How Collecting Vinyl Redefined My Love of Movies

By  · Published on March 26th, 2015

In the real world, I spend a lot of time with executives. I work in the field of employee development; many of my days are spent in the back of a classroom as faculty present negotiation or research strategies to international audiences. And while I like to joke that the business world is completely foreign to me – I declared as a music major in college and moved into film studies when I realized proper singing technique is a pain in my ass – there are certain ideas that follow me home. For instance, I started a record collection to show off my love of film.

That’ll make sense in a minute, I promise.

It’s not a bad time to collect records. Recent numbers from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) indicate that sales of vinyl have risen 48% from 2013; records now make up over 14% of all physical media, marking the first time since 1987 that record sales made up a double-digit percentage of the market. If you live in a major city, you have your choice of records shops. If you don’t, you can gamble on the local Goodwill or pay the premium for going online. My specific interest in records – movie soundtracks – means I spend a fair amount of time looking and not so much time finding. I don’t mind. Looking is half the fun.

Before I landed on vinyl I wasn’t sure how best to show off my connection to film. I missed collecting; when I was a kid, my bedroom was littered with comic books and stacks of Seattle Mariners baseball cards. When I got older and took a job at a local movie theater, I began to collect one-sheets. The corporate office would offer me extra shifts in exchange for the opportunity to go through their poster archives; for hours at a time, I sat on the floor of a dusty storage room, carefully rolling and unrolling posters. I had a half-formed list in my head of the titles I wanted to find, but outside of that, I was content with the untapped potential of dozens of boxes.

In addition to the collecting aspect, I was also searching for ways to push gently back against digital. I was quick to embrace streaming video as a way to access my favorite movies on demand; by my count, I only own about thirty DVDs and Blu-rays, and three of those were purchased just as a way to support a local video store. If I’m being honest, many of these cases haven’t even been cracked open. I own La Haine on Blu-ray but haven’t watched it since I was a junior in college. Since the internet offers instant access to any movie at the click of a button, it’s hard for me to dedicate time and space on a DVD collection I will infrequently revisit.

This kept me from pulling the trigger on a vinyl collection for a long time. I’m an adult now and adulthood is a series of unhappy tradeoffs.

I’ve reached a time in my life where any activity is a zero sum game. I spend most days in a delicate balancing act between my job, my graduate studies, my freelance work, and my home life; invariably, something loses out. Time spent at the gym is time I cannot spend watching movies. Time spent watching movies means that, depending on the title, I am either neglecting my studies or my next article. My fiancée, family, and friends are all incredibly supportive of my freelance career and my studies, but they also deserve their own investment of time and resources. Something always stays on the table.

And here’s where the executive training kicked in. Negotiation experts teach you to beat a zero sum equation by expanding the pie and identifying new variables that allow people to give ground on less important issues. This is called integrative bargaining. As the theory goes, you and I might haggle over a new car and find we have no common ground on the price; however, if we try and understand each other’s perspectives, we might find that there is common ground in the underlying issues. You may be selling your car in order to move to a more urban location with better public transportation; if I have a bike that I am not using, I can include it in the deal to help offset the cost. The more we understand our respective goals, the better chance we have of both getting what we want.

If I needed to, I could sit here and defend my baby record collection on the basis of physical versus digital alone. Lord knows I have in the past and will again; several of my friends have taken to needling me (pun intended) about my decision to jump on the most recent hipster trend. But there’s more to vinyl than just the debate between physical and digital. In a very real sense, my record collection is a conscious decision to expand the pie, to find ways to make my desire for a collection fit within the crowded landscape of my other activities and interests.

I can’t justify buying more DVDs I’ll never watch. I’ve also found that one-sheets have lost some of their appeal. Walls that once would have held movie posters are now covered in photographs or artwork that my fiancée and I have picked up in our travels. This speaks to a desire for my hobby to have some kind of practical component beyond their display value. With vinyl, I have a collectible that appeals to me on the basis of both form and function. I can put on a record when I’m working or when we have company over and share some of my favorite soundtracks with my friends and family. Even the imperfections on the album become part of its low-fi charm. This takes music out of the realm of the personal – headphones in a laptop or my phone – and opens it up as a shared experience with others.

Even the search for new records expands the pie. I have found that most record stores tend to veer towards careful organization and market prices or complete disarray and pennies on the dollar. If the dominant factor for me is price, then I can set up shop in the basement of my local vintage store and relive my theater days to my heart’s content. If I find myself with more money than time, I can quickly swing by an East Village dealer and find a title or two worth putting into the mix. And since I always have my days as a music student to fall back on, every record I find is an interesting bit of musical archeology. It’s been years since I spend this much time thinking about what music I’d like to own. It’s a nice throwback.

So yeah, wrapping together the ideas of records and movies and negotiation strategies has been a weird concoction, but it’s helped adjust my thinking about how I approach my interests. I may not be able to watch as many movies as some; I may spend less time writing to ensure that other needs are being met. But now, thanks to the new collection, I have found a new way to weave film into my home life, my social interactions, and the time I spend reading or writing about film but not, you know, actually watching movies. The switch to physical has been a smart move for me.

Good luck expanding the pie on your own collections.

Record player image courtesy of Anne Swoboda on Flickr.

Matthew Monagle is an Austin-based film and culture critic. His work has appeared in a true hodgepodge of regional and national film publications. He is also the editor and co-founder of Certified Forgotten, an independent horror publication. Follow him on Twitter at @labsplice. (He/Him)