Friday, March 9, 2012

A Crate Digging Break Down

Crates, 45s, 12" records, moving boxes, dust, and more crates!
Related to Elements: Crate Digging, DJ

When you open up the front door of a record store, before your eyes even get a chance to focus on the stacks of wax before you, the smell of crate digging bombards your olfactory sensors.  The stench of dust, and slightly moldy paper accompanied with the indescribable scent of "new record smell" (somebody should bottle that fragrance) immediately gets your heart jumping.  For it is at that moment that you understand that time is no longer a factor and your personal journey for something truly special will positively yield an undiscovered gem.  This feeling is often one of mixed emotions; guilt for knowing you'll spend more then your budget allows, and a subdued excitement from the anticipation of the hunt for the cream of the crop records that are potentially under-priced.

Where to start?  As your eyes scan the record store's sections, that's not always an obvious answer.  Maybe if you already familiar with the store, you might have a pretty good idea where the real joints are, so naturally you hit up that section first.  This "been there, dug that" attitude frankly detracts from the overall crate digging experience.  I mean, there's no point in digging if you already dug everything, right?  Crate Diggers need to get that thought out of their minds.  Even if you are best friends with the store owner and you practically live there, don't forget he or she is only human and is bound to make a mistake in your favor at some point.  Often records are misfiled, under priced, under graded, or under appreciated by store owners who eventually get a little jaded with their stock.  Good crate diggers see that and never hesitate to take advantage of these inevitable random slip ups.

Yeah, you got the time!  There's no such thing as a clock when digging.

If you have never been to the record store, or haven't been there in months, start at the dollar bin.  As you flip through the records you get a vague yet valuable idea of how the store owner rates music in general.  In the dollar bin you will dig more and get dirtier for less booty.  That's not a problem, because time isn't a factor, that's what crate digging is all about, and if you are lucky the store owner will be an absolute idiot at pricing records.  It's not unheard of to score a 20 to 100 dollar record in the dollar bins, so no matter how seasoned or snobby of a collector you are, don't skip that section, you could be missing out on a steal.

For I have climbed the mountain!  rchecka in his 'happy place' at Metrowax Records.

Sometimes you get really lucky and stumble upon an untouched, unsorted mountain of records.  This is the opportunity of a lifetime for a digger, and all obligations should be put on the back burner until every record has been systematically flipped through.  To gain access to these caches of records you often have to know an insider who trusts you completely.  Do whatever it takes to make the dig happen, offer to sort records by genre, or other tedious specialized record jobs.  You may have to quit your day job and work for free for a few weeks, do whatever it takes to stay until the mountain of unknowns becomes a manageable stack of dibs and rejects.  The records you acquire in this will easily be the best of the best in your collection.

Traditional Crate Digging Tools:
  • A portable record player or bring your own needles for the store's in-house decks.  
  • Smart Phone for comparatively looking up prices and record reviews (Discogs is huge)
  • Cash (it always seems to work better when bartering when you show cash in hand)
  • a dust mask, band aids and old clothes (that can get dirty) should be used for long serious digs.  
Untouched, unsorted big digs are undeniably the best, but without a dust mask, the sneezing and hard, brown boogers soon start to form.   Before long, you'll have multiple paper cuts and your hands start to get torn up and filthy.  So make sure you have band aids on hand else you'll bleed all over the owners records.  Your mid section tends to get very dirty, so be prepared, don't show up in your Sunday's best.

Traditional Crate Digging Etiquette:

  • A lot of record store proprietors don't want their needles and\or records getting ruined by legions of filthy handed crate diggers so they expect patrons to bring their own needles or portable players.  You really can't blame them at all for that, and it's rare to see store owners bending over backwards to play each song you want to hear without getting annoyed.  Show the owner some respect by having your own way to sample the music you are digging.  A lot of records are too valuable to allow patrons to drop a needle on it.  Don't be surprised if certain records are behind the counter and off limits to previewing.  Look for it online first with your smart phone and peep an audio snippet if it's available instead of bothering the owner with a request to listen.  Then you can ask them to play it for you if you must hear their copy before buying it.  Frankly, that's not always necessary when you have access to YouTube videos and Discogs ratings. 
  • Don't even think about asking the store owner to break the seal on a record.  It's like asking them to throw away part of their profit, so just don't go there.  If they have multiple sealed copies of a record, ask if one is unsealed that you can listen to first, otherwise use your discretion on asking them to break the seal.  If the record is a 2 dollar record, they might not mind breaking the seal for you if they have multiple sealed copies in stock.  Never unseal a record yourself, let the owner do it for you!  They tend to think they can do it better then you, and maybe they are right.
  •  Don't underestimate a stupid record store owner.  Never tell them they are stupid and don't know how to price records even if it's true, they usually don't like that.  Quietly purchase any absurdly under-priced records and walk away from over priced records without bitching about it.  Let the store owner think it is you who is stupid and you will reap the benefits of humility.
  • For physical in store purchases, don't ever return used records to the store you bought it from.  If you walked out of the store without looking at the condition of the record, you bought it, you should be stuck with it.  Tough luck for not taking the time to look at the condition of the record that is advertised.  If it is under graded, you have the opportunity to say something while you are in the store, but once it leaves the store, it becomes your property.  If you must bring it back because you missed a flaw, be prepared to sell it back at your loss.  This does not necessarily pertain to online sales, you may attempt to return a used record to an online seller if you feel the record was misgraded, but only if you establish initial communication with him or her about the problem before proceeding with a return.  DON'T EVER REVERSE YOUR PAYMENT WITHOUT CONTACTING THE SELLER FIRST!  That is the lowest and laziest way to do business with a dealer, and you will shoot yourself in the foot by taking advantage of the system.  You will lose out way more then what you have gained from that one malicious transaction, so don't even think about doing that to a record store owner.
  • Don't waste the store owner's time talking for hours and hours about music.  They live this shit, they know already.  Shut up and dig already.  If you feel like having a music chat, keep in mind the owner probably enjoys it for about 5 minutes before they start feeling trapped in a conversation and are only obligated to talk to you.  Besides, they don't need to know that you know what you are talking about.  The less they know about your knowledge the better off you'll be.  You can call them out on mistakes if it's in your favor, but you should feel no need to impress them with trivial music knowledge.
  • Don't bring your kids to record stores.  The kids will be bored and antsy, the store owner will be annoyed and worried about lost product, and you'll end up looking like a fool.  Keep your kids unattended in the car with the windows cracked for fresh air while you dig.  Yeah, I'm kidding!

