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Gold in that groove
NO ONE could have predicted the second wave of vinyl - not in this age where music comes out of a computer or mobile device rather than a hi-fi system; and at a fraction of the cost of a CD, streaming services such as Spotify and Deezer put millions of songs in your hands without taking up any space in your home.
The vinyl revival is something that has caught many off-guard, including the music industry itself. But it has lost no time cashing in by re-releasing older and more popular titles on wax.
Even lifelong music-lover Foo Say Keong was caught off-guard. He, like many, thought vinyl would be replaced for good by CDs in the 1990s. At that time, the now 39-year-old traded in his sizeable record collection with a friend who replaced every title he took on wax with the same one on a shiny disc.
"I'll never make the same mistake again," laments the communication design lecturer from Temasek Polytechnic who has since started rebuilding his collection and estimates he has close to 2,000 LPs now.
With many old titles now being reissued, he managed to buy back some albums that he traded in earlier but for the out-of-print ones, music fans have no choice but to search online or go to second-hand record shops for pre-loved copies.
Surprisingly, there is no shortage of such places in Singapore with used vinyl dealers in the audiophile haven that is The Adelphi - which served the last remaining vinyl junkies through the 1990s and Noughties when nobody paid much attention to the format.
But the current trend for vinyl collecting has also led to newer-generation record shops adding used titles to their inventory alongside the latest releases; though they operate a little differently from the ones at The Adelphi which tend to favour quantity over quality.
"Most of the seasoned used-record dealers here source locally so sometimes you can't guarantee interesting titles... that's why you'll find that most of them generally stock a lot of 1970s rock bands and 1980s pop acts," notes owner of Hear Records, Nick Tan, who entered the music business early last year and stocks an equal amount of used and new titles in his shop.
To stand out, as well as to cater to his younger clientele who are generally into indie and heavy metal, he prefers not to buy used records in bulk - a common practice among dealers when they take over somebody's collection wholesale. Instead, he maintains a more tightly curated selection by travelling overseas to countries such as Japan every three months or so to hand-pick used titles to make his inventory different from what's out there.
A stone's throw away from Hear is Vinylicious Records, a two-year-old-plus speciality record shop which arguably spearheaded a new wave of local vinyl stores opening here. Co-founded by Eugene Ow Yong, a former home-based used-record dealer, Vinylicious features a specially-curated section, Vinyl Vault, which is his pride and joy.
"It's one of the highlights of the store with 300-400 titles that sell for S$100 upwards," he explains. "Vinyl Vault contains items like first presses as well as records from the 90s and Noughties, which are very rare because very few of them were being manufactured - that was at the height of the CD revolution."
Unsurprisingly, those are highly sought-after by mostly middle-aged music fans who missed out on owning a copy back then and now want it for nostalgia's sake. They don't come cheap. An original 1995 pressing of Britpop pioneers, Oasis' sophomore album, (What's the Story) Morning Glory?, for instance, is going for S$250 under Vinylicious' Vinyl Vault.
Compared to about five years ago - before the vinyl revival went into full swing - the same album was still commanding a premium at S$80; though that was only slightly less than a third of its current asking price.
Mr Ow Yong says he keeps his Vinyl Vault prices on a par with those on auction sites such as eBay but walk-in customers get to save on shipping and they can touch and feel the actual item they are buying instead of having to rely on unscrupulous sellers overrating the condition of the items they are selling.
If you think (What's the Story) Morning Glory? is the most expensive item in Vinylicious's Vinyl Vault, think again: long out-of-print copies of the self-titled debuts of British progressive rock bands, Gracious! and Warhorse, are selling for S$1,000 and S$1,200 respectively. Those looking for a deal might want to consider snapping up a copy of John Lennon and Yoko Ono's Unfinished Music No 1: Two Virgins - which features both musicians in the buff on the cover. It is being offered below the current market price of S$2,600 at S$1,600 because the possibly prudish previous owner used a marker to censor out the naughty bits himself.
