On Buying Vinyl Records in India
A few years ago, I decided I wanted to own a record player. From the first passing thought, triggered by something I had read, it quickly became an obsession where I spent hours researching players, stereo setups, availability of vinyl records in India and reading what others have done. My music was completely digital until then, because of the dual factors of convenience and availability. The cassettes of my schooldays had been relegated to being locked up in cardboard boxes for many years since there was nothing to play them on.
I went through all the initial phases that are typical of the vinyl newbie who is not discerning enough yet, has money to spend, and follows all the advice they read online - often conflicting - to the letter. I was driven to possess a medium that I grew up listening to - courtesy a father who invested in music - and I realized that this was a good investment when I listened to Boney M's Oceans of Fantasy on vinyl for the first time.
My father had an HMV 1010 in the 1980s. It came with an inbuilt amplifier and two passive speakers. He bought records less frequently than he bought cassettes, since records were costlier. This was before the Indian economy was opened up, so things like records were a luxury. Fortunately, my father was posted to remote towns on the India-Bangladesh border in India's North East, and the resultant low cost of living allowed him to spend more on books (Reader's Digest? my childhood was full of piles of them) and music. Unfortunately, only 6-7 of those LP records survive today.
After a lot of research and helpful suggestions from audio/video forums, I was quite satisfied with my purchase of a Rega RP1. It was by no means inexpensive for me but apparently one of the lower-priced ones for beginners. Beautifully set on a black plinth, with a clear acrylic cover, it was feather light and I had to be careful not to bump into it.
Buying records was not so easy. I quickly fell into the trap of buying almost anything I could get my hands on, irrespective of their condition or whether I would ever listen to that music. I grew out of this phase after a while. It also taught me a lot about the state of vinyl records and their availability in India, where to buy them from, and how the so-called resurgence of vinyl is being exploited. That said, I have a long way to go in terms of how to clean and maintain records - not an easy task in a hot, humid and dusty land. It is something that I am still learning.
There is a lot of talk about vinyl resurgence, and many music labels in India are coming out with reissues of older LPs. The general consensus in internet communities is that the quality of most of these reissues is not up to the mark. There are also sellers on Amazon India who have attached new stickers with super-high prices on decade old records that were probably lying unloved in their warehouses all these years. Make hay while the sun shines.
I started by buying a few used records from members of an Indian AV forum. Most were in good condition. I bought a few from OLX.com sellers, but it's a hit and miss scenario. Most lots are overpriced on OLX.com, by sellers who have come across hoards of old records, and know that there are people willing to pay ridiculous prices for them. If you are discerning and patient, you will occasionally run into collections that are being sold by somebody who actually used to listen to them and now wants to get rid of them. I have picked up some gems in the latter manner, all from sellers from Kolkata. It is always a risk buying used records online in India since nobody follows the grading system strictly.
I also discovered sites like discogs.com and musicstack.com, and their not insignificant shipping costs to India. The good condition of the records usually compensated for the cost. The thumb rule I follow here is to stick to 4+ star rated sellers from Europe. I prefer musicstack because it's easier to navigate and search in. If you are buying from sellers abroad, be aware that your shipment might be stuck at Indian customs for a long time, sometimes for as long as a month. Sticking to Paypal as the payment method helps as you can get a refund if the shipment is lost.
There is another online seller called Snowrecords.com, which ships from Japan. They have great packing and their records are mostly under-rated, i.e., they are in better condition than what they are rated as. The shipping is pretty high and the records are mostly Japanese pressings.
Mumbai has some places that sell vinyl records
- MusicCircle - Owned and run by the knowledgeable and friendly Mr. Pilak Bhatt as an extension of his huge personal collection, this cozy store in Kandivili is the place to go to whatever your musical tastes are. He also has a warehouse which you can visit once you are done digging in the store. Prices for Bollywood records are high though, but you can get a lot of classic rock and metal at good prices.
- Abdul Razzak - This gentleman runs a road side shop in the Fort area with literally piles and piles of records. Many of them are musty and old, but you can find a lot of gems if you are patient enough to rummage.
Kolkata also has a few such sellers like Abdul Razzak. The common thread among the road side sellers is that the records are not well maintained, and even after thorough cleaning might have more than the tolerable number of pops and crackles.
In spite of all this, some of my best albums have come from forum members, and at relatively cheap prices.
This is all about acquiring.
What about the music itself?
I am content.