fancied this album or that in the glorious 12” format, nip online and checkout within minutes, the thrill of the chase is starting to return.
The need to hunt closely and keep tabs on all of the popular rarities sites was further driven home to me by a discovery I made earlier today. I was reading some inane music discussion board and it mentioned that ‘Little Lion Man’ was originally on one of Mumford & Sons’ early 10” EPs. I had completely forgotten about this, but meandered over to the racks to have a look. I also found their debut 10” there and, for a brief moment, it crossed my mind that it might be worth a few quid now that their albums are selling by the bucketload in Tesco. A few minutes later, I was sat slack-jawed at the computer as I found a finished eBay listing from the end of November when the debut EP had sold for £175! £175!! What are these people thinking? How does a situation like that happen? For four songs. On one bit of plastic.
This is where the collector aspect becomes the issue. That £175 isn’t going on four songs. It’s going on an artefact. It’s going on a specific, tangible possession, rather than the thrill of the tune. It was, no doubt, at least part of the reason for my expensive Tindersticks purchase. I already had the CD, plus the promo of the long-since deleted 2CD reissue version. If I wanted to hear the songs, I was fine. I still maintain, that a decent bit of vinyl played using a relatively high-end stylus sounds pretty much unbeatable, but there surely must be a bit of collectory fetishism going on there? If you’re willing to spend £175 on one record that’s beyond normal enjoyment of music. I should point out, the Tindersticks vinyl didn’t cost anything like that amount of money. I’m obsessed but not nuts.
Record collectors have always paid over the odds for the special pieces of plastic that have meant something special to them and, as I ended up debating on Twitter whilst actually writing this piece, value is largely determined by what something means to the person in possession of an item. Having said that, the skyrocketing prices for numerous indie albums does suggests that as music has become monetarily devalued, the fetishism of the physical product has ended up in ruder health than ever before. I still find it odd to think of having music that I haven’t paid money for. It’s how the world was as I grew up, developing my own personal obsession from the age of six, when I received a small record player which sounded shite, looked shite but absolutely dominated my free time from then on. I bought my early singles for 69p each in a discount shop called Be-Wise in Newport. They were ex-jukebox records mainly and often pretty crap. But they were cheap and they made noises come out of the shite looking record playing. They were good enough for me. I’ve since become incredibly prissy about the sound of the music I listen to, but I probably valued those crappy little 7” singles more then than I do so many CDs right now. But still, I can’t accept the idea of all of my music simply popping up from the internet, downloaded from here, there and everywhere. I buy legal downloads more than I thought I would, but never for albums unless they truly cannot be bought anywhere else. I don’t really have a problem with download prices for individual tracks, but if you want me to start buying my albums digitally, halve the price and double the quality and I’ll think about it. I can’t covet digital files now, can I?