If you jumped into the vinyl resurrection over the past few years, I’d say there’s a 50-50 chance that you have a pile of records somewhere on the floor that isn’t organized in any coherent manner. “I’ll get to filing/ordering them when I have the time,” you say to yourself. With the pandemic lockdown, that time is now.
Judging from the number of emails I’ve received on the subject of the care and feeding of vinyl collections recently, a lot of people have finally decided to get things sorted. But there are some recurring questions about how to do things properly.
Getting your library in shape requires a little bit of planning and thought. But you don’t have to go this far. (Note the tiny bit of NSFW language here.)
I’d admit that organizing records according to your personal autobiography is intriguing, but it only works if you have a good memory. Plus, anyone else who wants to look through your collection would be completely lost.
Chronological ordering is a more manageable method but requires that you’re up on your music history. It can also be tedious to search labels, liner notes, and Wikipedia pages for release dates.
Me? I prefer the old-fashioned and (apparently) highly non-hipster way of filing my records: alphabetically. But you need to know more than just your ABCs in order to do this right — at least according to me.
Before you start…
We can’t just to into this willy-nilly. Here are some things to know before you begin.
- Vinyl is heavy, so you’ll need some sturdy shelving, preferable a cabinet with a back so records don’t fall irretrievably off the back.
- Vinyl should be kept off the floor (water, kids, pets) and should always be stacked vertically.
- Vinyl gets dusty. It wouldn’t hurt to gently vacuum them as they sit on the shelf. Gently.
- Do NOT pack them too close together because that could cause damage. Give them room to breathe. I like to be able to stick a finger between any two albums on the shelf.
- If you’re really serious about your collection, look into buying some proper clear storage sleeves made of non-biodegradable plastic. The thicker the better, if you ask me.
- And if you’re really intent on making your vinyl last, consider encasing the record itself in new inner sleeves. Some of the original sleeve packaging from back in the day eventually breaks down and merges with the vinyl itself, sometimes damaging it beyond repair. Paper sleeves can also be bad, especially if any humidity gets inside the jacket. They break down, leaving bits of paper goo within the grooves of the record.
Separate 12-inch releases from 7-inch ones.
Seven-inch singles are the heart and soul of rock’n’roll, so they deserve their own dedicated shelf space. File them alphabetically by artist name.
You Don’t Begin with the Letter “A”
If we’re going to be academically correct about the way we organize our records (do NOT call them “vinyls”; there is no such word!), we need to begin with artists whose names consist of numbers or typographical symbols. Some say that a group like “The 1975” or !!! (pronounced Chk-Chk-Chk) should be filed under “N” and “C” respectively. Instead, they should be at the very beginning of your library, ordered by rising numbers, so Joe Strummer’s The 101’ers comes before The 1975.
Typographical symbol bands come at the end of this section following the order as they appear when you shift-up numbers on a standard keyboard (!, @, #, $, etc.) In the above example, !!! comes immediately after the last number-named band.
However, note that Nine Inch Nails and Twenty One Pilots should be filed under “N” and “T” respectively because the numbers are spelled out.
Getting Granular with the Alphabet
If you have multiple releases by the same artist, they should be filed together in chronological order. That means The Clash’s London Calling (1979) comes before Combat Rock (1983).
If you have some Cure, Depeche Mode, New Order, or Pet Shop Boys albums, chances are you also have some of their 12-inch singles. Those singles should also be filed in chronological order immediately following the album on which the original appears. If we’re looking at Depeche Mode, the Violator album would be adjacent to all Personal Jesus remixes (in the order in which they were released) followed by the remixes of Enjoy the Silence, then Policy of Truth, then World in My Eyes, all chronologically.
Where to put related bands, offshoots, and solo albums
This can be a controversial point. Should Noel and Liam Gallagher’s solo albums be filed among Oasis records? Or should they be filed under “G”? Should Perry Farrell’s Porno for Pyros go with Jane’s Addiction or under “P”? And what about all the post-Beatles work of John, Paul, Ringo, and George? And where should you put The Traveling Wilburys, which featured George Harrison AND Tom Petty AND Jeff Lynne AND Roy Orbison AND Bob Dylan?
Some people will insist on grouping related albums together, which, I’ll admit, does have its appeal. My personal hard rule is that while these releases are related to the parent band, they must go under “G.” It’s just easier that way.
Filing “The” Bands
Ignore the “the” in names like The Beatles, The Cars, and The Rolling Stones. Those artists should be filed under the letter corresponding to their root name: Beatles under “B,” Cars under “C,” Stones under “R,” and so on. There is only one legitimate “the” band that gets filed under “T”: Matt Johnson’s brilliant group, The The.
There are two choices here. You can file them under V for “Various” or, as I do, in their own separate section after the letter “Z.” I file mine alphabetically using the title of the compilation as my yardstick. It can be helpful if you separate your comps by genre (punk, metal, ska, etc,) but only if you have a lot of these records.
They must definitely be given their own section. Order them alphabetically by title.
Vinyl box sets are too pretty, too big, and come in too many weird shapes and sizes to fit well on a record shelf. Find a different spot for them, arranging them in the most aesthetically pleasing manner you can.
Taking records off the shelf to enjoy is one thing. Re-filing them can be a real drag. Before you know it, you’ll have another unruly pile on the floor because you were too lazy to put them away. Believe me, I speak from experience.
Following these rules will make your vinyl library a happy place for years to come. Any other tips you’d like to share?
Alan Cross is a broadcaster with Q107 and 102.1 the Edge and a commentator for Global News.