Despite these prices, Mr Ow Yong says he has customers who specifically come for the Vinyl Vault goodies. He reveals most of them are PMEBs such as bankers and lawyers in their 30s and 40s, who spend an average of about $600 per visit; as well as Indonesian tourists.
The 41-year-old does admit the market for these high-priced items is very niche and forms only a smart part of Vinylicious's business but as a collector himself, he's proud to be in possession of these rarities. "If I don't sell them, it's okay with me because I can still display them on the shelves; they are a visual treat of sorts for my customers because you usually only hear of these records being sold online and don't usually get to see them in front of you," he explains.
But it's not just old titles that are fetching high prices. The prices of new releases can also soar the moment its production run stops and it's sold out. Hear Records' Mr Tan notes many pressing plants are already working overtime but are still unable to meet the demand.
"Some artists initially release only a limited quantity of their album on vinyl because they're unsure how well the record will sell; but when they realise it's too little and want to go for a second pressing, they have to rejoin the queue at the plant and it's a long one these days," he says.
Mr Ow Yong adds that limited-editions and anything with only about 500 to 1,000 copies in circulation are bound to be instantly collectible. He cites the examples of The Dark Knight and The Great Gatsby''s soundtracks: both were normal priced items when he first stocked them but have since been promoted to Vinyl Vault status since going out of print.
But Mr Foo says that even as a collector, he tends not to keep track of the value of his haul. He doesn't hanker after original pressings, preferring instead to wait for more affordable reissues such as the new 2014 pressing of (What's the Story) Morning Glory?, which sells for only about S$50.
"It's like comics where the first editions are considered more valuable by collectors and nobody cares about the subsequent printings," he explains. "But I'm not a first pressing kind of guy and I'm just buying them for my own use. I don't speculate."
He adds, however, that it is interesting to learn about the soaring prices through research on the Internet - "It's a bit like playing the stock market", he jests.
The biggest thrill anyone can derive from "crate digging" - a common term used by collectors to describe the act of trawling through cartons of used vinyls - is pulling out a long-lost classic when you least expect it, claims Mr Foo. Hence, every trip to a used record store is an adventure in itself - "The titles actually hunt for you - they will surprise you - because you cannot go out expecting to specifically find what you want."
Best haunts for pre-loved vinyls
35 Selegie Road, #01-22, Parklane Shopping Mall
Besides the Vinyl Vault, Vinylicious also stocks a range of other cheaper used titles as well as plenty of new releases. It hosts frequent special events, such as Record Store Day, which incidentally takes place on Black Friday next week.
175B Bencoolen Street #01-39, Burlington Square
Used records start from a wallet-friendly $15. If you prefer not to get your hands dirty flipping through dusty old records, owner Nick Tan brings in competitively-priced weekly shipments of new releases from the UK and US.
For The Record
3 Coleman Street #04-28, Peninsula Shopping Centre
Owner R Alagirisamy, affectionately known as Giri to his regulars, is the granddaddy of the used vinyl scene in Singapore. The shop is wall-to-wall with jazz, pop and rock classics that will take hours to browse through.
QQ Music Store
Blk 28, #05-140, Sin Ming Lane, Midview City
Like For The Record but for Chinese music lovers. QQ Music operates only on weekends but for this week only, it is also running a pop-up store at Shaw Centre, Beach Road, #02-38.
1 Coleman Street, #B1-17, The Adelphi
It's always noisy and crowded at Memory Lane because prices are decent and you'll never know what you might find. That's why it's an all-time favourite with vinyl junkies. Open for business only on weekends.
Red Point Record Warehouse
80 Playfair Road, Kapo Factory, Building, #06-11
Spacious but located in the middle of an industrial estate, it's still worth making a trip to Red Point because it is loaded with records of every imaginable genre including pop, classic rock, jazz, Mando-pop, Canto-pop, Cantonese opera, Christian Gospel, indie and more. Don't have a record player? Don't worry, there are plenty of refurbished vintage ones for sale as well.