Collecting music is a serious business – Stories from a CD shop

Photo by freestocks.org from Pexels: https://www.pexels.com/photo/pile-of-assorted-cd-cases-322457/

In summer 2020, like a lot of people I was scratching around looking for a way to make a living. A socially distanced conversation on Clevedon sea front led to me becoming the proud owner of the contents of a CD shop. 3 years on it has grown to occupy a storage unit and provide some interesting insights into the world of music collecting.

When I say I have an online CD shop the first comment is “I didn’t know anyone still bought CDs”.  Well, they do and if anything, the ‘collectors’ market’ is getting stronger. A lot of albums were released on CD in the late 80s and 90s that have not yet been subjected to the full remastering and expansion type reissue. In fact, some of the older releases can be more sought after than the less sympathetically remastered reissues, a problem in hard rock and metal especially it seems.

The most interesting part of the process is buying the stock. Apart from the whole thrill of the chase thing, you can learn a lot about people from their music collection. As quite often collections come on to the market because the owner is no longer with us, or a business has ceased trading acquiring them has to be handled sensitively. I arrived to view a collection a couple of years ago to find the owner’s widow and her daughter overwhelmed by boxes that turned out to contain about 3,000 albums. This, it seems, had turned out to be an obsession as much as a collection. Glenn Miller recorded 266 songs in his career, so a 10-disc box set covers it. The collection contained 80 boxsets and albums, a total of over 200 CDs worth of Miller material, even allowing for some air check albums that is a lot of duplication. And he had repeated the process with any of the best-known names from the Swing Band era.

artwork for The Byrds, Sweetheart Of The Rodeo.More common is the meticulously curated collection that shows the evolution of the owner’s musical taste. One collector had clearly been a fan of the Byrds from early on. In the 90s they were poorly served on CD with only the ‘There Is A Season’ boxset available for a long time. He had upgraded his collection as new releases appeared. There were 3 versions of ‘Sweetheart of The Rodeo’ for instance. He had then drifted into the solo works, and related bands, CSN, Manassas, and so on. Jazz collectors often turn out to be musicians. Talking to the sellers of one lot I asked if their owner was a tenor saxophone player. They were surprised that I had worked that out, but a collection full of Sonny Rollins, Hank Mobley, and Dexter Gordon was a giveaway. The gaps in collections are often interesting. Why did a collection full of the great jazz trumpeters have next to nothing of Miles Davis? What had put him off the greatest jazz musician of them all? Sometimes you learn things you would rather not have found out. 200 lovely classic rock CDs with some surprising gaps in the collection, 2 missing Led Zeppelin albums, lots of Yes, but only ‘Meddle’ from Pink Floyd, brought the admission that 600 discs had gone to the tip before they realised there was a market.

On the left you can see a Transit van filled with boxes of CDs that came out of a barn near Bath where it had been stored for the last 8 years. The owner of these had impeccable musical taste, jazz, blues, rock, and americana. Lots of Drive-By Truckers, Wilco, Steve Earle, and many more staples of these pages. A proper fan in fact. I would have loved to have met their owner; we’d have had so much to talk about.

This isn’t the first time I’ve sold records for a living. I left school during one of Mrs Thatcher’s attempts to do away with jobs for young people and ended up working with my dad selling valve radios, gramophones and 78rpm records. The collectors of those were often more like trainspotters, collecting serial numbers and labels rather than the music. Collecting 78s is dying out now partly because of the ready availability of the music online and CD, and because those who are interested in the music are no longer around to enjoy it. Most pre-war Jazz is barely saleable on CD, although strangely closer to ‘our’ sort of music, Bob Wills, Bill Monroe, Jimmie Rodgers, and similar artists still have a good following.

Having recently made the case for buying music in ways that best support musicians, I’m keenly aware that they don’t benefit from the sales of used CDs. While the same can be said of anything sold second hand, I feel it’s important that creative endeavour is supported, so I donate a portion of my income from the shop to Help Musicians in the UK, and the Musicians Foundation in the USA.

Collecting seems to be ingrained in the human psyche, and we are lucky to be living in an age when we have a wealth of physical music media available to satisfy our passions. Interestingly while I’m not a big vinyl fan, I have been getting all nostalgic about some of the cassettes I used to play in the early 80s recently. I wonder what tape decks there are on eBay?

A reminder of why the collector I mentioned above bought this album so many times…

if you’re going to collect an artist’s whole catalogue make it some one as good as the Drive-By Truckers. After reviewing Steven Deusner’s brilliant biography of the band a couple of years back, these albums will be ‘Tough To Let Go‘.

 

 

About Tim Martin 254 Articles
Sat in my shed listening to music, and writing about some of it. Occasionally allowed out to attend gigs.
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Paul Higham

Cassettes? In combination with the personal cassette player, as a format they did for the album and were instrumental in atomising musical taste and making music a soundtrack to our lives outside the home. Utterly terrible medium though.

On the upside, they did provide a way for artists to bypass the gatekeeper of the pressing plant in attempting to get their music out their fans.I recently digitised and then disposed of (to collectors) a fair few Freshies and Chris Sievey cassette albums.Then my tape player gave up the ghost. I still have a small number of the offerings you could get from the NME.

Andrew Taylor

Hi Tim,

I am an avid reader of AmericanaUK and a former second-hand music store owner.

If you have cds to sell could you please email me at spinables1959@gmail.com?

Thank you.

Best,

Andrew