Why Do Crate Diggers Crate Dig?

  •  Production.  Producers and beat heads dig for potential audio samples that can be recycled and given a new life in their own original music productions.
  • Status.  Some collectors dig to add great music to their ever growing collection which somewhere along the way became a status symbol.
  • Completionists will collect every single recording they can get their hands on of a certain artist or producer because while their collection remains incomplete, so, in turn, is their lives.  (Guilty!)  They often don't care if the music on the record is good or not as long as it fills that void they feel like they can die happy for having a complete collection.
  • DJs dig for records to make butts shake or at the very least make heads nod.  They typically want records either for their live sets or for their mixtapes.
  • Music lovers and audiophiles dig for records because they love music, possibly more then anything else in life and are convinced that vinyl records are the best format for sound quality.  (Guilty again!)
  • Because it's cool.  Is anything cooler?  Nope.
  • Addiction.  Crate diggers might dig because they have to.  If you think about it, it's a fairly justifiable addiction, considering all the really bad things they could be addicted to besides buying music.

Definition of Crate Digging:

Urban dictionary defines crate digging as - "...a hip hop term for when one goes to an record store to look for old records to sample."

This is an outdated, incomplete, and over-simplified definition of traditional crate digging only.   So much is wrong with that definition.  Not all diggers buy wax for sampling, it has transcended well beyond Hip Hop circles, and due to the advent of the Internet it no longer is limited to going to a physical record store.  Crate digging has a loosely defined modern off-shoot that compliments and enhances traditional crate digging without detracting from it.  Let's just call it what it is, modern crate digging.  Yes, traditional crate digging has always meant being physically present at a record store and digging through stacks of records.  But crate digging, in general, no longer means just that.

Here is a more updated definition of what crate digging means in very simple terms.

Crate Digging (or cratedigging) - The activity of actively searching for music. 

With this broader definition of modern crate digging, conventional lines become gray and are broken down completely and simplified into the search itself.  With the advent of Final Scratch and Serato, DJs can mix traditionally in an nontraditional way using mp3s and wav files that can be extracted from any music medium.  By that definition records aren't even a prerequisite.  Consequently with modern crate digging, music format is not relevant.  With the onset of the Internet, the world's online record stores become as close as your mailbox.  Anyone who has searched online for records knows that it can be a long process of digging various sites, but in the end it is the same search for records as physical record store digging, only its cleaner and more convenient.  

Musicians often put out mp3s of their original work, bypassing any record label whatsoever, these mp3s may be there today and gone tomorrow.  Suddenly that music (if it's good) has value even though it's just technically 1s and 0s.  Online sites like Discogs make music information readily available and puts music sellers conveniently in the same place.  YouTube videos, and other online sources allow diggers to hear what they can buy or obtain (legally and illegally) without even having to leave their homes.  Complete DJ mixes uploaded can expose unknown music to attentive music researchers.  Music blogs and discussion forums open up a worldwide dialog among collectors, giving the buyer more knowledge of the music and where to find it for the best price.  

Modern cratedigging, like traditional cratedigging is all about the quest.  The end result is the same, the collector obtained some great music because he or she dug for it.  It is the passion for the music that drives the hunt in both cases.

Personally, I prefer traditional crate digging over modern crate digging.  There is a real natural high when physically flipping through stacks of records that cannot be synthesized by the Internet.  I enjoy traditional cratedigging more, I always will, it's my personal preference.  But I can't deny that modern cratedigging enhances it's traditional counterpart by spreading useful knowledge and resources further then any local record store ever could.  When it's all said and done, and you are listening to the fruits of the dig, it's all about music appreciation.  

Speaking of Cratedigging, (Plug Time!Official Periodic is pleased to announce the launch of (the Cratedigging Co-Op).  The Cratedigging Cooperative is an all new cratedigging forum focused on combining and celebrating both modern and traditional crate digging.  It will be an open forum and an ever-growing knowledge base designed specifically for crate diggers by crate diggers.  A place where music appreciation and the quest for music knowledge is freely shared by like-minded music heads, rock snobs, DJs, collectors and\or true music lovers.   In a nutshell, members of just want to talk about what we love more then anything else in the world; the hunt for and appreciation of great music.  Fellow crate diggers, we would be honored if you would join us and build with us.

Keep on digging!



  1. like it a lot !!!


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