The No. 1 Way to Become a Serious Music Fan

You should start a record collection. The vinyl revolution is being led by a generation that was barely alive when CDs went out of fashion, let alone tapes, let alone records. The party is under way, and it's fun. Here's how to join in.

I used to live above a record store, Revolution Records, on 8th Street in New York City. My friend Pete and I spent many afternoons in there, flipping through the stacks, our eyes reading the titles as fast as our fingers could flip. We'd take our goods back to my apartment and fire up the Califone portable record player I've had since my 10th birthday.

The moments are indelible to me even now: Bill Evans, "Waltz for Debby," pouring rain, bourbon. The weird, alive opening horns of "Mango Meat," by Mandrill, a record (Just Outside of Town) that we judged (correctly) by its amazing cover. Astral Weeks, by Van Morrison, whose voice was made for vinyl. I've got a new turntable now, and more records. A few thoughts on starting a collection:

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No. 1: Attend Record Shows

Pete and I used to go to one every third Saturday in a dingy ballroom at the Holiday Inn on 57th Street. Dozens of dealers carted in hundreds of bins of thousands of records. We'd get to know the regulars, and they would look for albums for us. You can haggle.

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No. 2: Buy When You Travel

Any time I go to a new town or city, I look for the record store. A few discoveries from recent travels: Mystic Disc, Mystic, Connecticut; Everyday Music, Seattle; Criminal Records, Atlanta. Records fit in the overhead compartment on the plane, incidentally.

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No. 3: Buy Something You've Never Heard of for the Cover Art Alone

This has scored me some favorites of my collection. Just don't spend too much money. Sometimes it's terrible.

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No. 4: Add Variety

Even if classic rock is your thing, pepper your collection with a couple of jazz albums, some classical, some interesting reggae—stuff that, when you're flipping through, will be more exciting than Led Zeppelin IV popping up on shuffle again. But steer away from obvious choices. If you're going to own only one jazz record, maybe there's something besides Kind of Blue.

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No. 5: Learn the Language

Here's a primer of vinyl terms we put together with the help from Michael Fremer, editor of analogplanet.com.

• EP: "Extended Play" records have more songs than a single but fewer than a full album. This refers more to the number of songs than the size of the vinyl.

• Mono: One-channeled. All speakers will play the same sounds at the same time. Early Beatles albums were recorded with mono in mind, and some collectors prefer to listen to them this way.

• Stereo: Popularized after mono, music playback is two-channeled. There is a left and a right speaker that will play different sounds to give you a sense of 3-D space and a "big spread" of sound.

• Original Pressing: Usually refers to the first release of a recording, but some collectors, like Fremer, have stricter criteria based on exactly how early an album was pressed that can make them incredibly valuable. Doesn't guarantee sound quality will be better than a good reissue.

• Reissue: A subsequent pressing. Quality can improve with better vinyl technology, or worsen with lower-quality source material. If it tells you the source, "cut from analog tapes" is a safe bet.

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