In the rush towards the new-fangled format of CD I, many moons ago, sold all my vinyl. At that time I owned a record shop and was DJing on the radio, at clubs and at parties pretty much fulltime and as such I was getting promotional records sent almost every day. As a result of this we had a room that was dedicated to my turntables and of course my records. There was a good few thousand and they were stacked in long rows against the wall with no particular filing system at all. Once I decided to move on from DJing and sold the record shop the logical thing to do, or so I thought at the time, was to sell all the records. Top tip, kids…DON’T DO IT!! As soon as I’d got the cheque I realised I’d done a very stupid thing and years later I would look on Hard To Find Records and more recently Discogs only to find any of the promos and 12” records I owned were now worth a small fortune – we’re talking being able to pop out and splurge on a relatively luxurious car, but I digress.

As I say I had a pretty haphazard filing system for my records, but do you know what; I still knew how to pluck the record I wanted from the correct row in no time. Fast forward twenty odd years and my record collection is growing again. It’s still a shadow of its former self but I’m managing to get hold of some of the classics I lost and I’m enjoying exploring new music too. I’m fortunate enough to have a wall in the listening room that is filled with shelves that just happen to be exactly twelve inches deep; we live in a converted restaurant and the shelves formed what was the glass and wine storage space behind the bar. In my older years I’ve become more organised and I have even invested in some fancy wooden dividers that each have a letter of the alphabet on them and all my albums are now stored in alphabetical order…roughly. When I say alphabetically this doesn’t mean strictly alphabetically. All the As are in the A section and all the Zs are in the Z section – you get the idea.

Well actually not they’re not quite that organised if truth be known. I have a sizeable collection of classical records and they are filed in their own space. Likewise my smaller collection of jazz records; well the Jazz actually sits within the J section. House and techno compilations also have their own shelf space. Ok, it’s a bit haphazard but you would think putting my hands on what I want would be pretty simple, but it isn’t. If I want to play Hawkwind’s “Quark Strangeness And Charm” life is simple, I find the H section, flick through that and there it is…only today it isn’t. I took it out of its safe keeping place a week or so, played it and then popped it in a “safe” pile where records that I want to clean or want to listen again to soon get popped. I found it eventually but then I had to clean it before popping it on the record player and by this time I’d popped the Melco on, opened up the tablet and played something from the fantastically, and automatically, filed collection of thousands of albums.

There Has To Be A Better Way

I’m sure most people reading this will have seen the film High-Fidelity, based on the Nick Hornby book. If not here’s a brief synopsis; The main character, Rob Gordon (played by John Cusack) who owns a record shop (Championship Records) in Chicago (yes it deviates a few thousand miles from the book) and is aided and abetted by the “Musical Moron Twins” (Jack Black and Todd Louiso). The trio are musical fanatics and mock the tastes of the shop’s clientele, but their musical knowledge is comprehensive to say the least…yes, they are music snobs.

Rob is at home having another female related existential crisis when Dick (Todd Louiso’s charcter) pops by. There are records all over the apartment and Rob announces he is refiling his collection – but how and what system? Chronological, alphabetically perhaps? Nope, “autobiographical” announcing “If I want to find the song Landslide by Fleetwood Mac I have to remember that I bought it for someone in the fall of 1983 pile…but didn’t give it to them for personal reasons”. So, should I consider an autobiographical filing system for my collection? I don’t think so; it would be far too complicated, I’d never find anything I was looking for and I’m fifty years old with far too many things to have remembered with regards where, when or why I bought a particular record.

So, my haphazard version of alphabetically doesn’t work particularly well for me, autobiographical would be beyond my elderly brain’s capacity, and so what, dear reader, would be a suitable system for organising my collection? There’s always, as hinted at by Rob, a chronological system. Sorted! Ah, but do I file them in the order that I bought the records or by the date they were published…and what about reissues and the like, where would they go? Nope, chronological is clearly just not going to work!

Embrace The Tech’

I had a play with an automatic filing system a while go. It’s simple; take your record from the shelf, scan the barcode with your phone’s camera and a free barcode recognition app, the program finds your record and adds it to a virtual shelf and then you replace it back on your actual shelf alphabetically. It works, it really does, but to be absolutely honest do I have the patience or time to sit for hour upon hour scanning records, lots don’t have barcodes by the way, and then look the record I want to play up on my tablet? I find this goes against the vinyl grain and I got about twenty-five records catalogued before I finally lost the will to scan. I’ve thousands of CDs to rip, not a dissimilar process to the one I’ve just described for sorting records out, and, to be frank, I don’t want to have my vinyl records sorted like this.

So What Then?

There’s geographic filing where I could file the records by the place I bought them, or should that be where they were recorded, or perhaps where the band came from… No, that’s not going to work!

Ah, I know what about filing my records by subject matter. Albums about dragons, Hobbits and other mythological creatures could be filed together; perhaps I could call this section “Prog”. Records that speak of political themes could go in one section, but then there’s need to be an “Anarcho” subsection, a “Neo-marxist” subsection and a “Could be a bit right-wing” subsection, I do after all own a Spandau Ballet record somewhere and I understand Tony Hadley was looking to run for a Conservative seat at some point in time (The Guardian, Oct 2007) – and I’d be all week trying to pigeon hole Eric Clapton and his records, but thankfully Ted Nugent isn’t going to be an issue as his records were exiled many, many moons ago.

Genre, that’s it! What could be simpler? Have all my records subdivided according to the musical genre they fit into, after all I sort of do this to an extent now. So, that’s decided, a filing system based on genre. Simple! Oh, hang on a minute that’s not going to work either. Motorhead, rock or metal? Or is metal a subdivision of Rock? The Eagles? East Coast (ah, that’s geographical, Stu) Rock, another subdivision of Rock or Country-Rock, a subdivision of Country? I haven’t a clue what would happen to Neil Young!

There’s always the option, and when I was thinking about this article it sort of made the most sense, of taking the shelves down and just having the collection placed randomly on the floor, in rows stacked against the wall. This way I could just flick through the records until something popped out and screamed “Play me!”. But the shelves are a perfect size and the room would look more than a bit messy with rows of records all over the place in a student flat kind of style. The latter “no filing system” approach sort of appeals but would need to be on the shelves which brings up another problem – all but the newest of records have spines that are all but illegible and that’s without mentioning those that are in protective sleeves.

I could rank the records and give each one a score out of a hundred and file them accordingly with a little sticker that proudly displays their 99/100 score or whatever. But then what’s going to happen to the poor old thirty percenters, do they get pushed to the nether regions of the system never to surface again? Would I be severely restricting the scope of my listening?

You know what, this is probably a case of better the devil you know I reckon I’m just as well muddling along with the haphazard quasi-alphabetical/genre/no organisation whatsoever system that I currently “enjoy”.

What filing system do you employ? Join the conversation over at our Facebook page.

Article originally appeared in Hifi Pig Magazine which you can download for free here. 

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